Jacque Waller's remains found

Friday, May 31, 2013

After two years of searching and waiting, a formal announcement came Thursday: The remains of Jacque Waller were finally discovered.

Saturday is the two-year anniversary of the day the Jackson mother of triplets went missing.

In this file photo, defense attorney Christopher Davis, left, and his client Clay Waller listen to testimony against him during his preliminary hearing Wednesday morning, July 25, 2012 at the Jackson Courthouse. Waller is charged with the murder of his wife Jacque who went missing June 1, 2011. (Laura Simon)

The Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney's Office issued a news release about 2 p.m. Thursday, which simply stated Jacque Waller's remains were recovered Wednesday.

Jacque Waller's sister, Cheryl Brenneke, on Thursday said the family was told to expect a possible change in the case status.

"We expected them to say he was wanting to plea, but we didn't expect them to say that they had her," Brenneke said. "That was a shock."

This 2010 photo provided by Laura Helbig shows Jacque Waller, who disappeared on June 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Laura Helbig)

Authorities and family have long suspected her husband, Clay Waller, was responsible for her death, but her remains were unaccounted for. She hadn't been seen since June 1, 2011.

Police say Clay and Jacque Waller were going through a divorce and that the couple had attended a hearing the day she disappeared. According to police documents, Jacque Waller had written in a journal that her husband had threatened to kill her if she tried to leave him. On the night Jacque Waller disappeared, police say she told family members she was going to pick up her son from Clay's house.

Clay Waller was charged with first-degree murder and two counts of tampering with evidence in April 2012. Police say blood evidence was collected in Clay Waller's house, including a significant amount of blood found in cutaway carpet found in the house's crawl space.

Updates on the discovery of the body and the case status were scarce Thursday -- the prosecutor's office said there will be no more comment from the office or other agencies, and didn't specify where the remains were found. Investigators did not return phone calls seeking additional comment or referred media to the prosecutor's office. Cape Girardeau County Coroner John Clifton also said he could not release details on how Jacque Waller's body was identified because the information was part of an ongoing investigation.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Limbaugh, who was approached at his office Thursday by a Southeast Missourian reporter, also declined to comment on the case, as did Christopher Davis, the public defender representing Clay Waller.

When news of Jacque Waller's disappearance broke, police said they were looking for information from anyone who had seen a truck in the area pulling a boat. Several of the numerous searches for Jacque Waller have included water searches.

Several law enforcement officials, including an FBI agent and a Cape Girardeau Police Department crime scene investigator, were at the Red Star boat ramp on the Mississippi River on Wednesday, but they declined to comment on why they were there or confirm rumors that Jacque Waller's body had been found.

At least one boater had seen a law enforcement official near Devil's Island, a large, thickly wooded island in the Mississippi River near McClure, Ill.

Friends, family and volunteers reportedly had searched the area in February but found nothing.

Last October, at the request of Lt. David James of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department, searchers from Scott County, Cape Girardeau County and the Little Egypt Search and Rescue Team combed a section of Devil's Island.

At the time, James called the location an "area of interest" because it was isolated, and Clay Waller was known to have a boat.

"It's another one of those spots that we just want to eliminate," he told the Southeast Missourian.

At that point, volunteers had searched an estimated 14,000 acres in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois.

At 6 p.m. June 1, 2011, about two hours after Jacque Waller disappeared, two women, including one of the owners of the Jackson house where Clay Waller lived, saw him next to a red pickup truck with a boat behind it in the driveway, according to a probable cause statement filed in April 2012 by James Humphreys, chief of the Jackson Police Department.

At 9:45 p.m., a co-owner of the property where Clay Waller lived found him on the patio floor, out of breath -- a condition Waller attributed to having just completed a bike ride, according to the probable cause statement. Clay Waller's whereabouts between 6 and 9:45 p.m. were unclear.

Devil's Island, currently accessible only by boat, is about 20 miles from Clay Waller's home at 1121 Woodland Drive in Jackson.

Southeast Missourian journalists approached Devil's Island by boat and helicopter Wednesday afternoon, but there were no signs of law enforcement working there.

Brenneke declined to comment Wednesday on rumors there had been a break in the case, saying she had to "wait a couple of days" to discuss it. Jacque Waller's family also said on Thursday that their "hands were tied," from releasing any additional details. Brenneke did say the remains were found Tuesday and investigators finished recovering them Wednesday.

About 3:50 p.m. on the day Jacque Waller disappeared, police say Jacque Waller spoke with Brenneke over the phone and told her she was on her way to Clay Waller's house. Six minutes later, Jacque spoke with her boyfriend over the phone. The conversation lasted nine minutes and at the end she stated she was at Waller's residence. At 6 p.m. that night, police say, the owner of Clay Waller's residence and a neighbor observed Clay Waller beside his pickup truck. Two hours later, multiple people reported seeing Jacque Waller's Honda Pilot still parked at Clay Waller's residence. Jacque Waller was never seen again, police say, and she was reported missing by her sister at midnight. Her SUV was found shortly after her disappearance parked on Interstate 55 with punctured tires, and in November 2011, her purse and some of its contents were found nearby.

In October 2011, Clay Waller pleaded guilty to federal Internet threat charges against Brenneke, and in January he was sentenced to five years in a federal penitentiary on those charges.

In September 2012, a federal prosecutor said in court that Clay Waller confessed his crime to his father, but Clay Waller's father died in December after a judge ruled his testimony would not be allowed to be preserved for a future trial.

Clay Waller also was previously arrested on charges of stealing by taking money for a construction job and not doing the work, and harassment charges for allegedly making a threat to a former friend. He also ran unsuccessfully for Cape Girardeau County Commissioner in 2004. He was a former police officer in Sikeston and Cape Girardeau County.

Clay Waller is scheduled to go on trial for the murder of Jacque Waller on Sept. 9 in Cape Girardeau County. A jury from Cole County will be brought in for the case. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder and tampering charges. Several subpoenas were issued and depositions have been taken in the case in recent weeks.

Southeast Missourian

reporter Emily Priddy contributed to this report.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

Jackson, MO

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