December 1994: The Oklahoman

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK)
December 9, 1994, Friday CITY EDITION
Road To Justice Difficult For Police

BYLINE: Bobby Ross Jr., Staff Writer

SECTION: COMMUNITY I; Pg. 1

LENGTH: 2861 words

Detective Theresa Pfeiffer’s mind replayed fast forward the
horrifying images and excruciating events.

Her head spun. Her heart thumped faster. Her knees felt suddenly
weak as the veteran detective of 10 years clicked briskly toward
Judge Thomas C. Smith’s courtroom.

Just a moment earlier, a game of “UNO” had occupied the Edmond
police investigator’s time. The colorful playing cards had helped
divert her thoughts from the most extraordinary criminal case of
her life – and the pending verdict.

Even as the jury’s deliberations stretched past 11 hours, she
saw no reason for alarm. The jury had plenty to digest. The eight
women and four men had endured a nearly five-month trial.

Prosecutors called it the longest in Oklahoma County history.

Jurors had listened to 79 witnesses and 74 taped segments from
testimony before a grand jury convened earlier. They had seen two
videotapes and 452 pieces of evidence.

Pfeiffer had witnessed the entire trial, minute by minute, hour
by hour, day by day, from a seat at the prosecutor’s table.

The stress and the pressure, the sacrifice and the personal toll
of a high-profile, double-murder case unlike any in state history
had failed to catch up with her.

Until now.

In seconds, the jury would reveal its verdict. Jimmie Ray
Slaughter would be a guilty man facing possible death.

Or, he would be a free man exonerated in the torture slaying of
an ex-girlfriend and their infant daughter.

Hundreds of witness interviews and countless hours of
fact-finding formed a momentary blurry fog in Pfeiffer’s brain.

“This is it,” she thought. “This is it. ”
Similar emotions tugged at her Edmond police partner, detective
Richard Ferling. But Ferling seemed more able to disguise his
feelings, just as he had found it easier to block the case out of
his mind at home at night.

Outside the courtroom door, Pfeiffer felt someone grab her hand
and squeeze it.

Susie Wuertz, whose 29-year-old daughter and 11-month-old
granddaughter were found shot to death that steamy summer day more
than three years earlier, looked Pfeiffer straight in the eye.

“It’s all right, Theresa,” Wuertz said, softly. “It’s in the
Lord’s hands and the Lord will do the right thing. ”
All Pfeiffer could do was nod in agreement.

The Murder

Technical investigator Rockie Yardley looked pale and visibly
upset when detective Pfeiffer arrived at the slaying scene.

It was about 5:30 p.m. on July 2, 1991. Police had received the
frantic 911 call about a half hour before.

Pfeiffer could tell something was definitely wrong. Having known
Yardley for years, she immediately sensed that this was no ordinary
homicide case.

“We got a dead baby in there,” he warned as he walked outside.

“Why would anybody kill a baby? ” she asked herself.

Pfeiffer, a mother in her 30s, had given birth to her own second
daughter just 12 weeks before.

Until encountering Yardley, Pfeiffer knew only that two people
had been killed. A dispatcher had paged her just a few minutes
earlier. At the time of the page, police suspected the mother,
Melody Sue Wuertz, had been raped based on the position of her body.

Pfeiffer had not known an infant, Jessica Rae Wuertz, had died
as well – just five days shy of her first birthday.

Yardley already had been inside the west Edmond house at 216 W
7th, taking photographs, dusting fingerprints, performing
blood-splatter analysis.

“This is something you don’t want to see and have to relive,”
Yardley told her.

Pfeiffer was not immediately needed inside the house. She was
assigned to interview neighbors and witnesses.

She had worn a blue silk blouse with black pants and a black
blazer that day, which was fine for the air-conditioned police
station. The blonde-haired detective was sweating when she arrived
at the home of Phyllis Davis, a baby sitter of Jessica’s.

Davis’ 18-year-old daughter had made the horrifying discovery.

