Pierce, 86, gets life for 1975 murder of wife in Door County

Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 8:01 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 5, 2022 at 6:37 PM CDT
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DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Richard Pierce, who was convicted in April of killing his wife who vanished in 1975, was sentenced Friday to life in prison.

Pierce, who’s now 86, was convicted of killing Carol Jean Pierce and disposing of her body. After about 10 hours of deliberation, a jury returned a verdict of guilty on counts of 1st Degree Murder and Disinterment of Dead.

In addition to the life sentence, a Door County judge gave Pierce another 3 years in prison on the Disinterment charge, which he would begin serving if he gets paroled on the murder charge.

Carol Jean Pierce hasn’t been seen since 1975. She wasn’t reported missing for 82 days after she was last seen. Police say Richard Pierce moved to Cheboygan, Mich., and got a new girlfriend shortly after Carol Jean’s disappearance.

“September 5, 1975, my sister, Carol Jean Pierce, was murdered by the defendant, Richard Pierce. As of today, August 5, 2022, that was exactly 46 years and 11 months ago today,” Brian Fillion, Carol Jean’s brother, pointed out to the court.

At Friday’s hearing, the judge heard from the victim’s brother and sister as well as her son. They talked about the heartache they’ve dealt with for more than 46 years.

“She would have never run away or this disappearing act or sacrificed her own family on her own,” her son, Mark Clark, said. “This was out of her character. She was a fighter. Mr. Pierce murdered her.”

We heard about Carol Jean Pierce’s mother’s pain and how she worked tirelessly until her death in 1989 trying to figure out what happened to her daughter.

“I only wish my dear, sweet mother could have lived and had closure before she died,” Janice Rowley said.

Rowley, Carol Jean’s sister, fought tears but did not hold back as she asked the judge to show Pierce zero leniency.

“Richard Pierce is a heartless, cold, lying monster, and now he’s a murderer. I hope and pray that he will rot in prison,” Rowley said.

When the judge asked Pierce if he had anything to say, Pierce said no.

Judge David Weber reiterated what Carol Jean Pierce and her family were deprived of when the defendant not only murdered his wife but then disposed of her body so she could never be properly buried.

After court, Carol Jean’s family declined to comment but as they walked out of the courthouse we heard them talking about being relieved this is over and how Richard Pierce will never see the light of day.

Arleigh Porter, who was Sturgeon Bay’s police chief and has since retired, said he was a young detective when he worked on this case 40-plus years ago. He says while today’s sentencing isn’t closure, because they still don’t know where the body of Carol Jean Pierce is, it is finality of teamwork that led to the conviction and life imprisonment for Richard Pierce.

Prosecutors believe Carol Jean’s body was hidden in Pierce’s Michigan home for years until Pierce removed it. They searched his Michigan home in 2008.

Ten years later, in 2018, the Wisconsin Cold Case Review Team concluded there was enough to show Richard Pierce was set to gain from Carol Jean’s disappearance. Investigators from Sturgeon Bay and Michigan then spent weeks searching Richard Pierce’s property in Michigan, looking for possible evidence related to Carol Jean’s disappearance.

Testimony at trial from a human remains dog handler indicated six times to the presence of human remains. Prosecutors said a significant amount of dirt was removed from a crawl space in those intervening 10 years. However, Carol Jean’s remains were never 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.”

CLICK HERE for our coverage of the verdict.

Richard Pierce was found guilty in April of 1st Degree Murder

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