By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Lander, Wyo.) – A national cable television show that aired in January did not bring in as many tips on the disappearance of then 24-year-old Amy Wroe Bechtel of Lander as was hoped, an investigator said today. “We only received a couple new tips after the Investigation Discovery channel show was broadcast, including one from Georgia,” said Fremont County Sheriff’s Detective John Zerga. But Zerga also said a tip received last summer may be the break in the case he was hoping for.
Bechtel disappeared the afternoon of July 24, 1997 while checking out the route of a 10K race she was planning along the Loop Road in the Shoshone National Forest above Lander. An exhaustive weeks-long search of the Loop Road and environs failed to find any evidence of the petite runner, who starred as a University of Wyoming track athlete. She was waiting tables at the former Sweetwater Grill in Lander at the time of her disappearance.
But Zerga said a man already on death row at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins has become a focus of the investigation.
“The brother of Dale Wayne Eaton told us this past summer that he was in the area at the time Amy disappeared,” Zerga said. “He told us that Eaton told family members that he was going fishing at some beaver ponds in the Wind Rivers at a spot where they always set up their elk camp, in Burnt Gulch. He was also specific as to the time when Eaton said he would be there.” Zerga said Eaton’s brother “swears up and down that he was camped up there when she disappeared.”
“If he was up there, I have no doubt he was involved,” Zerga said. But the sheriff’s department detective also said Eaton has been uncooperative. “We’re going back down there (Rawlins) in a few weeks to talk to him again.”
Eaton was given a death sentence on his conviction of the kidnapping, rape and murder of college co-ed Lisa Marie Kimmell of Billings in July of 1989 near Casper. In 2002 after DNA sampling connected Eaton to the crime, Kimmel’s car was found buried on his property at Moneta in Eastern Fremont County still bearing its iconic “Lil Miss” Montana license plates.
In one other lead lead in the local case, Zerga said Sheriff’s investigators and Shoshone National Forest personnel were led to several locations along the Loop Road this past October by a psychic who claimed that she and two other psychics had “felt” were connected to Bechtel’s disappearance. “But the ground was frozen there, and there was a snow cover, so we plan to return this spring with cadaver dogs to check the locations that were pinpointed,” he said. “I don’t believe in psychics but we’re following every lead we get. We do what we can, try what we can to solve this.”