Jill Davis had gone to check on Melody Wuertz, an epileptic,
because she had not arrived for work at 3:30 p.m. Phyllis Davis was hysterical when Pfeiffer knocked at her door.

The baby sitter immediately told Pfeiffer about a male nurse at
the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Oklahoma City, where
Wuertz had worked as a ward clerk. Wuertz and the nurse, Jimmie Ray
Slaughter, were embroiled in a paternity dispute.

Less than two weeks earlier, blood-test results had confirmed
Slaughter as Jessica Wuertz’s father. According to Davis and other
witnesses, Slaughter was upset about Wuertz suing him for child
support payments. Wuertz had not known at the time of their
relationship that Slaughter was married.

The baby sitter’s words, repeated several times, echoed in
Pfeiffer’s mind: “He had the key. Melody didn’t get the locks changed. She
couldn’t afford it. ”
Pfeiffer returned to the scene later that night and delivered
supplies to the investigators still working inside.

Clumps of hair, lying just a couple of feet from the mother’s
body, immediately struck her as odd and out of place.

Then she caught a glimpse of the baby. It was a real-life
snapshot that would stay with her.

The mother’s body had been mutilated with knife slashings to her
sexual organs and occult-like carvings on her stomach. Both victims
had been shot twice in the head with a .22-caliber gun.

While Pfeiffer labored at the scene, detective Ferling was sent
to the VA Hospital to interview friends and associates.

Ferling had heard about the slayings on the police scanner but
did not become involved until about 7 p.m. when then-Lt. Terry
Gregg, now a captain, dispatched him to the hospital.

By midnight, Sgt. Mike Meador, now Edmond’s police chief, and
Sgt. Matt Griffin headed to Fort Riley, Kan., to interview
Slaughter. A major in the Army Reserves, Slaughter was a nurse
reservist on active duty at the Irwin Army Hospital.

Pfeiffer’s long night, the first of countless many, ended about
3 a.m. She set her alarm for 8 a.m.
But sleep did not come easy.

The Investigators

Detectives Pfeiffer and Ferling had worked numerous cases
together, but none were like this.

In the view of supervisors, the styles of the two detectives
complement each other. Pfeiffer is a stick-to-it, forceful,
inquisitive cop, willing to give all to get to the bottom of a
crime. Ferling, a veteran investigator of white-collar criminal
cases, is known for his meticulous, fine-detail approach to cases.

Both had worked a seemingly ordinary day on July 2, 1991, then
headed home.

While Pfeiffer had completed an affidavit in a rape
investigation, Ferling, now 39, had conducted several interviews on
general-assignment cases.

Homicides don’t occur often in Edmond, but extraordinary
circumstances seem to surround the ones that do. The Edmond Police
Department does not require full-time homicide detectives, or at
least it hadn’t. Before the Wuertz case, Pfeiffer had investigated nine homicides
during her career; Ferling 10.

As the investigation progressed, the case dragged through the
summer and into the fall and winter. For the two detectives, 14- to
16-hour work days were normal.

Pfeiffer was enduring the long days, then bringing the day’s
images home with her at night. She would lie awake, wondering what
cold-blooded individual would shoot a baby in the head – not once,
but twice. Her husband, Vince, an Edmond firefighter, took extra
vacation time to help fill in some of the slack.

“Even when I was there, you know, and you’re trying to be a good
mother, doing all the things you need to do, you’re still in the
back of your mind putting two and two together,” Pfeiffer
acknowledged later.

Ferling was working as many hours as Pfeiffer, often calling his
supervisor, Capt. Ron Cavin, at home at midnight or later to say he
was headed home from the office to work on reports on his personal
computer.

The case caused Ferling to miss a few of his 9-year-old son’s
baseball and basketball games, but not many. He made a conscious
effort to shut the case out of his mind during free time.

