What Happened to Newlywed Amy Wroe Bechtel?

Image for post
Image for post
The missing person poster for Amy Wroe Bechtel — Source: Casper Star Tribune

When Amy Joy Wroe Bechtel disappeared in July 1997, her life held much promise. [1] Newly married and in peak physical health, the 24-year-old was making memories with her husband and planning for the future.

But this up-and-coming young woman’s future was called into question when she failed to return to her Lander, Wyoming, home later that same night.

Where did Amy go, and who or what decided to rip her from the arms of her loved ones before her time?

Life Was Good

Image for post
Image for post
Steve and Amy Bechtel — Source: Strange Outdoors

Amy Wroe Bechtel was born Amy Joy Wroe on August 4, 1972. Dad Duane Wroe worked as a city administrator who liked his alcohol and chain-smoked cigarettes but gave up his drinking habit when Amy and her three siblings were young children. [2]

Amy’s mother, Jo Anne Wroe, taught physically disabled children for years before cutting back on her hours and becoming a substitute teacher.

The Wroes describe their daughter as a thoughtful, hyper-focused girl who fell in love with running when she was in the sixth grade. She wasn’t the best runner, at first, but her passion for the activity propelled her into the spotlight in college.

Image for post
Image for post
Amy Wroe Bechtel — Source: Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

As a student at the University of Wyoming, Amy became captain of the cross-country and track teams and was named to the Western Athletic Conference’s all-star team. Amy still holds the UW record in the 3,000 meters.

After college, Amy continued to compete in regional and national competitions, including the 1996 Boston Marathon. She dreamed of qualifying for the 2000 Olympics.

At the time of her disappearance, Amy was working as a personal trainer. [3]

While a student at UW, Amy Wroe met Steve Bechtel, a rock climbing enthusiast. The two fell in love and were married in 1996.

The couple soon moved to Lander, which had a rugged terrain that would allow Steve to continue his hobby of rock climbing and prove to be the perfect training ground for Amy. [4]

Gone

Image for post
Image for post
Source: Last Seen Alive Podcast

At around 9:30 on the morning of July 24, 1997, Steve Bechtel left the apartment he shared with Amy to go rock climbing while Amy taught her fitness class. [1]

Amy had a busy day ahead of her. Amy and Steve had recently purchased a house and were in the process of making the necessary preparations before moving in, including calling the phone company, getting the gas turned on, and purchasing home insurance — all things Amy intended on tackling that day.

When all of her errands were done, Amy intended on planning a route for a 10k mountain run. [4]

When Steve arrived home at 8:15 p.m., Amy wasn’t home yet, so he went to see neighbors Todd and Amy Skinner, who were making dinner. [1]

Though Steve expected to find Amy at home, no one was immediately alarmed that she wasn’t back yet. [4]

Todd Skinner explained:

“[Steve] wasn’t panicking by any means because it was still light, and still, you know, she could have been out doing something. It was not an unordinary day for Amy.”

But as day turned into night, Steve became increasingly worried that he hadn’t heard from his wife.

The Skinners decided to hop in their car and go look for Amy along the roads where she was known to go running while Steve stayed behind in case Amy called.

By 1 a.m., the seriousness of the situation had set in. It wasn’t unusual for Amy to have long days, but it was highly unusual for her to be away in the middle of the night without so much as a phone call to put her husband’s mind at ease.

Image for post
Image for post
Steve Bechtel walking along Loop Road, where Amy went for a run on the day she vanished. — Source: Runner’s World

It was around this time that Todd and Amy discovered Amy Bechtel’s car pulled off to the side of the road in an area she might have considered a good running spot.

The white Toyota station wagon was found sitting along Loop Road in the Wind River Mountains near Shoshone National Park. [5] Inside the vehicle were Amy’s keys, sunglasses, and her to-do list for the day. Her wallet, however, was missing. There were no signs of a struggle.

The Skinners breathed a sigh of relief, believing they had located their neighbor. [4] Their joy quickly turned to disappointment, however, when they realized that Amy wasn’t in the vehicle.

Todd Skinner said:

“We were relieved. It was like, oh, man, we thought we’d found her. So I walked up completely expecting her to be in the car.”

By 3:00 a.m. on July 25, an extensive search had been launched. [6] There was very little to go on. The last person believed to have seen Amy alive was Greg Wagner, the owner of a store called Gallery 331. Wagner told investigators that Amy had stopped in at his establishment around 2:30 p.m. on the 24th.

According to Wagner, Amy appeared to be in a hurry and kept looking at her watch while she was in the store. [6]

Amy was last seen wearing a yellow or gold tank top, blue or black shorts, Adidas Trail Response sneakers, a Timex Ironman Triatholon watch, and a small double wedding band. [5]

Initially, the search was comprised of Steve and about two dozen of his friends. By day three, more than 100 volunteers were scouring a 30-mile radius. They hunted for the young newlywed on ATVs and dirt bikes, on horses and from helicopters, and dogs were brought in to try and pick up Amy’s scent.

