Lil' Miss murder

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Cover of book documenting the case

The Lil' Miss murder is the name given to the murder case of Lisa Marie Kimmell (July 18, 1969 - April 2, 1988), who disappeared while on a trip home from Colorado to Billings, Montana. Her murder would remain a cold case, until DNA profiling eventually linked a prison inmate to her kidnapping, rape and murder some 14 years later, which led investigators to the most vital piece of evidence in the case: Kimmell's missing car, which bore the distinctive personalized license plate that gave the case its name, "LIL MISS".

Case history[edit]

Kimmell was working in Denver, Colorado at an Arby's,[1] and left on March 25, 1988, for her parents' home in Billings, Montana. She planned to stop in Cody, Wyoming, along the way to pick up her boyfriend. Wyoming Highway Patrol records showed that she was stopped for speeding in Douglas, Wyoming, just before she disappeared. Though unverified, some witnesses reported seeing her later that evening near Casper.

Eight days later her body was found floating in the North Platte River near Casper, Wyoming, by a local fisherman. An autopsy determined that she had been bound, beaten and raped, for at least six days. Evidence showed that she was then taken to the Old Government Bridge (42°38′18″N 106°37′03″W / 42.63824°N 106.61748°W / 42.63824; -106.61748Coordinates: 42°38′18″N 106°37′03″W / 42.63824°N 106.61748°W / 42.63824; -106.61748), where she was hit on the head with a blunt object, stabbed six times in the chest and abdomen, before being thrown into the river. The autopsy showed that the head wound would have killed her in a matter of minutes even if she had not been stabbed.

Lisa's case was profiled on the television program Unsolved Mysteries within weeks, and A&E's Cold Case Files in the years since, with each case concentrating on locating witnesses who might have seen her black 1988 Honda CR-X automobile with a Montana plate bearing the unforgettable "LIL MISS". Investigators knew recovering the car was extremely important as it would be a direct link to the killer.

Breakthrough[edit]

In the summer of 2002, investigators researching cold cases came across Kimmell's rape kit, and a DNA profile was developed from the seminal evidence. The CODIS database matched the DNA to Dale Wayne Eaton, 57, of Moneta, Wyoming, who was then serving time in Englewood federal prison at Littleton, Colorado on an unrelated weapons charge. (Eaton's DNA profile was placed in the CODIS database in 1997 after he was arrested on a separate charge: He had stopped to offer assistance to the Breeden family, whose car had broken down, but then he kidnapped the family at gunpoint.[2] After his arrest for this kidnapping, Eaton escaped, but was later recaptured in Shoshone National Forest. At that time he possessed a weapon, elevating his crime to the federal level. He was then incarcerated in federal prison, where he was obliged to submit a DNA sample.)

Eaton's next door neighbors reported to investigators that they had seen him digging a large hole on his property, which was located about an hour's drive from where Kimmell was last seen alive. The site was excavated and Kimmell's Honda CRX was unearthed, still bearing her distinctive "LIL MISS" license plate. Eaton was subsequently charged with eight crimes connected to the Kimmell case, including first-degree premeditated murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, first-degree sexual assault, and second-degree sexual assault.

A fellow inmate, Joseph Francis Dax, testified Eaten confessed to him as follows: Kimmell offered to give Eaton a ride, and Eaton accepted. He made sexual advances during the ride which Kimmel did not appreciate, so she pulled over to let him out of the car. The situation then escalated to kidnapping, rape, and murder.[citation needed]

Eaton was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to death on March 20, 2004. He appealed this conviction and lost. Scheduled to be put to death in February 2010, he sought and received a stay of execution in December 2009. It was overturned in 2014. The State is again seeking the Death Penalty. He is currently awaiting a new sentencing hearing on Death Row. Eaton is currently the only inmate on Wyoming's death row.

Civil lawsuit[edit]

Eaton's property was awarded to the Kimmell family after a wrongful-death lawsuit, and the buildings were burned to the ground on July 18, 2005, on what would have been Lisa Kimmell's 36th birthday.

Related murders[edit]

Lisa's murder may have been part of a pattern of serial murders, known as the Great Basin Murders, which took place between 1983 and 1996.[3] Most of the victims were young women who initially disappeared, only to be later found murdered. Because her body was located in a popular fishing spot (creating a public spectacle) and that her car was buried on his property (kept as a trophy) it is believed that Eaton exhibited some of the tell-tale signs of being a serial killer.[4]

Amy Wroe Bechtel is among the Great Basin killer's potential victims. On the morning of July 24, 1997, the 24-year-old left her Lander, Wyoming apartment to run errands. At 2:30 that afternoon, Amy was seen at a photo shop. This was the last confirmed sighting of Amy. It's believed she left the photo shop and drove into the Shoshone National Forest to check the course of a 10K race her gym was planning. When her husband returned home at 4:30 p.m., she was not home. By nightfall he alerted neighbors and the sheriff's department. Amy's white Toyota station wagon was found parked off a dirt road in the Shoshone Forest. No trace of Amy has been found but subsequent investigation placed Eaton on business in the area around the time of the disappearance.[citation needed]

Media[edit]

Both Lisa and Amy's cases were profiled on Unsolved Mysteries, Nightmare Next Door, and Disappeared. To this day, Eaton remains silent about these or any other crimes he may be responsible for. True crime author Robert Scott wrote a book called Rivers of Blood that detail Eaton's life and crimes, including the disappearance and murder of Lisa Kimmell. The case was also profiled in an episode of On The Case with Paula Zahn.

References[edit]

External links[edit]