This month’s missing persons case strays a bit from our normal cases here at the Morbid Library. And by that, I mean that it is a case with a cult following and extensive coverage. Because I use October to cover things that have held my attention for a long time, this is the only time I really cover such high-profile cases (unless you guys request them, like Logan Scheindelman). So – what happened to Amy Wroe Bechtel in Shoshone National Forest on the afternoon of July 24, 1997? Let’s Explore.
Who Is Amy?
Amy Wroe was born on August 4, 1972 in Santa Barbara, CA to mother JoAnne and father Duane. She has three older siblings. Early in her life, the family moved to Wyoming. Amy achieved good grades throughout her schooling and was accepted to the University of Wyoming. During her undergrad years, Amy was a competitive cross-country runner. She also met her husband, Steve Bechtel, during her time at the university. She graduated from UW with a Bachelors in Exercise Physiology.
Amy and Steve got married in 1996, and the newlyweds moved to Lander, Wyoming. Steve was an avid rock climber, and the terrain there was more suitable for him to continue this hobby. Amy never stopped running. She ran both for leisure and competitively – she had hopes of competing for the United State of America in the 2000 Olympic games. To make money as she pursued her dreams, Amy found work as a personal trainer.
At the time of her disappearance, Amy had shoulder length blonde hair. She has blue eyes, and stands around 5’6” tall. She weighed around 110 lbs. Both of Amy’s ears are pierced, and she has several scars – some on both shins and knees, one on her left cheek, and a checkerboard shaped scar on her back.
On July 27, 1997, Amy left her home to head to work. She had mentioned running errands to her husband Steve before leaving. That morning she taught a weight lifting class for kids at the Wind River Fitness Center, where she worked as a personal trainer. After class wrapped up, she headed to Camera Connection, a photo store, and then she stopped at Gallery 331, which appears to have been a local art shop/gallery. The owner of Gallery 331 is the last known person to have spoken with Amy, around 2:30 PM.
Bechtel is then thought to have driven to the Shoshone National Forest to scope out the course plotted for a 10K run she had signed up for and was training for. It is unclear if she planned to run the full 10k, which ran along Loop Road, or if she wanted to simply familiarize herself with the route. Steve got home from work around 4:30, but did not report Amy missing until 10:30 that evening – which isn’t damning in my opinion, but we’ll get to that.
Amy was last seen wearing a yellow tank top and dark colored shorts. She was also wearing size 8 Adidas Trail Response shoes, a Timex sport watch, and her wedding band set. It is speculated that she went to the forest that day to both check the route and jog, two things. The first is her attire. The second is the fact that the first investigators on the scene found a footprint that appeared to match Amy’s shoe in the mud along the loop, but the imprint was destroyed before it could be confirmed.
The first discovery in the investigation came only hours after Amy went missing. At 1 AM on July 25, her vehicle was discovered with no sign of Amy. The car, a white Toyota Tercel, was parked on a shoulder near Burnt Gulch. Burnt Gulch is a valley in Lander popular with hikers, bikers, and trail hikers. Her belongings were still inside, undisturbed. By 3 AM, law enforcement had teams searching the Shoshone National Forest for signs of Amy. Steve and Amy’s friends and family also aided in the search, but nothing was found.
While tips poured in, police believed that Amy had an accident or a wildlife encounter in the forest the day she disappeared. They searched lakes in the area, but found nothing. As the investigation wore on and no one found any substantial leads in the case, they began to suspect Steve. In an effort to source new leads and also get context for their relationship, they searched Steve’s journals. In them, they found entries describing violent impulses towards women, instances of violence towards Amy, and a poem about murdering someone and hiding their body. A tip also came in from a woman who claimed to have seen a vehicle resembling Steve’s truck speeding through the park in the evening on the day that Amy disappeared. Friends of Amy told investigators that he had abusive tendencies, acting jealous and possessive of her. Once suspicions began turning to him, Steve retained a lawyer and ceased cooperation with the police. On August 1, investigators claimed to have evidence implicating Steve in the murder of his wife, but they only had circumstantial evidence in the journals, which Steve wrote off as song lyrics for his band. He refused a polygraph. Steve has never been charged for having any involvement in his wife’s disappearance.
And then the case went cold. There were no significant developments. Tips and leads still came in, but nothing panned out to be substantial. The next big break came in 2003, when a hiker found a watch that matched the description of the one Amy was wearing when she disappeared. Unfortunately, however, it has not been confirmed to have belonged to Amy. Again, there were no substantial leads for years.
Apart from Steve, the only suspect considered in this case is named Dale Wayne Eaton. Eaton is also known as the Great Basin Killer, and he is currently serving a death sentence in Wyoming for the murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell in 1988. Eaton’s brother claims that he often camped near Burnt Gulch in the late 90s, so it would be feasible that he and Amy crossed paths on the day of her disappearance if true. Unfortunately, his whereabouts on the day of Amy’s disappearance are not confirmed and Eaton refuses to speak with investigators regarding her disappearance.
There are so many theories with this case, thanks in part to the astounding coverage it received contemporarily and still today. I am going to cover four theories in this section that seem to be mentioned most often in discussion. The first theory, and perhaps the most popular, is that Steve had something to do with Amy’s disappearance. With friends’ reports of Steve being controlling, his disturbing journals, and the witness seeing a vehicle similar to his in the Shoshone National Forest that day, there are some red flags. On the other hand, there is no concrete evidence that Steve was involved – everything is circumstantial. Other friends of the couple came forward to dispute that he was controlling, stating that the relationship seemed to be doing well. Plus, we need to normalize people asking for legal counsel. Asking for legal counsel – and refusing polygraphs, for that matter – do not implicate guilt. Steve doesn’t look great, but these things should not be held against him.
The second theory is that this was a crime of opportunity, meaning someone saw Amy while she was out running and attacked on impulse. This does not necessarily mean that the perpetrator is a serial killer or an infamous killer. Eaton is definitely a possibility, but there is no way to possibly know who else encountered Amy that night, and whether they had any ill intentions for her.
The third theory I see is that Amy had an accident and succumbed to the elements. Her car was found by Sawmill Creek, so if we believe that Amy drove the car there herself, something could have happened to land her in the water. Maybe she tripped. Maybe she twisted her ankle. Maybe she was pushed. The gist of the theory also applies to the various bodies of water along the loop investigators believe Amy was running that day – though that would then open the question of who moved her car. Or maybe Amy ventured off the path for some reason and was injured and unable to move or get help, succumbed to the elements. I don’t exactly agree with this theory, though, because search parties were all over that area within 12 hours. Unless Amy was unconscious every time someone was there searching for her, how could she have been missing? It’s possible, but not likely to me.
The final theory I have seen mentioned only a few times is that Amy took her own life somewhere in the woods or in Burnt Gulch that day. This is a theory built on circumstantial information, but when someone disappears, suicide is always a possibility. Amy was an incredibly accomplished woman. She had a degree and she was working towards her dream of being an Olympic athlete. But her relationship was supposedly abusive. And suicide is often an impulsive decision. It’s a snap judgement made in an attempt to end pain. We can’t possibly know what was going on in Amy’s head that day. We can’t know what was happening behind closed doors. So we can’t really rule anything out.
If you or anyone you know have any information, no matter how small, please reach out to the proper authorities. Amy has been missing for nearly 25 years. The case is still active and leads are followed up. The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at 307-332-1000, and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation can be reached at 307-777-7181. It appears that they both use case number 46860 for this case. The National Crime Information Center case number for Amy’s case is M-044462316.