Still, he said, “There were a great number of days when you
couldn’t shut if off, or couldn’t shut if off for very long. You’d
be watching TV and something would bring it to mind. ”

The Investigation

Despite Slaughter’s almost immediate emergence as a suspect,
linking him to the crime proved an interminable task.

Repeatedly, Slaughter denied involvement in the slayings. His
wife backed up his alibi, saying they were shopping in Topeka,
Kan., when the mother and daughter were killed. A store clerk
interviewed by Pfeiffer remembered helping the wife, but maintained
no man was with her.

Evidence kept pointing Slaughter’s way.

The day after the killings, Capt. Cavin came across two
neighborhood boys while searching a field for a murder weapon. The
boys described a man they had seen parked near the Wuertz home the
day before. As the boys talked, they painted a composite of
Slaughter.

But authorities still did not have the hard evidence needed to
arrest Slaughter.

In late July, a special task force was formed to investigate the
slayings. The task force, consisting of Ferling, Pfeiffer and
officers from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the
Oklahoma County district attorney’s office, was charged with
checking evidence, interviewing people and reviewing backgrounds.

Some witnesses, the detectives discovered, were afraid to talk
for fear of Slaughter.

So in October, an Oklahoma County grand jury was empaneled to
probe what District Attorney Bob Macy called hearsay statements.

The grand jury heard bizarre and horrifying testimony about
satanic worship, demons, blood drinking, sacrifice, black magic
rituals, sexual conquests and racism.

Witnesses said Slaughter had talked of seeing demons, drinking
blood and making human sacrifices. However, prosecutors called
Wuertz “deeply religious” and said she was not involved in the
occult.

In a handwritten statement, an Oklahoma City woman who claimed
she was one of Slaughter’s mistresses reported that Slaughter asked
her to commit the slayings. Nurse Cecelia Johnson wrote that
Slaughter “said he wished both … were dead. He said … he would
be really friendly, then when he had the chance, kill them. ” Johnson, a key grand jury witness, told authorities that
Slaughter suggested hair from a black male could be left at the
crime scene to confuse and mislead homicide detectives. The hair
Pfeiffer had thought looked out of place near the mother’s body was
found to be Negroid hair.

Johnson killed herself in March 1992 after details of her
involvement with Slaughter became public.

Investigators seized a ring bearing occult symbols, a large
knife collection, satanic magazines, nude photographs, letters
describing occult practices, and more than 100 candles while
searching the homes of Slaughter and friends. Police also taped
telephone conversations between Slaughter and friends.

At about 6 p.m. on Jan. 4, 1992, the grand jury indicted
Slaughter on two counts of murder. The grand jury’s report stated
Slaughter committed “blatant perjury” during several days on the
witness stand.

The Capture

Jimmie Ray Slaughter’s unexpected overnight guests began
assembling later that Saturday evening. The breeze outside
Slaughter’s home four miles southwest of Guthrie was chilly.

Pfeiffer, Ferling and a crowd of law enforcement officials in
unmarked cars found hiding spots all around Slaughter’s residence.

After six months of work, they weren’t taking any chances.

“He had told people that if we ever tried to arrest him, he was
going to get his guns and there would be a shoot-out, that he was
going to back up to a tree and just shoot it out with the Keystone
Kops,” Pfeiffer recalled.

As much as they wanted Slaughter, the police felt a
responsibility to protect his two young children. They did not want
to startle him or prompt him to barricade himself in the house or
precipitate any other drastic action.

So they watched as the lights snapped off in the Slaughter
household. They settled down for the night. They waited. And waited.

Slaughter did not appear until the next afternoon, when he was
scheduled to work at the VA Hospital.

Slaughter walked outside, got in his car and unknowingly led a
long parade of unmarked police cars south down Interstate 35.

About 3:15 p.m., he looked in his rear-view mirror and saw two
black-and-white Edmond patrol cars behind him just past Waterloo
Road, in Oklahoma County limits.

At that point, Slaughter may have suspected his impending arrest
because he slowed down.

