July 24, 1997: The Unsolved Disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel


WHAT HAPPENED? (1)


On July 24, 1997, Amy Wroe Bechtel disappeared while on a jog in Lander, Wyoming. Extensive searches and investigations took place, and her disappearance has been featured in many a media portrayal, but unfortunately, she has never been found and her case remains unsolved.


In 2005, 7 years after her disappearance, her husband, rock climber Steve Bechtel, declared her dead in absentia.

BACKGROUND AND DISAPPEARANCE (1)


Amy was born Amy Joy Wroe in Santa Barbara, California in 1972. During her time at the University of Wyoming, she met Steve Bechtel, who would become her husband. She was a competitive long distance runner, and had hoped to try out for the 2000 Summer Olympics.


On the morning of July 24, Amy told her husband that she was going to run some errands in town after teaching her children's weight lifting class. After teaching the class, she stopped at a photo store near her home, and then at Gallery 331 to speak to the proprietor, Greg Wagner. Greg said that she seemed hurried, and kept glancing at her watch while they were talking. That was the last confirmed sighting of Amy.


Authorities believe that after the sighting, she had driven to Shoshone National Forest to prepare for an upcoming 10K run on the course. An eyewitness saw a woman resembling Amy, and wearing a similar outfit to her, running that day, but could not confirm it was Amy.


At 4:30 PM, Steve returned home from spending the day with a friend and realized his wife was not home, but did not immediately panic as she had told him she'd be running errands throughout the morning and afternoon. However, by 10:30 PM, he called the police to report his wife missing. Her car was found the next morning at a turnout in Lander, but no sign of Amy.

INVESTIGATION (1)


An extensive search for Amy began at 3:00 AM on July 25. The police lead the search with help from Steve and the couple's family and friends. They began receiving around 1,000 calls per day with potential leads, and lakes and mines were searched. However, all of the tips and searches turned up nothing.


Initially, investigators believed that Amy had fallen victim to the elements, or to a wild animal while on her jog. However, their suspicions turned to Steve after they found a journal of his that detailed violence against women, specifically, against his wife. He was interrogated on August 1, 1997, but when police falsely claimed to have evidence against him, he terminated the interview. He claimed the journals contained song lyrics, and nothing related to the disappearance of his wife.


They wanted to clear him of suspicion to follow other leads, which became difficult given his lack of cooperation. He provided an alibi, that he had been rock climbing with friends, that was corroborated by said friends. He refused a polygraph (which I won't hold against him, many experts say you should refuse them), but an eyewitness claims to have seen a truck matching Steve's driving around in the area where Amy disappeared from.


In 2007, Sheriff Sgt. Roger Rizor claimed he believed her death was a homicide, and said in his mind, the only person worth talking to was her husband, who had refused to cooperate with law enforcement. Another viable suspect was a convicted murderer on death row, Dale Wayne Eaton, who has refused to discuss the case. Eaton's brother claimed he had been in the area when Amy disappeared.

SO, WHAT HAPPENED? (2)


There are about 3 feasible theories on this case: Eaton did it, her husband did it, or another unknown assailant did it.


In a Reddit write up, one user believes that Eaton was responsible. The user believes that law enforcement had become so focused on Steve at the time that they may have looked over any evidence or clues that would have pointed to Eaton. The user also explains that, while circumstantially it may have made sense that her husband did it, he really had no motive. They did not have large life insurance policies on one another, they had just bought a home, and friends believed that she and Steve's relationship was pretty good. Of course, abuse can be covered up from friends and family, but overall, there doesn't seem to have been a real motive for Steve to kill his wife.


Dale Wayne Eaton was believed to be the "Great Basin Killer" and was arrested, tried and convicted of a rape and murder of a young woman in 1988. Eaton's brother told law enforcement that he used to camp about 16 miles away from where Amy's car was found. This isn't real, usable evidence, but it at least points to a viable suspect who had murdered someone before and is obviously capable of being violent. If a murderer is in the area, and a woman goes missing, does it make more sense to blame the uncooperative husband, or assume perhaps the man who had done this before had done it again? That's the real question, I guess. Eaton is on death row, and has refused to speak on the matter.