What Happened to Amy?

Image for post
Image for post
Amy and her dog — Source: Last Seen Alive Podcast

When it seemed that Amy Bechtel had run right off the face of the earth, friends, family, and law enforcement didn’t immediately suspect something nefarious.

Amy did not go running on quiet suburban streets. She trained in the wilderness for its challenging ruggedness. It was possible that she looked like a quick snack for a wild animal. If she had fallen, she would have been an easy target for a hungry bear or mountain lion.

But if she had been attacked by an animal, there would have been some sort of sign. Searchers would have found blood, torn clothing, bones, something.

Yet, there was nary a sign that Amy had been in the area at all, with the exception of a footprint similar to the sneakers Amy was wearing on the trail. [5] Unfortunately, it was destroyed before police could match it.

There was no sign that Amy had fallen or gotten injured while running and was unable to go for help. There was no sign of Amy … at all.

If Amy was missing, it could only mean that someone either took her or did away with her…

All Eyes on Steve

It goes without saying that when a woman disappears, her husband or significant other is the first person on investigators’ radar. Even as searchers scoured the challenging terrain for Amy, the police were focusing their attention on Steve Bechtel.

Steve and Amy had only been married for a little over a year. The couple had just purchased a house. The two should have been deliriously in love and brimming with joy, but the police quickly discovered there may have already been cracks in the relationship.

Image for post
Image for post
Amy and Steve Bechtel — Source: Last Seen Alive Podcast

And Steve, it seemed, had issues. Who doesn’t, right? Having issues doesn’t mean you’re a dangerous person, but Steve’s issues gave law enforcement pause. They were the types of troubles that could potentially drive an unstable individual to do unspeakable things.

While searching the Bechtel’s home, police discovered journals written by Steve in which he scribbled song lyrics and poetry with violent overtones. [7] Some of these entries described violence against women, and specifically, Amy.

These writings outlined Steve’s need for dominance and control. [8] One poem contemplated murder and how a person would successfully hide a body.

When the police informed him that they had read his journals, Steve abruptly ended the interview. [6] The poems and song lyrics had nothing to do with Amy, he said.

Image for post
Image for post
Source: Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

If Steve is innocent, he isn’t very convincing. Less than two weeks after his wife disappeared, he lawyered up and refused to take a polygraph exam. [7] That’s all it took for investigators, locals, and the media to zero in on him with laser focus.

As the police often do, they told Steve that they had evidence that proved he killed his wife. One account states that the information was false and that the police made it up to get Steve to confess. Other accounts suggest that there really was a witness. We’ll assume there was one.

The witness purportedly claimed to have seen a blue truck driving fast on the mountain road where Amy’s vehicle was found. [4] A man was driving the truck and there was a blonde-haired woman in the passenger seat.

Image for post
Image for post
A truck similar to the one driven by Steve Bechtel — Source: Unsolved Mysteries

The following day, according to the witness, the same truck showed up at the search site.

When police showed her a photo of Steve’s truck, she identified it as being the same truck she had seen barrelling down the mountain road.

Sheriff David King said:

“Statistically, he did it. The first person we have to eliminate in a case where there may be foul play involved in one’s disappearance is the person closest to that person.”

But Steve didn’t budge. The revelation did not lead to a confession.

However, there is evidence suggesting that Steve couldn’t possibly have been near Amy when she went missing. Phone records showed that Steve made a call from his house at 4:43 p.m., around the same time the witness said she spotted his truck. The Bechtel’s home was a good 45-minute drive from the mountain road where Steve’s truck was allegedly spotted.

Then, on August 5th, Steve was visited by FBI Agent Rick McCullough, who accused Steve of murdering his wife.

Image for post
Image for post
Amy and Steve Bechtel — Source: Billings Gazette

Steve had an alibi, though — he said he was with pal Sam Lightner searching for a climbing spot the day Amy vanished. He told McCullough he brought a gun and his dog Jonz to fend off grizzly bears.

Although Steve and Lightner were supposedly a good distance away from Amy at the time, and phone records seem to support Steve’s alibi, questions remained over whether Steve could have attacked Amy sometime during a narrow window of time in the afternoon.

Despite pleas from Amy’s friends and family, Steve Bechtel refused to take a polygraph exam. It seemed to everyone that Steve himself was trying to fade from the spotlight, and whether true or not, each day that passed cast a long, dark shadow over his innocence.

Amy’s brother Nel had his own reasons for being suspicious of Steve. He explained to the sheriff that one night when Amy and Steve were over for dinner, he noticed that Amy had some bruises. She dismissed them by making a joke that sometimes Steve got a little rough sometimes. But her behavior suggested there was more to the story.

Nel said:

“Amy just laughed it off, would not look me in the eye, and I said, that is not a normal reaction, particularly for Amy.”