The uniformed officers pulled Slaughter over, took cover and
ordered him to exit his car and lie down on the ground. When he
obeyed, he was handcuffed and taken to the Oklahoma County Jail.

For the detectives, Slaughter’s arrest that Sunday was a relief.

But they had little time to savor the moment. They rushed home,
packed their bags and headed to Kansas for followup interviews.

“In other cases, you make an arrest and file paperwork with the
DA’s office and you just have to wait to go to court. Not on this
one,” Ferling said.

In this case, the evidence-gathering and fact-finding would not
stop until a verdict was reached.

The jury’s decision was still 33 months away.

The Verdict

Through all the highs and lows of the past three-plus years,
Pfeiffer had managed not to shed a single tear.

Now, on Oct. 6, 1994, it was as if a single, powerful explosion
had broken the dam.

The Wuertz case had produced a number of records: The first
wiretapping in a murder case approved by District Attorney Macy;
the first Oklahoma County grand jury used to return a murder
indictment; the longest preliminary hearing, followed by the
longest jury selection process, then the longest trial in Oklahoma
County history.

Now had come the only first that mattered – a guilty verdict –
and tears were streaming down Pfeiffer’s face.

For Pfeiffer and Ferling, the verdict represented not only a
victory for the Wuertz family, but vindication for the
investigators who had labored so long and hard.

During the trial, the defense had pounded away at the
prosecution and its witnesses.

Attorney John Coyle had said Slaughter was prone to spin tales,
especially if it got him into bed with a woman. But that did not
make him a killer, Coyle argued.

He also told jurors that police ignored evidence that would have
made Cecelia Johnson, who committed suicide, a likely suspect.

But the state’s evidence swayed the jury. Two neighborhood boys
testified they saw Slaughter near the Wuertz home around the time
of the murders. Specially made .22-caliber bullets, hollow-point
and subsonic, found in Slaughter’s safe were the same type of
bullets used in the killings.

Jail inmates testified Slaughter confided he was the killer.

Co-workers testified they heard Slaughter threaten to kill the
Wuertzes. Hair from two black people found at the crime scene
coincided with Johnson’s grand jury testimony about an attempt to
mislead investigators.

Pfeiffer savored the moment as Slaughter’s attorney asked for a
jury poll and the long-awaited “guilty” was repeated 12 times.

Tears poured from her eyes.

“It was just such an emotional relief,” she said. “I’ve never
experienced anything quite like that. I don’t know how to describe
it because it wasn’t crying. I wasn’t making any noise. But I just
couldn’t stop them. They just went down my face. ” Ferling didn’t cry until the next day, when the weary jury
returned to hear testimony in the sentencing phase.

Pfeiffer watched as Lyle Wuertz, father of Melody Wuertz,
reduced Ferling and other burly cops seated on the back row to
crying babies.

Lyle Wuertz, of Washington, Ind., testified about his memories
of his granddaughter, Jessica. He said the last time he saw her,
she crawled up in his lap and put her head on his shoulder.

“I rocked her. I rocked that angel to sleep,” he said.

Pfeiffer’s thoughts drifted through the past three years. She
felt like she knew Melody and Jessica from all the people she and
Ferling had interviewed. She could almost grasp the child’s
cheerful, pleasant nature.

“I was thinking about how unimaginable it would be to lose one
of my own children and what a great loss to this family that was. You could just envision these things. It’s catastrophic. ”
Three hours later, the jury returned with two death sentences
for Slaughter.

Pfeiffer realized only later that the murders had not only
stolen the lives of Melody Sue and Jessica Rae Wuertz, but had also
stolen her own daughter’s infancy from her. Pfeiffer missed seeing
her baby roll up in her crib for the first time. She missed her
first step.

“It was an all-consuming thing for me,” Pfeiffer said.

“I kept thinking, If this had been my daughter, I would want
somebody who would devote the time, the energy to the case to see
that whoever did it was brought to justice. ‘ ”
Finally, she could relax. Justice was served.

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