Those who believe the husband was involved believe so because of his journal with some violent "song lyrics", and his not cooperating with law enforcement, including refusing a polygraph test. However, as I've mentioned in some other articles, many experts encourage people not to take polygraph tests because they are often not reliable, but can still be used to pinpoint blame. Refusing to have a potentially unreliable test taken after the disappearance of your wife may not seem like the most enticing action.


The violent "song lyrics" are certainly troubling, but there did not appear to be any violence in their relationship. Even if they weren't song lyrics and were some other type of violent fantasy, that is different than murdering your wife. Additionally, they were only able to search the house (where they found the journal) because of a potential sighting of Steve's truck. However, there could have been many blue trucks in the area, and his alibi really does seem solid. The police, grasping at straws, began to believe perhaps his alibi was false and his friend lied to protect him, but in a Runner's World issue, the friend was interviewed and claimed he actually didn't even like Steve that much and was much closer with Amy, and thus he would never lie to protect Steve, especially if it was about something that happened to Amy.


One other thing that I saw on Reddit is that when he reported his wife missing, Steve said, "I have a missing woman, do you have any extra?" in sort of a jovial tone. It certainly seems like a bizarre thing to say if you think your wife is missing and in danger. Maybe he is just a cornball, but I can't imagine making such a joke if you genuinely felt your wife was in danger. But, some believe that at that point, he just thought she was lost or had been out for too long, and just called the police as a precaution, without thinking she was in actual danger.


But, despite what certainly seems like a whole lot of circumstantial "evidence", it is enough for many to believe he was involved. Acting suspicious and showing some sort of affinity for violence can seal the deal for some, especially when the husband is typically the prime suspect in cases like these. One user thought that the fact that she kept checking her watch before going to the park could have meant she had plans to meet her husband, and then the sighting of the truck in the area around that time would have made sense. Maybe. But I try not to look too far into "weird" last moments. Maybe she was trying to get to the park at a certain time to make time for other errands, or maybe she was just trying to leave the Gallery. I think in mysterious disappearance cases, too much focus is paid to actions that are likely extremely innocent in attempt to make sense of what happened.


And, of course, there is the chance that she met a similar fate, just with someone who's name we don't know. It seems unlikely, given another killer may have been in the area and her husband makes a somewhat likely suspect, but she certainly could have been abducted by just some other random person. It has happened before, and it will certainly happen again. I personally don't subscribe to this theory, but think it would be wrong to count it out of plausibility.


Honestly, I think the Eaton theory and the husband theory carry about the same weight. If I had to tip the scales in one direction, I would say Eaton only because I think when husbands kill their wives, they normally have a motive. They got caught in a lie, they were generally abusive, she cheated, she was pregnant, etc. His odd behavior after the fact, to me, doesn't make up for the lack of odd behavior before the fact. He just didn't seem like someone who wanted to kill his wife. Eaton, who had killed a woman before, seems a bit more likely.


Regardless of what happened, Amy Wroe Bechtel, days away from turning 25, had her young, promising life taken from her. It is fascinating and interesting to speculate what could have happened, to put her last known moves under a microscope to try to find something that was amiss, but I have to remind myself that she was a person with hopes and dreams and family and friends and a future, and not just a case to speculate at. She didn't deserve what happened to her, even if we aren't sure what that was.


It has been 23 years since Amy disappeared. Perhaps Eaton will eventually talk while on death row, but this seems to be another case where a confession will be required to solve it. Even if it doesn't come, I hope Amy is resting in peace, and her loved ones are able to find peace, as well.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Amy_Wroe_Bechtel

2.https://www.reddit.com/r/UnresolvedMysteries/comments/4nzn6h/the_amy_wroe_bechtel_case/?sort=top

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