tv Dateline MSNBC August 18, 2019 12:00am-1:00am PDT
again. >> that's all for now. thanks for joining us. and this is "dateline." i'm here, asking for help. >> it was like hearing a ghost, a voice from beyond the grave. >> there's no way i can go back. >> can she help solve her own murder? >> so surreal. this is something that happens to other people, not to you. >> she was a dancer, who married a dashing photographer. >> you could see the body underneath the snow. >> where was her husband that night? >> my attorney said you don't know the tidal wave that's coming towards you, do you?
>> seems like it's always the husband, right? isn't that what police say? this time, they weren't so sure. >> it's a whodunit. i have three viable suspect. >> three possible suspects? this victim also had a boyfriend, and he had a wife. th >> everyone starts getting questioned. >> husband, boyfriend, jealous spouse. >> i said something like i hope she rots in hell. >> what did happen on that snowy night? see what you think. the most important clue of all may be the victim's own voice. t >> i knew there was a line to draw.
>> it was cold the night it happened. so very cold. here is keith morrison. tonight, secrets in the snow. >> it was cold the night it happened. so very cold. a night to be inside by a fireplace, tucked under a quilt. not outside in the frigid dark, not way up here, 9,000 feet up in the colorado mountains, snow thick already that late november night. and with the windchill, 24 below. >> i don't know enough to know what happened. still trying to figure it out. >> what in god's name was his wife doing, walking out into the
brutal cold? more to the point, what happened to her? middle class married mother of three, where did she go?le without a word to him or her friends. >> you can't imagine that this is happening to you and to your friend. >> she was just plain missing. >> yes, she was. it was terrifying. dreadful in the end. as events were about to prove, a shocking lesson on what can dwell hidden beneath a person's public skin. >> this is really a secret thing, as far as you know? >> a lot of it, sure. a >> everybody has secrets, of course. stephanie roller-bruner's secrets lived as she did. silverthorne, colorado. >> dale bruner was taking and selling photographs of visiting skiers. person has to make a living and for dale, skiers were it. ph >> i love taking wildlife photos and scenics. why don't you sell more of your work that way?
i said buffalo don't carry credit cards, you know. >> anyway, up there on the mountain he spot this had youngt woman seemed to be conducting some sort of forestry service survey. >> i skied up to her and said what are you doing, writing parking tickets? she looked up at me and smiled. >> then she took off her big ski goggles. >> i was stunned. i was like, wow, she's beautiful. >> they moved in together right away. when they got married a few years later, they eloped, jetting off to fiji. it was so stephanie, said her friend. >> yeah, they kind of just ran off and did it. >> they made their home in silverthorne, where dale's photo business grew and grew. >> when things were really rolling i had several differentn operations in different states around the country, around 25 io different photographers working. >> stephanie got a job in government, environmental planning department. they raised their three young children. >> awesome children. the best.
>> how about a smile? >> and life for the bruner family was -- >> it was fantastic. we traveled. we vacationed. >> but it was in her spare moments and hours that stephanie was truly transformed, a ball room dancer. >> dancing was probably to her what photography is to me. >> my guest star, bill. >> it was her passion, said her old friend, bill. >> he knows flamenco. >> stephanie loved to dance. dancing was her life. she was alive when she danced. >> hardly surprising stephanie and jennifer were close, too. >> we started a ball room dancing at my studio. she had me doing back flips with >> but it was dance that led off the whole cascade of trouble. in the fall of 2010, an annual fund-raiser here in silverthorne called dancing with the mountain stars, local worthies paired with ballroom pros. did you go?
