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Testimony continues for second week in Door County cold case murder trial

Testimony continues in a 1975 murder case in Door County.
Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 6:29 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2022 at 5:36 PM CDT
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DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Testimony continues Tuesday in a 1975 murder case in Door County.

It’s week two of the Richard Pierce trial. The 86-year-old man is standing trial in Door County on charges of 1st Degree Murder and Disinterment of Dead for the death of his wife Carol Jean Pierce. Richard Pierce has maintained his innocence.

Action 2 News will livestream the trial on our website and the WBAY Facebook page. NOTE: We will cut away upon judge’s orders and when the jury is told to leave the room.

Carol Jean Pierce hasn’t been seen since September of 1975. Police say Richard Pierce moved to Cheboygan, Mich., and had a new girlfriend shortly after Carol Jean’s disappearance. A missing persons report for Carol Jean wasn’t filed for 82 days.

On Tuesday, dog handler Alyssa Palmer testified about the search of Richard Pierce’s Michigan home in 2018. K9 Hela, a human remains detection dog, was used in the search.

Assistant District Attorney Nick Grode: “And on October 12, 2018, did Hela indicate to the presence of human remains in the defendant’s residence?”

Palmer: “Yes.”

Grode: “In how many locations?”

Palmer: “I believe there were six.”

Heela took investigators to a crawl space on the property.

“When we went into the residence, she’s moving out in front of me,” said Palmer. “She ended up going down a hallway and she entered into what I would describe as a utility room and there was a door in the floor and that led to the crawl space underneath the residence and she was really interested in that door, and I think the drop was 2-3 feet and I helped her get down in that area and then I went in there and laid on my stomach, because it was only a couple of feet.”

Grode: “Now out of all of those six indications, is there any area in the defendant’s residence that Hela seemed more interested in than the rest?”

Palmer: “I would say, based on my experience with my dog all of the years and hours of training behind her nose, and knowing how she searches, I believe, based on her indications, that the largest odor of human remains is emanating from the crawl space.”

The defense questioned her Hela’s training history.

Defense attorney Kate Zuidmulder: “You would acknowledge that Hela’s training in the 11 months before October 2018 was deficient?”

Palmer: “It was not optimal for sure. It’s not what I normally have throughout her training career.”

Zuidmulder: “But you wouldn’t call it deficient?”

Palmer: “Guess it would be your definition of deficient, but it certainly was not the norm for what I normally do.”

ADA Grode: “Based on everything you’ve testified to, do you have any doubt of Hela’s qualifications to conduct that search on October 12 of 2018?”

Palmer: “No, I don’t have any doubt.”

Richard Pierce’s stepdaughter Gwen Schutte testified that her father gave a bikini that belonged to Carol Jean to Gwen’s mother.

Grode: “Did he ever talk about what happened to Carol Jean?”

Schutte: “I talked to him one time about it.”

Grode: “What did he tell you happened?”

Schutte: “He just told me that she moved away out west. She always wanted to live out there. And that’s all he knew.”

Former stepdaughter Gail Box remembered Pierce throwing away clothes after or around 1978.

She recalled Pierce telling her how to avoid being caught for a crime.

“Tell him you don’t tell anybody, not your boyfriend, not your husband, not your... nobody but yourself should know about it,” Box said.

Two women took the stand who said they had relationships with Pierce in the past and had been inside his home.

Jan McCrimmon told jurors Pierce would not let her enter certain areas.

“The kitchen, the dining room and that couch is all you could travel and see,” she explained.

She remembered seeing a burn pit outside with bones and a big clump of hair next to it.

McCrimmon: “He said one of his neighbors gave him a cow.”

Grode: “Did he say how he was going to get rid of the bones?”

McCrimmon: “Yes, he did.”

Grode: “What did he say?”

McCrimmon: “He said him and his brother were going to take them to Florida and dispose of them.”

McCrimmon recalled a specific incident when she was heating up coffee in Pierce’s kitchen.

“He said this is where my first wife died and he wanted to know if I heard any movement underneath the floor,” she said. “Because he says when he goes in there, it’s like somebody was pounding on there, you know, haunting him.”

DETAILS ON FIRST WEEK OF TESTIMONY: https://www.wbay.com/2022/04/22/friday-marks-day-four-testimony-door-county-murder-trial/

K9 Heela, a human remains detection dog, was used in the search.

BACKGROUND

On Sept. 21, 2018, the Wisconsin Cold Case Review Team looked at the case and concluded there was enough to show Richard Pierce was set to gain from Carol Jean’s disappearance.

Investigators from Sturgeon Bay and Michigan spent weeks searching Richard Pierce’s property in Michigan, looking for possible evidence related to Carol Jean’s disappearance. Her remains were not located.

A criminal complaint states Richard Pierce had “gained numerous things based on Carol Jean’s disappearance, which included a pension unencumbered by a wife; most of the important belongings of their marriage; land and a home in Michigan; a new girlfriend weeks after Carol Jean’s disappearance, as well as the benefit of Carol Jean’s silence.”

Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Jay Yerges took the stand last Wednesday. He testified about searches of records that show no trace of Carol Jean.

“In checking all of those records, Carol Jean Pierce does not exist in society,” Yerges said. “Carol Jean Pierce does not exist in society. She’s dead. She’s gone. She does not exist.”

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