It was a balmy day in Wyoming on July 24 1997, when Amy Bechtel went for her afternoon run. For Amy, an athletic and strong distance runner, this was nothing out of the ordinary. Enrolled in an upcoming 10km, she even had hopes to compete in the 2000 Olympics. But after this particular day, the promising 24-year-old would never be seen again.
Amy's to-do list was a long one that morning, with a children's fitness class to teach, utility companies to call and photos to be framed. Her final stop before her run was at Gallery 331, where the owner noted she seemed in something of a hurry, and from there she headed to Shoshone National Forest. A sprawling forestland of mostly untouched wilderness, Shoshone covers almost 2.5 million acres of ground and is home to over 1300 miles of trails. Home to hundreds of bears and cougars, it is a place of danger as well as beauty, with the kind of wholesome American scenery you might normally find on a postcard.
When Amy had not returned home by 10:30 that night, her husband Steve reported her missing. The young couple had been married for just over a year, and by all accounts had a relationship to match their picture-perfect town. A search and rescue team was immediately arranged, and in less than 3 hours Amy's white Toyota was discovered. Parked up beside a mountain road, the car was unlocked, the keys under Amy's long to-do list sat on top of the passenger's seat. Assuming she had gotten lost or injured, Steve rallied up some friends and, along with the deputies, searched fruitlessly through the night. By day three, over a hundred people aided by dogs, horses, ATVs and helicopters were searching the 30 mile radius around Amy's abandoned car.
As time passed and there still no sign of Amy, police began to take a closer look at Steve Bechtel. Public suspicion was fuelled when it was revealed that not only had Steve refused to take a lie detector test, but that detectives had also uncovered some troubling journal entries depicting male dominance and violence towards women. However, Steve had a solid alibi, having been rock climbing with a friend almost 80 miles away. The journal entries, he claimed, were lyrics for his band.
An attractive, white, middle class woman, Amy's disappearance garnered significant media attention, and at one point the police were receiving around 1000 calls a day of potential tips and hazy eyewitness accounts. Yet over 20 years later, there is not a single shred of physical evidence that can tell us what became of Amy Bechtel. In the community's initial optimism that this was a simple case of a missing runner, it took a full week before the area was declared a crime scene. Added to that an intense focus on Steve, and the police investigation was compromised from the start.
One of the thousands of tips was called in by Richard Eaton, who reported that his brother Dale would often camp in the area where Amy was found. If it were anyone else, this may have seemed insignificant, but Dale Eaton was a prime suspect in the Great Basin Murders, a series of brutal killings where female victims were sexually assaulted and murdered before being dumped along remote highways. DNA taken from a 1998 arrest would eventually link Dale Eaton to the rape and stabbing of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell. A search of Eaton's house, just an hour and 45 minutes from Amy's hometown of Lander, uncovered Kimmell's car buried on his property, along with women's clothing, purses, and newspaper articles concerning other murders.
Convicted of Kimmell's murder in 2004, Dale Eaton was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death, though this was overturned in 2014. Now serving a life sentence plus 50 years, Eaton will spend the rest of his days in Wyoming State Penitentiary. He has refused to ever discuss the case of Amy Wroe Bechtel.
Who do you think is responsible for Amy's disappearance? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.