>> oh, yeah, absolutely. i went to three years of them. the last one, i did not go to the last one. >> had a wedding to shoot. so, he missed the chance to watch stephanie teach those lead-footed businessmen the fox trot and tango and so on. which means he also missed what happened that night. >> she coached a number of couples and in the process she met a man named ron. >> ron holthouse, a local, married physical therapist. >> she started working with him and got to know him.>> and saw how funny and animated he was and how that made her feel. >> they really clicked. >> and stephanie was dancing on air, her whole world upended. >> she didn't realize there could be love like that. >> the secret from her family, of course, but she told her friends she had found her soul mate. >> it was almost odd how she
told a number of us that i just want you to know that i'm very happy. >> but joy and misery come in pairs sometimes. as thanksgiving approached, chaos took over what had been a well-ordered life. it was a wednesday middle of october when things started piling up. ay >> horrendous day for her. >> because?ou >> she went to work that day and the county laid off 20 people that very day. >> including stephanie. in fact, stephanie's troubles and her secrets seemed to pile up like the snow. fs >> she was behaving a little bit strangely. >> little unpredictable? >> little bit, yeah. >> not far from silverthorne, someone robbed a bank. stephanie announced she was going out to clear her head. dale was in bed. she didn't come back. in the morning he called the silverthorne police. >> i got a phone call from dale
bruner and said i wanted to make a report that my wife was missing. ai >> veronica nicholas took the call. >> he said i got the kids up, got them ready for school, got them on the bus and then i thought i should probably call you guys. >> stephanie's car was in the driveway, said dale. when he called her cell phone, it went to voice mail. veronica called her best friend, jennifer. >> i panicked. this is something that happens to other people, not to you. i >> but it had happened. silverthorne police check local hospitals, her friends scoured the neighborhood. >> it seemed unbelievable that stephanie would not check in. >> a day became two, then three, and some private secrets were about to become very public, indeed. so, where was stephanie? police had a lot of questions ha for her husband, dale. they also wanted to talk to that other man in her life, her t
boyfriend, ron. >> i just want to ask, straight up again -- not accusing you -- do you know where stephanie is right now?t with this one little nexgard chew comes the confidence, you're doing what's right, to protect your dog from fleas and ticks for a full month. it's the #1 vet recommended protection. and it's safe for puppies. nexgard. what one little chew can do. so you have ten years experience... i do. but no phd? i do have a masters in early childhood development. you don't mind if i record this, do you? uhh, no! first kid here's all the numbers, food's in the fridge, oh and lucas likes to pull on jewelry so you might want to lose the nose ring. by their second kid, parents are more likely to choose luvs. it absorbs 20x its weight and the new triple leakguards lock away wetness for outstanding leakage protection. live, learn, and get luvs.
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and then i jump on the trampoline ahh brain freeze! no, it's my teeth. your teeth hurt? sensitivity. i should see my dentist. my teeth have been really sensitive lately. well 80% of sensitivity starts at the gum line, so treat sensitivity at the source. new crest gum and sensitivity starts treating sensitivity immediately, at the gum line, for relief within days and wraps your teeth in sensitivity protection. ohh your teeth? no, it's brain freeze! all night the bitter cold licked the windows and came in under the door frames. hardly a night to take a walk. certainly not an all-night walk. had she hurt herself or had someone else hurt her? it wasn't like stephanie roller-bruner to just disappear. >> seemed mo of like a stranger might be involved or stephanie
herself might have run off into despair and maybe hurt herself. >> stephanie's friends and family poured over those last few weeks, so full of change, secrecy, turmoil. were there clues? some knew about stephanie's relationship with her new man and how upset she was about losing her job. still, she seemed to be holding the trouble at bay. six weeks before she disappeared, as dale recalled, she suggested a little family holiday. >> she said let's go to glennwood springs for the weekend, all classic, wonderful place. >> it was almost romantic, said dale, just like the old days. but when they got back, she gave him the news. >> she goes, i want a divorce. i said, you don't love me anymore? she said i met this other person. she even said it's not that i don't love you, but i think i love -- i think i met my soulmate again. >> just like that, dale's world
came crashing down. >> i called her brother. i called her sisters. i called her mom. i said do you know what's going on? do you know what's happening? >> he talked to her sister, ramona. >> i remember feeling really annoyed. why are you calling me to try to sway me to your side? by the time the phone call ended i remember thinking, yeah, what is steph doing? >> he begged stephanie's friend, jennifer, do something. >> you have to talk to some sense in to her. you've got to make her see that she needs to stay with me. >> you had no inkling this was coming? >> no, not until she told me she was in love with somebody. >> helplessly in love, she told him. the other man dancing with the mountain stars -- >> i go back to the day that i asked steph if i should shoot that wedding or not and i didn't go to that event with her. i wasn't going to be dancing with her on a big, important night for her. >> it was a curiously old-fashioned affair, apparently. stephanie told her friends her
feelings were not so much physical as much as pure and emotional. she made it clear to dale that even though she still loved him, she had no choice but to follow these powerful feelings and make a life with that new man. >> i said if this is what you want, this is what you want. >> they would share the children, of course. dale at the family house. stephanie, in a rented condo. the weekend before she disappeared, he helped her move out. >> why in heaven's name did you do that? >> she asked me to help out. isn't that what you do? i didn't fall out of love with her. i still loved her. >> then middle of the night, her very first night away, dale says he woke up to a commotion downstairs. it was stephanie. she crawled right back into bed with him. >> she had come home. >> wow! >> she said this was all a horrible mistake and she wanted to move back in. >> and i said, are you sure? she said don't worry. everything is fine. >> but now, just two days later,
things were not fine. not at all. stephanie was missing and dale was down at the police department, telling officers where he thought his wife might have gone. >> i thought she would go somewhere with her wifi and be on the computer. my other guess was maybe she went to ron's house. i didn't know. >> the police interviewed the other man, of course. ron holthouse. >> i just want to ask you straight up again -- not accusing you -- do you know where stephanie is right now? >> i absolutely have no idea. >> okay. >> ron admitted he and stephanie had a romantic relationship, but he denied they ever slept together. >> but we never ended up having sex. >> then ron told them something very interesting. that he had ended the affair. it was the night she moved into the condo, he told them. he said to stephanie it was over. >> i said, i'm gonna move to florida with my wife. we're going to try to go back to naples and make this work. >> do you have any reason to
believe that anything bad may have happened to her? >> that would be my worst fear. >> but thanksgiving day came and went. no stephanie. overstretched local police force called in the colorado bureau of investigations, which is why agent greg sadar was standing beside the shallow, blue river, staring at what looked like a lump of snow on some rocks. >> there was several inches of snow on top of her. and you could see the body underneath the snow. >> it was stephanie all right. but how did she get here?
