The husband of a Missouri woman who disappeared after a meeting with a divorce attorney was charged with first-degree murder Monday even though her body has not been found.
The case of Jacque Waller, a vibrant 39-year-old mother of young triplets, has captured national attention since she vanished June 1. Her estranged husband, Clay Waller, already is in federal prison for threatening his sister-in-law, who has been caring for the couple's 5-year-old triplets since their mother's disappearance.
Cape Girardeau County prosecutor Morley Swingle declined to comment on his decision to charge Waller with murder. He also filed two counts of tampering with evidence, accusing Waller of hiding his wife's body and concealing bloodstained carpet from the hallway of his home in Jackson, Mo., about 100 miles south of St. Louis.
Waller, 41, does not have a listed attorney. The lawyer who represented him on the threatening charge said previously he was not involved in Jacque Waller's case.
Prosecutors in the past have been reluctant to pursue murder charges when the victim has not been found, though it is becoming more common as technology improves, including with DNA evidence, said Tad DiBiase, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington and an expert in prosecuting homicide cases without remains.
Also, with the ability to track people electronically, such as with cellphones and credit cards, DiBiase said it is becoming far more difficult to make the argument that a missing person has simply disappeared. Still, he said, obtaining a conviction without a body is more difficult.
"The body is the best piece of evidence," DiBiase said. "It tells you when the murder occurred, how it occurred, how long the person has been dead. Without a body you are missing all of that information."
The Wallers had been having marital trouble and were on the verge of a divorce last June, Jacque Waller's father, Stan Rawson told The Associated Press last year. They used the same attorney and met with him the day Jacque Waller disappeared.
Her sister, Cheryl Brennecke, became suspicious that evening when she couldn't reach her. Rawson said Jacque Waller previously confided to Brennecke that Clay Waller had threatened her.
"There is a bit of relief in knowing that charges have been brought against Clay Waller," he said Monday in a statement. "The case is now in the hands of the prosecuting attorney, and we are confident that we will now finally get justice for our girl."
Jacque Waller's car was found along an interstate a day after she disappeared. Several searches since then have turned up sporadic leads, including the discovery of her purse in November near the site where the car was found.
The FBI said last year that Clay Waller suggested to his father that he had broken Jacque Waller's neck and buried her in a hole that he dug in advance. But Clay Waller has not made any confession to police, and his father died before he could testify.
Waller pleaded guilty in October to threatening Brennecke. Authorities determined he posted a July 26 message directed at her in an online forum about the case. It read, in part, "You are dead ... I will get you 5, 10, 25 years from now. You have it coming."
Brennecke did not comment on the murder charge. A spokeswoman said Rawson's statement was the only comment the family would make.
Waller was sentenced to five years in federal prison in December and is serving time at a prison in Louisiana.
The couple's children are now living with Brennecke in Bonne Terre, Mo.