Rock Springs Police Dust Off 25-Year-Old Cold Case: Who Killed Davida Peterson?

It’s been 25 years since Davida Peterson was shot in the head while working at a Rock Springs propane shop. A new detective has been assigned to dust off the unsolved murder and believes missing pieces to the puzzle are out there in the community.

JK
Jen Kocher

March 02, 202413 min read

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Davida Peterson wasn’t supposed to work that night.

Her coworker had called in sick to V-I Propane C-Store on Ninth Street in Rock Springs because she wanted to go see male strippers, said Peterson’s daughter, Jenny Sanders. Peterson, a mother of four, readily agreed to cover.

Sanders, then 17, told her mother she had a bad feeling about her going to work that night and wondered if she could stay home. She also wondered if someone else could be the responsible one for a change.

She’d be OK, Peterson told her daughter, adding she had to go work because they needed the money. Sanders stayed home to watch her niece.

Shortly after 8 that night on May 8, 1999, two armed robbers shot Peterson in the head, escaping with less than $300. Peterson was rushed to the hospital and clung to life for nearly a year, eventually passing away April 29, 2000, at the age of 41.

The unsolved murder has haunted Peterson’s family and the community of Rock Springs for the past 25 years.

Fresh Eyes

Now, the Rock Springs Police Department has announced a new detective will put fresh eyes on the case. Jennifer Saloga has stepped in to take it over from Det. Steve Reekers, who retired in 2018.

Linda Beauchamp, Peterson’s older sister, welcomes the new detective. As the family's spokesperson, she has been openly critical of Reekers' performance and communication with the family over the years.

Beauchamp was encouraged when Saloga called her last week at her home in Mesquite, Nevada, to get her blessing to take over the case.

Citing an open investigation, Saloga declined to comment on Peterson’s case or provide any additional details outside of what was released by the Rock Springs Police Department in a statement Feb. 16.

Saloga told Cowboy State Daily that she believes the missing pieces to the puzzle are out there in the Rock Springs community, waiting to be recovered.

Beauchamp agrees.

“There’s somebody out there who knows something,” she said.

The V-1 Propane C-Store on Ninth Street in Rock Springs was where Davida Peterson was shot in the head nearly 25 years ago.
The V-1 Propane C-Store on Ninth Street in Rock Springs was where Davida Peterson was shot in the head nearly 25 years ago. (Courtesy Photo)

That Night

Beauchamp remembers the night her sister was killed. It was one day before Mother’s Day, and she and her children had gone out to dinner at the nearby Sands Café.

V-1 was one of three jobs for Peterson. She also worked at the laundromat owned by their other sister and had delivered newspapers for the Casper Star-Tribune for more than a decade. She’d been at the gas station for a year or so, Peterson said.

On the way home that night, Beauchamp drove past V-I Propane and saw a car she recognized parked out front. It belonged to Peterson’s ex-husband, Randall “Randy” Miller. Beauchamp thought the two were in process of getting back together.

Meanwhile, Sanders tried to call her mother at work at some point after 8:30 and didn’t get an answer as her earlier fears began to sink in that something bad had happened.

Sometime before 9, Beauchamp got a call from Miller, who’d been listening to the police scanner. Miller told Beauchamp that there was an incident at the V-1 and shots had been fired. He told her to stay put and not to panic.

“Don’t you tell me to stay put,” she recalled telling Miller. “Not when it involves one of my family members.”

Ignoring his advice, Beuchamp made a beeline for the gas station, where she saw yellow police tape encircling the parking lot and about a dozen people milling within the perimeter. When she found a police officer, she explained she was the sister of the clerk.

The police officer informed her that there had been a shooting and Peterson was on the way to the hospital. When Beauchamp arrived at the hospital, a police officer informed her that Peterson had been shot in the head.

“I went down to my knees and said, ‘Oh my God, I have to call my family,’” she said.

Peterson was later life-flighted to Salt Lake City.

Clinging To Life

The family descended on Utah, where Peterson remained in a coma. She wasn’t able to speak to police to give them any details about what happened.

Peterson woke up briefly about a week later. Beauchamp said she didn’t open her eyes but sounded lucid. She spoke to her mother, Lois, and older sister, Brenda.

Lois asked if Peterson knew who she was. Peterson did. Brenda asked the same question, and Peterson knew her as well.

Peterson told them she knew she was in hospital but couldn’t remember what happened.