it was perplexing almost, that a thing so awful could happen in the midst of such beauty. here in the frigid, rushing water of the blue river, 3 1/2 days after she disappeared, they found stephanie roller-bruner nude but for a tie dyed shirt that still clung to her body. she come to rest against snow-covered rocks.
>> it was just a little farther beyond that where the water gets calm. >> just over by that second bend there? >> yes, sir. >> she hadn't gone far. agent greg sadar, colorado bureau of investigation. >> how far from her house? >> rough guess off the top of my head 300, 350 yards. >> the news spread fast. >> today investigators say they found a body. >> that's a pretty bad day. >> your heart drops. let's find out what happened to her, along with humongous sadness. >> the county coroner broke the news to dale. >> they said dale, we need to tell you something. i'm like, what? and i just went into convulsions. >> how did she get here? was it suicide, accident, or murder? there's a bridge just upstream from the place they found stephanie's body. dale told police she often liked to walk there. >> she could have been attacked on this bridge and shoved over.
>> that was one of our early fears. >> or that she just simply committed suicide, jumped in the water, hit her head and that was that? >> that was also another legitimate consideration. >> so, thus the puzzle? >> it is. >> until four days after thanksgiving, when the autopsy revealed a curious detail. one that seemed to rule out suicide. >> there was no wounds at all to the souls of her feet. >> what did that mean? >> that certainly means that she did not walk to where we had found her without shoes. >> just in case there was any lingering doubt, the autopsy also revealed she had taken a blow to the head and then she had been strangled but was still alive when she was thrown into the freezing water. the ultimate cause of death, hypothermia and drowning. >> we knew at that point she had been murdered. >> first murder in silverthorne in decades.
but who would do such a thing? and why? it was just hours before stephanie took her walk in this virtually crime-free community that somebody robbed that nearby bank. so, did the robber later encounter stephanie and then assault and kill her? >> this is where a predator could have been hiding out. there's any number of opportunities at that point. >> still, it was so cold. perhaps too cold for a lurking predator. >> this is one of those very few cases where it's a whodunit, if you will, and we've got -- i had at least three viable suspects. >> any one of whom had potential motive? >> absolutely. >> there was ron holthouse, the other man, who had just suddenly dumped stephanie. there was cindy, ron's wife, who, if she knew about the affair, could have wanted revenge. and then there was dale, dale bruner, the husband. and any one of them, thought the detective, was certainly physically capable of committing
the crime. >> her husband, six foot, 200-pound, very athletic guy. mr. holthouse, big, strong guy. his wife was actually a very physically fit woman. >> so, she would be out gunned by one of them? >> i believe so. yes, sir. >> they took ron in for questioning several times. again and again, he insisted it wasn't him. >> i screwed up my marriage. i made a mess of my life. >> he admitted that in the last hours of stephanie's life, he met her here in this clothing store parking lot, around dinner time, and it wasn't a happy meeting. >> i was actually trying to tell her that it was over. >> he earlier had sent her a break-up e-mail, he said. she insisted on seeing him in person. she wasn't taking it well at all. >> and then she said -- asked me again one more time, like, we can make it work. i said no, i -- we cannot make this work.
