It was on the morning of July 7, 1992, when two teenagers went to explore Gourd Creek Cave, a little-known secluded spot in Phelps County, Missouri. The teens parked at the head of the trail and started their hike towards the cave, but their hike had ended abruptly. In the middle of the trail was a pool of blood. As their eyes scanned the area they spotted a body halfway in the creek.
Blood was streaming from the gunshot wound in the man’s head and, in spite of the flies that had been gathering around the ghastly sight, the body looked relatively fresh. The teens sprinted back to their grandfather’s home and called the police. It was less than an hour later that the Phelps County sheriff’s department and State Highway patrol officials arrived on the scene.
Investigators were able to find a few pieces of evidence around the scene including a piece of carpet, a cigarette butt, a plastic laundry basket near the body and a muddy shoe print. These items were photographed before being bagged and tagged accordingly and taken back to headquarters.
Using phone numbers found in the man’s wallet, police were able to identify the man as 26-year-old sawmill worker Jerry Wayne King. Investigators began tracing his final movements and it would be less than 24-hours later that they would have a suspect in custody.
Bill Harrison had been a long-time drinking buddy of King’s. Both were known to run in a crowd who believed in the philosophy of working hard and partying even harder, and that Independence Day weekend in 1992 was no exception. The party lasted through the weekend and spilled over into the week. Harrison was one of the last people known to have seen King alive.
According to Harrison, a mobile home repairman, King had placed a $100 deposit down on a trailer Harrison was intending to rent out. The deal ended up falling through and Harrison told King that he would be forced to keep King’s deposit since he lost two months of rent on the trailer holding it for him. Harrison claims that there were no hard feelings over the deal, but some say Harrison was angry over the situation.
It was that Monday that Harrison would drive to King’s home in Cuba, Missouri where King was hosting a party of his own. According to witnesses, Harrison told King that night that he would give King his deposit back if he agreed to drive back to his place with him to get the money. The pair arrived at Harrison’s home in Rolla at around 1 AM. Harrison’s stepdaughter was still awake watching TV and he spoke with his wife briefly, telling her that he had to “take care of business” before leaving again with King.
Harrison says that after that King wanted to keep drinking and Harrison, plenty drunk himself at that point, was done for the night. He dropped King off at a local bar and the pair went their separate ways. Harrison drove to another man house named John Lister and convinced him to drive him back to his cabin in Gasconade where the men had spent the weekend partying. There, Harrison says that he and Lister drank a couple beers and ate some barbecue before calling it a night.
Two days later the men would learn that not only had their friend been murdered, but that Bill Harrison was the primary suspect.
Prosecutors say that Harrison had changed his story. Initially they were told that Harrison had last seen King at 10:30 PM that night when he dropped him off at the bar, then he spent the rest of the evening party hopping with friends. It wasn’t until Harrison’s wife claimed seeing the men together at 1 AM that Harrison quickly changed his story in order to reflect the changes in the timeline.
In spite of what may have appeared as an open and shut case, investigators had little evidence to pin the crime to Harrison. No possible murder weapons were found in Harrison’s possession and there were no eyewitnesses to the crime. The only piece of evidence they could match to Harrison was the imprint of a Reebok athletic shoe found in the mud, and even that was flimsy at best, since rain had washed away some of the impression. A few witnesses were able to offer testimony on Harrison’s character and a possible motive, but the case fell apart in the three months Harrison spent behind bars awaiting trial.
The prosecution had no choice but to set Harrison free without prejudice.
Harrison had spent the better part of 23 years picking up the pieces of his life. He had lost friends and had lost his job, but he was getting by. He found a job working at a Walmart distribution center and led a quiet life with his wife, helping to raise his grandchild. Bill Harrison had no idea that his life would be turned upside down again when the former prosecutor decided to pick up where he had left off and assembled a team to help him reopen the cold case.
Focusing on Harrison, John Lister and another man they had been partying with that weekend named Henry Faulkner, investigators believed that all three had a hand in King’s murder and knew a lot more than they had been letting on.
One witness claimed to have seen a maroon sedan, similar to the car Lister drove at the time entering the head of the trail. The witness claimed to have spoken with the driver, who matched Lister’s description, and had been told he was waiting for someone to speak to about a Jeep engine on the night King was last known to be alive.
The prosecution obtained a warrant and all three men were forced to submit a DNA sample. Though they still had no physical evidence or eyewitnesses to the murder, they were confident that they were on the right track and would be able to put together a solid timeline that would be convincing enough to bring the case to trial.
Harrison was at work when two detectives came and wanted to ask him questions. Harrison never returned to work that day. Instead he was arrested and spent another two months in jail, later ordered to home confinement, as investigators scrambled to put together a convincing case against him.
Like the first time, getting a conviction against Harrison was a slippery slope. The second trial was ruled a mistrial after evidence for the prosecution fell into the hands of the defense. The third time around, after careful review, it was determined that there wasn’t enough evidence for the state to convict Harrison, nor Lister or Faulkner. They had no choice but to allow Harrison to walk, again without prejudice.
Harrison was disappointed that he never got to see his day in court. He wanted to hear for himself the jury say “not guilty” and vindicate him of the crime, he claims, he’s been falsely accused of. Prosecutors say that Harrison was able to get away with murder. As for the King family, they may never see the day that justice has been served for their fallen loved one.