Clay Waller criminal charges one step toward 'justice for Jacque,' family, friends say

Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Paula Martin of Jackson hikes through a wooded area northeast of Cape Girardeau Sunday, June 26, 2011 in search of her friend Jacque Waller. (Laura Simon)

The holidays were bad. So were four birthdays, hers and those of her young triplets. For the last 11 months, those little moments of life were spent without the woman who was everything and yet something different to each of them -- a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend.

When Clay Waller was charged with first-degree murder Monday, it presented another moment in the lives of those who knew and loved Jacque Sue Waller, this one a bittersweet mix of relief, vindication and a sad reminder of what they've lost.

"It's just been up and down," said Jacque Waller's mother, Ruby Rawson. "We've had good times and bad. But when those birthdays came along, it was everything we knew she wanted to be a part of and she wasn't there. That's very sad."

Jacque's friends and family members said they were pleased that Clay Waller will likely, barring a guilty plea, stand before a judge and jury and face a murder charge that could land him in prison for the rest of his life. They also pledged that the murder charge doesn't mean they will give up on their nearly yearlong search to find Jacque's body and bring it home.

Bridgid Sample worked with Jacque Waller for 13 years at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield until Jacque disappeared on June 1. Especially in the last few years, Sample said, the two became close. She knew that Jacque Waller was afraid of her estranged husband and heard about the threats he reportedly made against her, Sample said.

"I've had faith that eventually he would be charged with murder," Sample said. "It seems like it took a long time, but I'd like to think it's because they were making sure -- dotting their i's and crossing their t's. I was very pleased with the news today. But at the same time it makes me very sad because we haven't found her. I feel so sorry for her triplets, who in essence have lost both their parents."

The charges also offer vindication, Sample said, to those who have said the case has been tried only in the court of opinion.

"These charges really solidify that for people who knew her," Sample said. "I think it's going to be really hard for their kids. But it's not speculation anymore. He's been charged with the murder of their mom."

Cheryl Brenneke is the sister of Jacque Waller who now is taking care of the triplets at her home near Farmington, Mo. She said the family was "thrilled" at Monday's news. Echoing several others, Brenneke wanted the public to know how hard law enforcement has worked to get to this day, describing their efforts as "tireless."

"We're happy that this part of it is being addressed and that we don't have to wait another couple of years," she said. "We will not rest until there's justice for Jacque, that's for sure. We won't let him get by with this. This is just the first part of it. ... We're going to win this for her."

The triplets, Brenneke said, have been shielded from the news regarding their father and will continue to be. She described them as happy.

Those close to Jacque Waller also didn't quibble with the decision of Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle not to seek the death penalty. In fact, Jacque's mother said she would rather it be that way.

"I prefer that he stays in prison for the rest of his life," she said. "But, really, we're just happy that the truth will come out. I'm more interested in providing that she did not walk away of her own accord that day."

Sample didn't have a problem with Clay Waller serving a life sentence, either, although she thought it could be used as a bargaining tool to prompt him to say where Jacque's body was hidden. Jacque Waller's father, Stan Rawson, hopes that will happen anyway.

Regardless, Stan Rawson said the case is now in the hands of prosecutors.

"And we are confident that we will finally get justice for our girl," he said in a statement.


"Straight home." That's where Jacque Waller told her sister she would be coming the last time the two ever talked. Brenneke told police that on the day Jacque Waller disappeared, they spoke on the phone about her plans to pick up one of the triplets from Clay Waller's house and then drive to Brenneke's house in Ste. Genevieve County. But Jacque never showed, and hundreds of people have been looking for her since.

Even murder charges won't stop that.

"This won't change anything that I am doing," said Bobby Sherrill, a childhood friend of Jacque Waller who leads volunteers on weekend outings to look for any sign of her.

Sherrill's groups have covered upward of 4,000 acres in multiple counties in the search. Their last one was held March 31 in rural areas of Scott County. Areas were picked by law enforcement. Sherrill said he'll continue to work to determine new locations every week with one of the case's main investigators, Lt. David James of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department.

"We are going to keep looking until find her," Sherrill said.

Consolation for Sherrill lies in knowing that every search takes more area off the map. He believes that through a process of elimination, Jacque Waller will be found.

Law enforcement has used helicopters several times during searches, and over the summer of 2011 dredged numerous bodies of water looking for a body or evidence. Early on in the search, some of Jacque Waller's friends contacted a psychic. Land searches have included volunteers on foot, cadaver dogs, horses and ATVs.

Jacque Waller's family members, including her parents, sister, brother-in-law Bob Brenneke and her brother Rob Rawson and his wife Nancy have been on hand to participate in the searches or see volunteers off during many weekends. As months of turning up nothing continued, the family often expressed their disbelief at the dedication of searches.

"I can't believe how many people are here," Cheryl Brenneke said with tears in her eyes as she watched around 65 searchers depart to their assigned locations one Saturday morning in November. "It makes me feel very blessed."

Her sister touched a lot of lives, but still, Brenneke said, she worried then that the three children would never know how wonderful their mother was.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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