But there is nothing definitively linking Steve to Amy’s disappearance and/or murder. There is no forensic evidence linking them (that we are aware of), and private journals are hardly proof that someone has done something wrong.

As for his refusal to take a polygraph test, Steve Bechtel opted not to after conferring with his lawyer “because the test is flawed and a waste.” [8] Polygraphs help point police in the right direction, but they are imperfect and are not admissible in court.

So What Happened?

Did a Serial Killer Murder Amy?

If Amy wasn’t attacked by an animal, didn’t fall and hurt herself, and her husband didn’t kill her, then what happened?

One theory is that serial killer Dale Wayne Eaton, better known as the Great Basin Killer, murdered Amy Wroe Bechtel. [6] According to Eaton’s brother and sister-in-law, Eaton was camping in the Burnt Gulch area — near where Amy went running — around the time Amy disappeared. [8]

Eaton attempted to kidnap a family experiencing car trouble a month after Amy went missing. [7] Shannon Breeder, her husband Scott, and their five-month-old baby Cody were traveling along Interstate 80 when their van broke down along.

Eaton stopped to offer “help,” and asked Shannon to drive his green ’85 Dodge van.

The serial killer then pulled a gun on the family and told Shannon to drive south into the desert.

But he didn’t expect Shannon to be such a smart cookie. Instead of driving south, Shannon hit the gas and turned in a circle, which allowed Scott to jump out of one side of the van with the baby and Shannon jumped out the other side.

Scott grabbed Eaton and hit him in the head with the butt of Eaton’s rifle. Eaton ended up getting stabbed with his own knife during a struggle and left the scene after the Breeders sped away.

Proving that the justice system doesn’t always provide justice, Eaton only spent 99 days in jail for the crime and was given one to two years probation. [8]

After the kidnapping attempt, Eaton was convicted of the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell. [7]

On March 25, 1988, Lisa was driving alone from Denver to Billings, Montana, where she planned to visit her boyfriend, Cody. She never arrived.

Two fishermen found Lisa’s body eight days later in the North Platte River near Casper. She had been raped, bludgeoned, and stabbed.

The police determined that Eaton had abducted Lisa at a remote rest area in Waltman and held her captive in a converted school bus, where he raped her repeatedly before beating her and stabbing her six times. [9]

Following Lisa’s burial, her family found a strange note on her grave that read: [7]

“Stringfellow Hawke”

DNA evidence was collected from Lisa’s body, and in July 2002, DNA technology showed Eaton was Lisa’s attacker. Handwriting analysis also showed that Eaton had written the note found on Lisa’s grave.

The police found numerous clothing and purses belonging to women on his property, as well as newspaper clippings about other murdered women. The information came from a tip from one of Eaton’s neighbors, who spotted Eaton digging in his yard.

The police also discovered Lisa’s car, which he had buried and used as a septic tank.

Eaton refuses to speak with investigators, and since he isn’t facing the death penalty, the police don’t really have a bargaining chip to hang over his head.

Eaton was sentenced to death by lethal injection in March 2004 for the murder of Lisa Kimmell, but was given a stay of execution in December 2009 after his lawyers argued that he had been mentally unfit to stand trial. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison.

The police don’t believe Eaton was involved in Amy's disappearance and believe Eaton’s niece, who told them that Eaton was visiting her in Greeley, Colorado, when Amy vanished. [7]

Still Searching for Answers

Steve Bechtel is still on law enforcement’s radar. They continue to believe that he is the only viable person of interest in the case. [10]

After Amy disappeared, Steve moved to Utah. He had his wife declared dead in 2004. He got remarried and eventually moved back to Lander.

Fremont County Sheriff Sgt. Roger Rizor, the lead investigator in the case, said in 2007 that although Amy is still listed as a missing person, he believes she is long dead.

“But I believe it was a homicide, and I believe what happened to her happened on the day she disappeared.

In my mind, there is only one person that I want to talk to, only one person who has refused to talk to law enforcement, and that’s her husband.”

Rizor added:

“If a man’s wife disappears mysteriously, you don’t clam up, you don’t refuse to cooperate with the cops.”

Amy’s mother is equally suspicious of her former son-in-law.

Image for post
Image for post
Amy’s mother, Joeann Wroe — Source: Billings Gazette

“We still don’t know anything about where she is and what’s become of her. And we have concerns that after all these years Amy’s husband has still not agreed to work with law enforcement and answer questions. We are still waiting for Steve to come forward so that he can be cleared. It’s the only way he can clear himself from being a person of interest.”

Sources:

  1. Unsolved Mysteries Wiki
  2. OutsideOnline.com
  3. Runner’s World
  4. Unsolved Mysteries
  5. The Charley Project
  6. Today Before Today
  7. Strange Outdoors
  8. The True Crime Files
  9. Unsolved Mysteries Wiki
  10. Billings Gazette

My name is Julie Fidler. I’m a writer, author, wife, and animal lover. I shed light on unsolved mysteries and shocking crimes.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store