COLUMBIA — The police officer, now retired, who led the investigation into the Aug. 5, 1976, disappearance of Becky Doisy found little direct evidence to explain what had happened to the 23-year-old Columbia woman.
But one piece remained distinct and consistent over the months and years Columbia Police Detective Chris Egbert worked on the case: Several people said they remembered seeing Doisy with Johnny Wright on the last day she was seen alive.
Egbert, Harry Moore and William Simmons, called to testify by the state, said Doisy and Wright were together. Each of their testimonies, though, had inconsistencies.
Wright, 65, is charged with second-degree murder for Doisy’s disappearance and presumed death in 1976. A warrant for his arrest was issued in 1985, but by that time, Wright was nowhere to be found.
In September 2009, Wright applied for a job in Georgia and a background check revealed the 24-year-old warrant.
After Doisy had been missing for a few months, Egbert said leads for the case slowed. Then, Egbert met Simmons in 1985 when the Maplewood Police called to say they arrested a man who claimed to have information about a Columbia homicide involving a young woman. Egbert interviewed Simmons twice between June 1985 and January 1986.
In their first meeting, Simmons told Egbert he met both Wright and Moore —Wright’s roommate — at a methadone clinic in St. Louis. He also told Egbert that he heard Wright comment on a murder he heard about in St. Louis: “That ain’t shit. I’m colder than that. I offed a bitch without shooting her.”
Simmons said in his testimony Wednesday that Moore told him of the time he helped hide the body of a young girl from Columbia whom Wright had killed. Simmons also told Egbert that Moore described blood everywhere in Moore and Wright’s apartment.
Defense attorney Cleveland Tyson pointed out, though, that Simmons had a history of lying to police, including using a fake name when Egbert first interviewed him. Simmons also admitted on the stand that he kept Moore and Wright’s information to himself for about two years to keep as a “bargaining chip” to avoid prison time for stealing and narcotics abuse.
When asked if he helped hide the body as Simmons had testified, Moore denied it.
“Absolutely, positively not,” Moore said with a long pause between each word.
Despite the fact that Egbert didn’t find evidence of blood in Moore and Wright’s apartment or in Wright’s car, Simmons’ testimony gave the detective enough evidence to get a warrant for Moore’s arrest in 1985.
Moore was arrested by St. Louis police on June 18, 1985. Egbert told Moore he had a source who indicated he had more information than he had let on for the previous nine years and Moore could go to jail for withholding evidence. Eventually, Moore admitted to knowing more and gave a video-recorded confession to Egbert.
In it, Moore said he saw Wright with Doisy at the Heidelberg Restaurant later on the day Doisy disappeared at his house on Providence Road, and one last time around 10 p.m. when he said Wright showed him Doisy’s dead body in Wright’s car. Moore said he was playing in a band at a bar called Faces when Wright waved him over and asked for his help getting rid of the body. Moore said he refused repeatedly and gave Wright $38 before going back inside the bar.
At the end of the recorded testimony, the court watched Moore say to Egbert that he wanted Doisy’s mother to know he was sorry as he started to cry.
It was Moore and Simmons’ confessions, Egbert said while on the stand, that made him transition from thinking of the Doisy investigation as a “missing person case” to a “homicide case.”
Tyson asked Moore why he waited nine years — until he was charged with a crime and faced possible prison time — to tell authorities what he claims Wright did to Doisy.
“It was like an ethical code of the street — whether you know that thing to be true or not. That was a part of my character at that time,” Moore said.
His “character” on Aug. 26, 1976, Moore told Tyson, was also the reason he didn’t tell authorities until 2009 that Wright allegedly shot at him in their home after Wright found out Moore talked to the police earlier that day.
Although police found him “physically upset” after the gunshots, Moore blamed the shooting on a neighbor he said he must have upset.
Wright, who sat with his elbows on a wooden chair, hands folded in front of his chest, stared in the direction of his former roommate.
Tyson pointed out several differences in Moore's testimonies over the years. In Moore’s 1985 interview, he said Doisy was in the fetal position with a blanket over her and Moore said he lifted the blanket and saw her face. In 2009, Moore said the body was in the trunk of Wright's car and the bar was Gladstone's.
After Moore talked to Egbert in 1985, Egbert said he spent the next six months gathering more information and re-questioning witnesses. He got a warrant for Wright’s arrest six months later.
Other witnesses Thursday included Doisy’s sister, Kathy, who was called for the second time, and Doisy’s friend Paul Waldt. Both testified about three pieces of evidence recovered from Wright’s blue Toyota Corona when it was searched in St. Louis a week after Doisy disappeared.
The items were several More brand cigarette butts, a poem written on a piece of stationery and a hand-drawn map labeled “Paul’s house” on a sheet of notebook paper.
Kathy Doisy said the poem was in her sister’s handwriting and the cigarettes were Becky Doisy's favorite brand.
Waldt said he drew the map and gave it to Doisy so she could find his farm near Ashland. He estimated he drew the map at least two weeks before Doisy disappeared.
Egbert said they unsuccessfully searched the farm Waldt lived on and the land around it on horseback while searching for Doisy.
In 1976, Egbert talked to Kathy Doisy and Waldt before he asked Wright if he could identify the things police gathered from his car. Egbert returned to the stand Thursday to testify about what Kathy Doisy, Waldt and Wright told him about the items.
Egbert said in a report he wrote at the time that Wright told him that he wrote the poem, that the cigarette butts were his and that Waldt gave him the map. Egbert, in an apparent effort to learn whether Wright knew Waldt, asked what “Paul” did for a living. At the time, Waldt was helping a friend remodel a farmhouse and working as a nursing assistant at Truman Veterans Hospital, but Wright said he worked with underprivileged children.
The last witnesses called by the state were involved with Wright from the time he left Missouri until he was arrested in Georgia.
- Perry (Graves) Washington: Moore’s then-girlfriend. She testified there was a “white blonde girl” with Wright at Moore’s house on the night Doisy disappeared. On the stand, though, she said she could not remember much about the night in question.
- Joe Moseley: Prosecuting attorney at the time Egbert requested the issuance of Moore's and Wright’s warrants for arrest.
- Elishia Moore: A St. Louis detective who testified that he searched “extensively” for Wright after the warrant for his arrest was issued. He is not connected to Harry Moore.
- Clyde Edward Byers: Works at the Georgia Department for Drivers Services and was the “record custodian” who testified to finding the name “Errol Edwards” to be false. Wright used the alias to avoid being found, the state said.
- Debbie McCart: Supervisor of the records division at Lawrenceville Police Station. She saw Wright come in and apply for the background check and sign the consent form for the criminal history check.
- Gary Kotkiewicz: The Lawrenceville Police Department lieutenant who took the call that a man’s name had come up on a background check for an outstanding murder warrant from Boone County in 1985. He testified that when he told Wright of the outstanding warrant, Wright cooperated. Wright only said “OK,” and sat down.
- Harry Markham: Was a friend of Wright while he lived in Georgia. Markham only knew Wright as Errol Edwards until he saw Wright’s picture on TV with the name “Johnny Wright” next to it. Markham said he confronted Wright about the name change, to which Wright responded, “I changed my name before this happened to this girl.”
The case is expected to continue until Friday afternoon when the state is expected to call its last witness.