The two explained she had been in an accident at work. Then she went unconscious and never woke up again, Beauchamp said.

Peterson was later moved to a facility in Bountiful, Utah, and finally to Evanston, where she died April 29, 2000.

Little To No Evidence

Later, Beauchamp would learn that a customer found her sister lying between the counter and the side door around 8:45 p.m. when he came inside to pay for his gas and couldn’t find anyone behind the counter. She had been shot in the head above her right eye.

“I can’t remember his last name, but he was devastated,” Beauchamp said.

The store did not have security video cameras and police had little to go on.

According to a June 29, 1999, story in the Casper Star-Tribune, Rock Springs police Sgt. Dwane Pacheco said they suspected the shooting was the result of a robbery and they had “some evidence at the [state] crime lab that’s being analyzed, but nothing yet.”

Pacheco also said they had no solid suspects, though police were looking for a possible witness who was described as “6-feet tall with brown hair, wearing blue jeans and a buttoned-up shirt who was seen at a nearby business in the area at the time of the shooting.”

Several years would pass until two persons of interest were identified in Utah. The two unnamed men were then serving time in a Utah prison for robbing a convenience store at gunpoint in Ogden, Utah.

Reekers is quoted in a May 2003 Star-Tribune story as saying their leads led them to the two men, but that they weren’t yet being charged in Peterson’s murder.

“We just pick up bits and pieces, but not enough for any warrant for arrest to make it complete,” he told the newspaper.

Beauchamp said Reekers had informed the family about these men and said that their early 1980s brown GMC pickup driven by one of the men had reportedly been spotted in Rock Springs the day Peterson was shot.

When asked if the two men are still considered suspects in Peterson’s murder, Saloga said

they have never been excluded as suspects.

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Ruling Out Family

Initially, Peterson’s ex-husband was the primary suspect.

Doug McIntosh, 63, a lifelong Rock Springs resident with deep family roots in the community, knew both Peterson and Miller.

He didn’t believe Miller shot his ex-wife, though that was the rumor circulating in the wake of the robbery.

Sure enough, when McIntosh asked his wife, Becky, what she remembered, she said: “Everyone thought the husband did it.”

Both Beauchamp and Sanders agree that Miller is innocent.

Beauchamp said Miller would never harm her sister, as did Sanders. McIntosh agreed.

“Randy didn’t have a vicious bone in his body,” he said. “He was the salt of the earth.”

The two had swim class together in school, McIntosh recalled, and he still remembers their time in the pool.

“He didn't weigh more than 100 pounds and looked like a little baby mouse that was drowning,” McIntosh said. “He couldn’t hurt anyone.”

Miller died from injuries sustained in a car crash in 2019 at age 59.

Other Theories

Other predominant theories were that it was a random robbery by someone who had come off Interstate 80, which Beauchamp doesn’t buy given the relatively far location from the exit and the fact that a would-be robber would have passed at least two other larger gas stations first.

The V-1, which had gas pumps out front and propane tanks on the right side of the building, mostly sold propane and had only a few snack items for sale inside. It wasn’t an obvious target for robbery.

Beauchamp remembered gas prices being relatively higher at V-1, so most people went elsewhere to the larger gas stations.

Beauchamp and McIntosh believe it’s more likely that the murderer may have been a drug addict who wandered over from one of the handful of surrounding trailer parks filled with transient oil and gas workers.

At one point, Beauchamp got a trip from a cab driver who told her that he’d dropped off a fare near the Sands Café that night, and later got a call from a local biker bar to come pick up the same guy who then had blood on his shirt.

Beauchamp turned over the tip to Reekers, who she said dismissed it outright and told her he’d already interviewed and cleared the guy.

Little To No Media Attention

Meanwhile, both the family and community were left without answers, and over the years Peterson’s case got very little media attention.

Peterson’s sister, Rhonda Oleson, expressed her frustration in a 2005 letter to the editor in the Casper Star-Tribune.

“It has been over six years since the shooting and five years since her murder, and still nothing,” she wrote.

She went on to say she’d asked the police for her sister’s file to see if she could get help from national television programs like “Cold Case Files” or “American Justice,” but said that police informed her they were still waiting for the ballistics.

“No one will ever forget that dreadful night or the shock it put on us or on Rock Springs,” Oleson wrote. “We were all born and raised right here in Rock Springs and never thought anything like this would happen here, let alone to one of us.”