>> she was still interested in having a relationship with him. >> and didn't want to let him go? >> correct. and i'm sure he was motivated to not let his wife find out about that. >> which begged the question, where was ron holthouse later that monday evening when stephanie went for her walk? >> you're saying to me you were at home. you never went out on monday night? >> correct. >> the detectives called in ron's wife, cindy. >> it would not be unheard of for a woman to be very upset that her -- to find that her husband has been seeing another woman and want to go to significant lengths by eliminating that temptation. >> her alibi? she was home, sleeping, right next to ron. >> okay. did you know -- do you know for sure if ron was in the house? did he leave at any time that night, on monday night? >> i didn't sit up looking at him all night. >> i think i would have, yeah.
>> so their alibis were each other. detectives kept prodding. >> would you have done anything for him? >> within reason. would i lie for him? no. because you know what? if he made his bed, he's got to lay in it. >> for almost a month detectives went back and forth between ron and cindy and stephanie's husband, dale. who, by that time, had been advised by a friend better get a lawyer. so, i called. and my attorney said, you don't know the onslaught, the tidal wave that's coming toward you, do you? you have no idea. i said apparently not. >> oh, yes. and what a tidal wave it was. i wanted more from my copd medicine that's why i've got the power of 1 2 3 medicines with trelegy. the only fda-approved 3-in-1 copd treatment.
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it's horrible. i mean, it's -- i -- i don't even know how to explain having a microscope go into your world. it's surreal. >> there are few secrets in a person's life that will escape the attention of a determined homicide detective. >> everything comes out. absolutely everything. >> dale and stephanie, it turned out, had their share of secrets. the weird thing one chilly morning six weeks before stephanie was murdered as stephanie told her friend, jennifer. >> she heard spanking and she told me she counted at least eight spanks before she got up the stairs and down the hall to the kitchen. >> well, my boy was acting out far beyond, you know, the norm. and i said, come on. >> that was a wednesday morning. stephanie was furious about the
spanking and stormed off to work and that very day was laid off from her county job. and then still upset with dale, stephanie went to see a judge and filed a restraining order against him, sought advice from her friend, bill. >> honestly, i was a little bit surprised. i had never detected any major problems in their relationship. >> and this was distinctly odd. she asked the court to delay implementing the order until the following monday. then she went home and, said dale, suggested that family holiday. >> we had a wonderful weekend at the hotel colorado, hot springs, swimming with the kids. >> but then back in town is when stephanie revealed, one, that she was in love with another man and, two, her restraining order was about to be served. >> she told me that the sheriff's department was going to come to the house and i'm going to have to leave. >> so he did. after which, said dale, they calmed down and ten days later
went back to ask the judge to rescind his order. the court recorded the session. >> i'm never going to spank again. this potentially could crush my entire world. and i am so sorry to you and i will make it up in any and every way i possibly can. >> she wanted to leave, but she felt like the restraining order was too much, that dale didn't deserve that and that maybe she had overreacted. >> so they talked about it like adults. and eventually they signed divorce papers and dale even helped stephanie move into her condo where, as you know, the very night she moved in her new love, ron, told her the affair was over. they weren't going to be together, not then, not ever. he was staying with his wife. two days later, she was dead. and ron and his wife, and dale, and were all under suspicion. >> they said i was a person of interest. i didn't think i had any worries. >> but agent sadar wasn't so sure.
as his investigation continued, he became convinced that ron holthouse and his wife, cindy, had been telling him the truth. >> i feel awful. i really feel awful. >> but he kept encountering suspicious things like dale. why had dale waited until morning to report his wife missing? why, as dale's friends and family scour the town looking for her, why did he not take part at all? >> it was this mounting series of things we started to become concerned about. >> it was dale, said sadar, who had motive and opportunity. for one thing, the place they found her body, dale could have certainly carried her that far. >> we were struck by how close it is to the house and how accessible it was, even under those snowy conditions. >> yeah. >> and when dale was still talking before he lawyered up, his demeanor seemed odd to the detective. one of their meetings at a local
restaurant was recorded. >> well, what happened to her then? >> well, that's what i'm talking to you about. >> very probative. he wanted to know what we learned from the autopsy, where we were going with the investigation. >> when you said there were no other clothes on her. >> i have some concerns. i'm being very open and honest with you. >> what the hell happened to her? >> that's what i'm trying to find out. >> he was nervous but not outwardly sad. >> detective sadar got a search warrant, a house cluttered at the time of the murder was now spotless. >> what did you find this time? >> nothing. there was nothing to find. >> no signs of blood. no evidence of any struggle. nor, in fact, was there any sign that stephanie had ever lived there. >> there wasn't a single photograph of her. every trace of her had been
scrubbed from the house. >> it also seemed suspicious, said the detective, that dale changed his story a bit. first time he called the police, he said they had an argument before she left to go out walking. later he said there was no argument. >> was there an argument of any kind? >> no, we never had an argument. there was no argument. it was just the facts were on the table. >> what were you talking about that she needed to clear her head? >> we were just talking about us. >> within a few weeks of stephanie's murder, the state ramped up the pressure on dale. social services sent the bruner children to live with stephanie's brother in california. >> i'm in a fight with mike tyson with no gloves. and they're taking my kids away, too. >> dale wasn't completely alone, mind you. some family stayed around, reported back to her sister, ramona, dale was truly grieving. >> we kept asking, what is he acting like? what is he saying? unless he's some kind of actor that deserves some kind of oscar performance, this guy seems distraught. >> and stephanie's friend, bill, moved in to help out, console dale.
