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A Wyoming man, charged in the one of the state's most baffling murder mysteries, is under investigation in connection with similar murders in the area, a source said Friday.
Dale Wayne Eaton, a Wyoming welder, was charged Thursday with eight counts including first-degree premeditated murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, first-degree sexual assault, and second-degree sexual assault, in connection with the 1988 rape and murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell, 18 (pictured, left).
Court documents released Thursday confirm an August 2002 report by TheDenverChannel that DNA was used to connect Eaton to the Denver fast-food manager's murder.
Kimmell vanished March 25, 1988 while driving from her apartment in Denver to Cody, Wyo.
She was last seen alive in Douglas, Wyo., after she was pulled over on a traffic stop by a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer.
She later stopped at a convenience store in Douglas and that's where her killer probably made contact with her, a source close to the case told TheDenverChannel. It is believed that more than one person was involved in the abduction, the source said.
"Kimmell's abduction would require at least two people," said the source, who asked not to be identified. "They grab her, throw her in another vehicle, and the second person drives her car."
Douglas is located along Interstate 25, east of Casper.
The man charged with her rape and murder owned property in Moneta, Wyo., 75 miles west of Casper where Kimmell's black Honda CRX Si was unearthed last summer.
When car was dug out of the ground, Natrona County district attorney Kevin Meenan refused to confirm a report by TheDenverChannel, and a local TV station, that it was Kimmell's missing car.
"I will not ... confirm nor deny that what we're doing here has anything to do with the Kimmell case," Meenan said during a news conference at the dig site last year. Two weeks later, he admitted the car belonged to Kimmell.
At the same time, Natrona County Sheriff Mark Benton would not confirm a report by TheDenverChannel that Eaton was one of two suspects in the Kimmell murder case, describing Eaton only as "a person of interest."
At the time Kimmell's car was uncovered, Eaton was serving a three-year federal prison sentence in Colorado after he was convicted as a felon in possession of a firearm. Eaton also faced charges of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cellmate at the federal prison in Florence, Colo., following a fight between the two.
TheDenverChannel reported in August that investigators believed Kimmell's attacker had held her captive for a week before killing her. She was raped and sodomized, according to the original autopsy report. Kimmell was stabbed six times, in a distinctive "hand" pattern, and suffered a skull fracture, the report said. DNA evidence was collected from the body the evidence that was sent to a national DNA database.
Kimmell's body was found in the North Platte River southwest of Casper by two fishermen. Smeared blood was discovered on the bridge, leading investigators to conclude Kimmell's body was thrown from the bridge into the river. The autopsy found that she had apparently been murdered just a day or two before her body was found, even though she had been missing for nine days.
Profiler: Case Points To Serial Murderer
Former FBI profiler Greg Cooper told TheDenverChannel last year that several facets of Kimmell's rape and murder pointed to a serial murderer, including the fact that her car was buried on the suspect's property and that she had been held for a week before she was killed. He also said that more than one person was probably involved in her abduction and murder.
In the four years prior to the Kimmell's homicide, two young women were murdered in the Casper area. One of them was a 21-year-old female who was found naked and strangled along I-25 north of Casper in 1982. She was last seen hitchhiking.
The other Casper victim was found about 14 miles south of I-25 in 1986, but was fully clothed. She had been run over about 25 feet from the roadway. She was last seen walking to a friend's house in Casper. Both cases remain open.
A year before Kimmell was murdered, a 24-year-old woman disappeared while jogging along a road in Fremont County -- the same county where Kimmell's car was unearthed. She has never been found.
Investigators have been looking at possible connections between the unsolved murders and Eaton since he was identified as the suspect killer of Kimmell last summer, a source close to the investigation said.
DNA Breaks Case Open
The Kimmell case remained unsolved for 14 years until a routine check by the Wyoming State Crime Lab showed a "hit" between a DNA sample taken from Kimmell and former Wyoming State inmate Dale Eaton the same year she disappeared, according to court papers filed Thursday.
The DNA result was relayed to investigators on July 16, 2002, and that's when they began looking into Eaton's background. On July 29, a search of his Moneta property turned up hub caps and parts of a taillight from a Honda model, similar to Kimmell's, thrown into an old well on the land.
The next day, investigators excavated a suspicious mound of earth on the property, uncovering a car that was immediately confirmed by the vehicle's identification number as belonging to Kimmell. They also found part of Kimmell's distinctive "Lil Miss" personalized Montana license plate buried near the car.
According to court records unsealed Thursday, the wheels, seats, stereo and gear-shift knob from Kimmell's car were missing when it was dug up.
Cooper told TheDenverChannel that it was common for serial killers to keep "souvenirs" from their victims and that burying the car on the suspect's own property was a way of keeping a souvenir.
While investigators searched for a second accomplice in the case, they interviewed Eaton's son, who cooperated and told them that he remembered helping his father melt down four Honda wheels to sell as scrap and that he helped install a stereo and Honda seats in a pickup last year, according to the court records.
Investigators looked for the 1963 Ford F-150 pickup that Eaton owned at the time of Kimmell's disappearance. They found it on Aug. 22, 2002 in Casper, but they did not reveal if any incriminating evidence was recovered from the truck.
Meenan has refused to comment on key points of the investigation and even withheld information about the DNA match and items from Kimmell's car when questioned by reporters last year -- refusing to reveal that the DNA had already connected Eaton to the Kimmell murder.
Kimmell's mother lives in the Denver area. Meenan faxed her a copy of the murder charges against Eaton Thursday. It was not known if Meenan also withheld information about the DNA match from her last summer.
"It was difficult to go over and review that information. When we actually read the charges, all eight of them, and read some of the information that hasn't been shared with us before, it was difficult.," Sheila Kimmell told the Rocky Mountain News. "Regardless of our opinions . . . Mr. Eaton is still entitled to a fair trial," she said. "We (will) try to keep some balance, and that's a hard thing to do, and we're having a hard time."
Sheila Kimmell lives in Littleton, Colo.
Eaton is due to appear in court Monday on the charges.
- August 16, 2002: Woman's Skeleton Found In Wyoming
- August 15, 2002: Old Pickup Sought In Wyoming Murder Case
- August 14, 2002: Recovered Car Gives Former Prosecutor Hope
- August 13, 2002: Buried Car Connected To 1988 Murder
- August 8, 2002: Neighbor Saw Hole Dug Where Car Was Found
- August 7, 2002: Break In Great Basin Murders?
- August 2, 2002: The Kimmell Case In Review
- August 2, 2002: DNA May Match Suspect To 14-Year-Old Murder
- August 1, 2002: Car Of Denver Murder Victim Uncovered