Wisconsin authorities searched Monday for the body of a 20-year-old woman who disappeared in 1992 after a convicted child kidnapper who is serving a life sentence admitted his involvement, police said.
Larry DeWayne Hall, 48, has not been charged in the disappearance of Laurie Depies, but the police chief in an eastern Wisconsin town said Hall has been a person of interest in the case for years. Depies vanished outside her boyfriend's apartment following her shift on August 19, 1992 at a nearby mall.
"We are actively working to try and recover her body," Town of Menasha Police Chief Rod McCants said, declining to specify locations of the search. "There is no arrest, but we will continue as of today, following up on information he provided us to hopefully corroborate what he's telling us."
Hall is serving a life sentence at a medium-security federal prison in Butner, N.C., after being convicted in the 1993 kidnapping of a 15-year-old Jessica Roach near Georgetown, Ill., a short distance from the Indiana border. Roach's remains were later found in a cornfield near Perrysville, Ind.
Hall, of Wabash, Ind., was never charged with murder because police couldn't pinpoint where she was killed and charges needed to be filed in the county where the crime occurred. According to federal court records, Hall acknowledged his involvement in Roach's disappearance to authorities, ultimately signing a written confession that he kidnapped and killed her.
Hall became a person of interest in the Depies case after that conviction and remains a suspect in the disappearances of dozens of other women and girls in several states.
Wisconsin investigators received the new information in an interview that lasted nearly two hours in November. Hall didn't have a lawyer present for the conversation last year, and authorities did not respond to phone messages Monday inquiring about whether Hall had retained a lawyer.
A prison official also did not immediately know whether Hall has an attorney, and repeated calls to Hall's mother's house rang unanswered.
"Some of the details that Mr. Hall was able to provide, I personally feel this is probably, hopefully putting us in the right direction now; a major break in the case," McCants said.
The Post-Crescent of Appleton first published a story Sunday detailing the new developments in the investigation, prompting authorities to hold Monday's news conference in the Town of Menasha.
"We proposed some questions to Larry and he provided us answers, I guess, that only he and we knew," Police Lt. Mike Krueger said. "I think from what Larry told us, out of all the other people we've interviewed over the years in this investigation, Larry seemed most credible with the information that he provided."
Depies' mother, Mary Wegner, said she hadn't expected Hall to make a confession.
"I think I've been in denial since last December when (investigators) came out and told us about their findings," Wegner said. "I was surprised, I was hurt, I was sad all at the same time. I think I was just in denial that it was real. Now that it's in the newspaper, and in print, it was like reopening the wound and it resurfaced. It wasn't just words, it's out there now."
Wegner said that she slowly came to terms that Depies could've been killed over the years. Authorities still classify the investigation as a missing person case.
"Everybody that met her just thought the world of her. She was kind and gentle and had an infectious laugh, and I always picture her because time stopped," Wegner said. "She was just so full of life and had so much to look forward to. That all came to end."
Authorities cautioned that they have no physical evidence linking Hall to Depies.
"There are leads or potential information has been provided to us from Mr. Hall and we will continue to follow up on those," McCants said. "I hate to put time limits on investigations, but I'd like to think within three, six months we'll have additional information either corroborating his statement or eliminating him as a person of interest."
Investigators haven't decided whether to attempt to bring Hall to Wisconsin in an effort to locate Depies' remains. The Town of Menasha is about 30 miles southwest of Green Bay.
"We can solve it with the crime lab, if we do ever come up with an exact location," Krueger said. "(Lab investigators) felt pretty confident we would find some remains, whether it be bone fragments or something else."
There may be other reasons Hall is coming forward now.
Krueger described Hall as lonely and reserved, and said he wants to be moved to another "federal institution" where he might receive better mental health treatment.
"There's also a big fear that the death penalty is involved in all the states excluding Wisconsin. Whether that gives him motivation to come forward and talk to the state, I don't know. Only he can answer that," Krueger said.