Federal prosecutor: Clay Waller confessed to murder of estranged wife; more details released of evidence

Friday, September 9, 2011
Clay Waller, center, is escorted to a police vehicle after a court hearing at the Cape Girardeau County Courthouse in Jackson on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011, where he appeared on charges of stealing and harassment. (Kristin Eberts)

Clay Waller confessed to his father that he murdered his estranged wife and buried her in a hole he dug beforehand, federal prosecutor Larry Ferrell said Thursday in a federal courtroom.

In addition, Ferrell said, strong physical evidence links Waller to the crime, including blood that police collected from Waller's Jackson home. Blood evidence was taken from two walls and from carpet that had been cut from the floor and hidden in a basement crawl space. DNA testing confirmed that the blood belonged to Jacque Waller, Ferrell said.

"This defendant, I will argue in this case, has murdered Jacque Waller," Ferrell said. " ... The defendant confessed to murder. He dug a hole before he committed the murder and then buried Jacque Waller in it."

A grand jury indicted Waller on Wednesday on charges of making a physical threat on the Internet against Jacque Waller's sister, Cheryl Brenneke. On Thursday, Magistrate Judge Lewis Blanton presided over an hourlong hearing in U.S. District Court to consider Ferrell's motion that Waller be held without bond. Through his federal public defender, Scott Tilsen, Waller pleaded not guilty.

Jacque Waller's case is relevant, Ferrell said, because it shows that Waller -- who allegedly made threats to his wife before her June 1 disappearance -- is capable of carrying out his threats.

"He made threats against Jacque and then he killed her," Ferrell said. "He made threats against Jacque's sister. He poses a great danger to the community and he is a serious flight risk."

Originally, Ferrell asked that the hearing be moved to the assisted-care facility of Clay Waller's 71-year-old father, James Waller. Ferrell wanted the judge to hear what Clay allegedly told his father about murdering Jacque, saying it was

the most "persuasive" form of testimony. James Waller is infirm and could not be moved to the courtroom, but Ferrell added he is competent mentally.

Judge Blanton denied that motion and continued the hearing until Monday at noon to discuss the admission of a deposition from Clay Waller's father. Blanton said moving the hearing to the assisted-living facility was "extraordinary" and might prohibit the public's access, which he did not want to do.

Continuing the hearing until Monday would allow Ferrell to arrange for the deposition of James Waller.

'Form of torture'

Tilsen argued, however, that Clay Waller should be released. Waller is being held by U.S. marshals in isolation at the Pemiscot County Jail. Tilsen was told by authorities that Waller is not in isolation for his protection but because of his law enforcement background. Isolation, Tilsen said, is a "form of torture."

Additionally, no state charges have been brought against his client, Tilsen said. Clay Waller has no criminal background and he didn't flee before his arrest even though he knew his wife's disappearance was being investigated.

"The bulk of his family is here, his job is here," Tilsen said.

A Cape Girardeau County prosecutor has called Clay Waller a suspect in his wife's disappearance, but the federal prosecutor's statements in court are the first evidence made public to link Clay Waller to a crime in his wife's disappearance.

Clay was the last person known by police to have seen his wife. He told authorities she left the home where Clay was staying in Jackson on foot the afternoon of June 1.

Several other details about what happened on the day of Jacque's disappearance were made public Thursday with the release of an FBI affidavit that was prepared by Special Agent Brian Ritter.

For example, when Clay Waller reported Jacque missing, he told police that Jacque was coming to his home that night to bring him a key from their post office box. He said they sat and talked and then took a nap.

After the nap, Waller told police, the two started to argue about finances and then Jacque left the residence on foot. He later told officials that she left on foot because he threw her keys in a tree and she could not reach them.

The next evening, a state search warrant was executed at Waller's residence, the affidavit says, and some items of evidence were seized. During the search, officers saw that some children's play mats and toys had been placed on some carpet in a hallway area.

Blood splatter

The officers did not examine the floor under the mats that night, but police searched the residence again June 6 with the consent of the home's owner, who is not Clay Waller. The homeowner reported to police that a carpet was missing from the residence.

During that search, Ritter and a member of the Cape Girardeau Police Department found and collected blood spatter evidence from two walls inside the residence.

The search of the home continued two days later, when police found several pieces of cut-up carpet and carpet padding from a crawl space in the basement. The carpet pieces and pad were hidden out of view in the back of the crawl space. One piece of cut-up carpet had a large blood stain on it and was hidden separate from the others, the document says. The Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab later reported that blood on the walls and the blood on the piece of carpet contained Jacque Waller's DNA.

Jacque's father, Stan Rawson, said he already knew about much of the information that Ferrell presented in court Thursday. Rawson said it should just offer further proof to the public that Clay Waller killed his daughter.

"Now you know why I was so emphatic about the fact that he did it," Rawson said. "I knew he did it. There's no doubt in my mind he did it. I have never had a doubt."

Traditionally, prosecutors are reluctant to file murder charges without a victim's body, regardless of other evidence.

The later death threats against his other daughter, Cheryl, also worried him as soon as he heard about them, especially until Waller was arrested and put in jail on state charges of theft and harassment.

"He'd done it once, he'd do it twice," Rawson said.

Kitchen accident

During interviews, Clay Waller did offer explanations for the blood found at his home. When he was interviewed by Ritter in July, Waller was asked if his wife had ever been injured in the house in Jackson. According to the affidavit, Waller paused and said yes but that he did not want to talk about it. Waller allegedly added "it was not a big deal." He later told the special agent that Jacque was injured June 1 as the result of an accident in the kitchen that caused her face to bleed.

"She started bleeding like a ... a lot," Waller said, according to the document.

Waller told Jacque to run to the bathroom and said she used her hands to catch the blood and ran through the house toward the master bedroom. He then claims that she tripped in a hallway and fell down.

According to Clay Waller's version, Jacque fell back down and laid there. He also said she was "thrashing around." But Clay said he and Jacque cleaned up the blood together. Waller admitted to police he cut up and removed the carpet with the blood and hid it in the crawl space so his landlords wouldn't think anything wrong had happened there. Throughout the affidavit, Clay Waller maintains his innocence.

Online threat

The 10-page affidavit also lays out how law enforcement confirmed that Waller made the threat against Brenneke on the Topix website. Brenneke has temporary custody of the Wallers' triplets and she saw the following words on the website: "You are dead I promise if those kids get hurt, your fault, accident, nobody's fault. Your dad threaten clay, I know he's all talk, I will get you 5, 10, 25 years from now. You have it coming." The user name was Cherl.

Brenneke notified the authorities that she was fearful and that she suspected Clay Waller. Topix administrators told police that the Internet service provider was Charter Communications. The address belonged to the employee of a Cape Girardeau pawnshop, who told police she had let Clay Waller use her computer on the date the posting was made. The employee checked the history and saw that the Topix website had been visited. A video surveillance system in the shop also shows Waller entering the entrance of the shop that day.

In open court Thursday, Tilsen said that it was a "conditional threat," though he never said Clay made it.

"It was 'If my children got hurt,'" Tilsen said. "What parent hasn't thought, or even said, something to somebody like that out of concern for their children?"

smoyers@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

555 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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