Witnesses: Mo. man threatened wife who disappeared

AP News
Posted: Jul 25, 2012 7:40 PM
Witnesses: Mo. man threatened wife who disappeared

JACKSON, Mo. (AP) — A southeast Missouri man charged in the murder of his estranged wife threatened to kill her several times in the months before she disappeared, two of his acquaintances testified Wednesday.

The testimony came during the preliminary hearing for Clay Waller, of Jackson, Mo., who is charged with first-degree murder even though is wife's body has never been found. Jacque Waller was 39 when she disappeared on June 1, 2011, shortly after she and her husband met with a divorce lawyer. Their triplets, now 6 years-old, are living with Jacque Waller's sister.

Cape Girardeau County Associate Circuit Judge Gary Kamp will decide if the case should move forward after hearing from nearly 20 witnesses during the seven-hour preliminary hearing. It's not clear when will issue that decision.

Prosecutor Morley Swingle outlined a case built largely around circumstantial evidence: potential motives of both jealousy and greed; blood splatter found at Clay Waller's house; apparent efforts to hide a blood-stained carpet in a crawl space; and Waller's history of anger and resentment toward his wife.

Matt Marshall, a heavy equipment operator who worked briefly for a business Waller operated, recalled Waller coming to his home one night with the triplets and expressing anger that she was seeing another man. Marshall said Waller sent the children outside and told him, "I'll definitely kill her before my kids will call another man 'daddy.'"

Marshall admitted under cross-examination that he never went to police about the threat.

Another man who once worked with Waller, Edwin Rhodes, recalled that about two months before Jacque Waller's disappearance, Clay Waller told him, "I ought to just kill her."

Waller, appearing underweight with his thinning hair cut short, sat attentively during the hearing, often leaning forward to hear the witnesses, sometimes writing comments on a notepad and sharing them with defense attorney Christopher Davis. He wore shackles on his wrists and ankles.

Testimony also focused on the day Jacque Waller was last seen.

Jacque Waller was supposed to pick up one of the triplets, the lone boy of the three, after the meeting with the divorce attorney, her sister, Cheryl Brenneke. The family was aware that Jacque was scared of Clay, Brenneke said, so when they hadn't heard from her by evening, panic set in.

Clay Waller was living at a small guest house on property owned by Scott Gibbs, a doctor who had become friends with Waller while taking helicopter flying lessons together. Waller was on the verge of bankruptcy and Gibbs said he offered use of the home rent-free.

Gibbs that after Jacque Waller's family contacted him, he found Clay Waller on the porch of the guest house, out of breath. Gibbs testified that Waller told him he had just completed a bike ride, even though it was nearly 10 p.m.

Swingle tried to present evidence that Waller's bike ride was part of his cover-up. Testimony from several police officers indicated Clay Waller drove his wife's car and abandoned it along Interstate 55, then rode a bike nearly four miles home. Officers said Waller speculated that his wife had been picked up by a trucker.

Other testimony surrounded hallway carpet that FBI agent Brian Ritter said was found cut up in a crawl space beneath the guest home. Testing showed several spots of blood on the carpet, and DNA matched that of Jacque Waller.

Ritter said Clay Waller claimed he accidentally bumped his wife's nose, causing it to bleed on the carpet. He said she also tripped as she ran, causing even more blood.

Several witnesses testified that Clay Waller had serious financial problems and believed his wife was taking too much of the money in their split.

One woman, Casaundra Stringer, said she and Waller had a three-year affair that ended in 2010. She said that after Jacque's disappearance, Clay Waller tried to convince her to blame the killing on Stringer's ex-husband. Instead, she said she told police about the scheme.

Clay Waller is already serving a five-year term at a federal prison in Louisiana for threatening Brenneke over the Internet.