By Bill Sniffin, publisher
(Note: The Oxygen Cable TV network on Monday night will air a new documentary on the 1980 murders of Virginia Uden and her sons. It will be aired repeatedly on into the future.)
Back in 2013, I wrote: “After 33 years of one cold case and 16 years for the other, it has always been easy to believe that some unsolved disappearances will just never be explained.”
In Lander, for decades we pondered about two gals who vanished. Virginia Uden and Amy Bechtel both disappeared and I wrote the news stories about them while I was the Lander newspaper publisher.
Amy is still missing but the horrible fate of Virginia Uden and her two sons has now been known for a while.
Ironically, both women worked for me at my newspaper. It seemed odd to be writing these horrible stories about people you actually knew. It did make it easy to write columns and editorials full of speculation about how a person could disappear into thin air during a modern time when everybody seems to know everything about everybody.
But these two mysteries seemed destined to be perpetually unsolved.
Then, just like that, one of them was solved.
And the answers to all of those one-third of a century-old questions were as horrific and grisly as anyone could have possibly imagined.
Gerald Uden was a worker at the U. S. Steel iron ore mine at Atlantic City, some 25 miles outside of Lander in the Wind River Mountains. Co-worker Kim Curtis remembered him as “scary.”
Virginia Beard must have seen something in the guy, since she married him and Uden adopted her two sons, Reagan, 10, and Richard, 11.
Everyone now knows what happened next. It was on CNN, ABC, in People Magazine, and The New York Times among all the other state and national media outlets. The story is impossible to ignore and if you wrote about the Uden family as fiction, the story would not sell because it is so unbelievable.
Then there is Amy.
Amy Wroe Bechtel, 24, disappeared while jogging in the Wind River Mountains above Lander on July 24, 1997. Although what happened to her is not known, it is believed she is dead.
And it is also believed she died at the hands of a serial killer, who authorities believe is already in custody for a similar Wyoming abduction and killing.
That suspect is Dale Wayne Eaton, the man on death row for the famous and heinous “Little Miss” killing. Eaton kidnapped, raped and murdered another pretty young woman in 1989.
Fremont County Detective John Zerga recounted that Eaton’s brother told him that the convicted killer was in the Lander area at the time of Amy’s disappearance.
But evidence is lacking and Eaton is not talking.
My wife Nancy and I have positive memories of both Amy and Virginia.
Amy Bechtel was a part-time photographer and a darned good one.
Note: Famed author Ron Franscell wrote an excellent book about the Uden case called Gerald and Alice, A Homicidal Love Story.
Virginia Uden did some surveying and telemarketing for the newspaper. She had recently divorced Gerald Uden at the time. She was desperate for money and working as many jobs as she could to make ends meet.
Gerald Uden and his new wife Alice worked at the U. S. Steel mine. Alice was convicted of killing a previous husband and dumping his body in a mineshaft in Albany County.
Then they conspired to rid Gerald of his obligations — his ex-wife Virginia and his two adopted sons.
An acquaintance of the new Mrs. Uden (Alice) who worked with her at the mine reported on Facebook that Alice was always complaining about Gerald never having any money because he had to support Virginia and the kids. Thus, money appears to be the motive for the taking of these three lives 33 years ago.
On a fall day in September 1980, Gerald Uden convinced Virginia and her two boys to meet him in Pavillion, Wyoming, for some hunting. He murdered all three. He stashed her car down a deep canyon off the Dickinson Park Road.
Officers finally found the body of Alice’s previous husband and that led them to her and Gerald, by then living in Missouri.
Meanwhile, officer Andy Hanson at the Dept. of Criminal Investigation (DCI) never gave up and connected the dots. Credit also goes to a UW archeologist who with eight students spent some awful summer days in 2008 digging around in an old pigsty in Pavillion looking for evidence of the Uden bodies. They were unsuccessful.
Gerald Uden confessed to all three murders — although he did try unsuccessfully to recant that confession and is spending the rest of his life in prison. His wife Alice died in prison a year ago.
Gerald originally said he killed Virginia and the two boys and their bodies are at the bottom of Fremont Lake outside of Pinedale. Then he said they were not. Most folks believed the bodies were dismembered by Alice and fed to the pigs on their farm near Pavillion.
Amy, well, her fate is still a mystery.