The community was never the same for Peterson’s daughter, Jenny Sanders, who said she lived in fear after her mother was shot.

“I was so afraid to even leave the house,” she said. “It was so scary that nobody got caught.”

Sanders ultimately moved to Arkansas in 2009. She continues to mourn the loss of her mother and said she and her family have never been the same.

Side door to V-I Propane C-Store where Davida Peterson was shot in the head while working on May 8, 1999.
Side door to V-I Propane C-Store where Davida Peterson was shot in the head while working on May 8, 1999. (Courtesy Photo)

Hard-Scrabbled Past

Today, the former V-1 is now a gold and silver coin shop. From I-80, the well-worn V-1 sign stands as a relic in a city with a gritty past, dating back to the massacre of more than 28 Chinese coal miners in Rock Springs in 1885.

The hard-scrabbled boom-and-bust mining town was also notoriously featured in the late 1970s when Dan Rather did a “60 Minutes” two-part exposé shining a spotlight on the open prostitution and gambling in downtown Rock Springs, which was allegedly fueled by corrupt politicians whose tentacles reportedly reached into the highest levels of state government up to former Gov. Ed Herschler’s office.

The drama heated up in July 1978 when the city’s newly enlisted public safety director, Ed Cantrell, leaned over the front seat of a police car and shot an undercover agent, Michael Rosa, between the eyes with two detectives present. This led to a highly publicized trial by the flamboyant Jackson lawyer Gerry Spence, who convinced a jury that Cantrell was not guilty.

Ultimately, a grand jury also found no proof of high-level payoffs and indicted 25 people on drug-delivery charges, two of whom were low-level state officials, according to WyoHistory.Org.

‘Good People’

McIntosh remembers the Peterson family fondly. His mother worked alongside Peterson’s mom at the New Grand Chinese restaurant.

“They were a working-class family like myself,” he said. “Good people.”

McIntosh began his career in law enforcement as a sheriff’s deputy tasked with overseeing security at the Rock Springs hospital.

He remembers the 1970s as an unfettered wild time in the city’s history when it was overfilled with transient workers cashing in on high-paying jobs building the newly minted coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant.

Then, he was one of seven deputies hired to keep order at the hospital, including walking doctors and nurses to their cars at night. It was that dangerous, he said.

He remembers the Ninth Street area on which V-1 was located as being “a little on the dark side.”

“Dark as in shady,” he said.

Peterson’s murder hit them all hard, McIntosh said, though the city has had its fair share of crime and robberies.

In 1984, a 44-year-old male convenience store clerk was robbed and killed by two gunmen. Less than a year after Peterson was shot and killed, 23-year-old Ryan Lee Wilks was charged in the shooting death of a female Pizza Hut delivery driver in January 2020.

Rock Springs has always been a boom town or low down, so to say, McIntosh noted, and the feast or famine cycle brings a lot of strangers to town. And where there’s money, there’s crime.

Hope For Answers

For Peterson’s family, the senselessness of the tragedy continues to haunt them.

“My sister’s life was ultimately worth less than $300,” Beauchamp said. “She deserves justice so she can rest in peace.”

Beauchamp spoke about the hole her sister’s murder left on her parents and family, who continued to visit Peterson weekly up until her death.

“Until you’ve suffered right along with the rest of us, people just can’t understand,” she said. “No matter what the reasoning, because it’s the hurt and pain you carry with you for the rest of your life.”

Sanders said she’s not terribly optimistic police will be able to find the people who killed her mother after all this time but agreed that having answers would help at least bring some justice and closure to the senseless killing.

“You never get over it,” she said, “but it would help bring some closure.”

Those who knew Peterson also weighed in on the police department’s post that it’s put a new detective on her case.

Writing on the Facebook page You Know You’re From Rock Springs, Wyoming if …, many shared memories.

“She was a good friend of mine and my family. I still miss her very much,” wrote Kayce Grant.

“Davida was an amazing. Person. RIP dear friend,” Alexis Lewis said.

“I never forgot her,” Jo Jo wrote. “She touched my life and my heart bless her for that.”

Others speculated on whether it was a robbery and who might have done it and are encouraged that the police have taken up the case again and that the community and Peterson’s family may finally get answers.

Jen Kocher can be reached at: Jen@CowboyStateDaily.com

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JK

Jen Kocher

Features, Investigative Reporter