>> he was having a very difficult time. >> did you ever confront him or say, come on, what happened? >> looked every one of us in the eye and said i had nothing to do with this. i'm innocent. >> can you talk at all about the investigators focusing only on you? >> i hope they're focusing on someone else. >> didn't look like it. nine months after stephanie's murder when it happened. >> i was coming back from one of my photo shoots and a little unmarked car with a light on it flashed and siren went. and they have guns drawn on me. >> dale bruner was charged with second degree murder in the death of his wife. he pled not guilty, posted bond and was offered a plea deal by the d.a.'s office. >> why did you turn it down? >> because innocent people don't plea. >> besides, now said dale, it was time to fight back. i'm just a normal person
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♪ two winters passed here in the colorado rockies between the untimely demise of stephanie roller-bruner and the prosecutor's determination to pin it on dale. >> you can't believe t like really? >> waiting for trial, he continued to live here, all alone now in the family house by the blue river, working with his attorney in the effort to clear his name. robert burnhart is the attorney, a man not at all impressed, he
told us, with the police investigation. >> their position was, i think dale is the easy guy, you know, the worst pieces of investigating i've ever seen in my career. >> dale and his attorney told us despite a show of interviewing other suspects, the police quite clearly had made up their minds the very day she disappeared. >> police came to my house. i don't know the exact thing he said but he goes, did you kill your wife? i was stunned. >> the police didn't seem to want to believe what he told them about how happy he was that last evening, discussing new possibilities, a fresh start. around 9:00 pm, their daughter came into their bedroom to ask for help with her homework. >> when she came into our bedroom we were laying on top of our bed, cuddling. >> and the fact that he didn't report her missing until morning.
>> why would he? he was aware of the fact that she was having an affair. >> last thing i was going to do is make waves. just do what you got to do. >> they made such a big deal about the fact that dale didn't join the search for stephanie, even though -- >> i called the police and they told me stay home in case she comes home. >> by the time dale's trial began in the summer of 2012, he and his attorney were ready for evidence that they knew was only circumstantial. questions like this. even the way she was beaten on her head and strangled the way she was strangled. that's a very intimate crime, a sort of crime that husbands commit when their wives are about to leave them. >> or should i say boyfriends? >> or boyfriends. well, there you go. >> that was the point his lawyers wanted to make in court, that police and prosecutors had unfairly brushed off the possibility that stephanie's new soulmate or his wife had anything to do with it. that would be ron holthouse.
>> when everybody found out stephanie was missing, did any police officers come and visit you at work or at your home that day? >> no, they did not. >> and didn't ron's wife, cindy, have a motive? >> and i said something like, i don't know where she is, but i hope she rots in hell. and i'm very sorry i said that. >> of course, dale and his attorney knew the prosecution would make a big deal about the restraining order stephanie took out after dale spanked her son. that sprang from the chaos in her life. >> i believe she built a fake little world where i was the bad guy. >> was stephanie ever worried dale might get violent? hardly said the defense. why else would she ask the judge to delay the order until after their little family holiday? >> the judge said he had never seen someone have a restraining order but then have someone say
don't enact it yet, not until next week. >> why would she go away on a yoga retreat and decline this friend's offer to babysit? >> can i take care of the kids? she said no, they're fine with dale. >> that's because she knew that dale wasn't a threat to her. he wasn't a threat to those children. >> remember how the detective found the house unusually spotless two weeks after the murder? it was, turned out, family and friends who cleaned up. apparently because dale was paralyzed by grief. >> dale walks into his walk-in closet and half of the stuff is stephanie's. he comes out and he's just crying. he's like, i've got to get this stuff out of here. >> clearly a rush to judgment, sloppy investigation, said the defense. by detectives who bought the holthouse's alibi too easily, who failed to consider that the murder might have been committed by whoever robbed the nearby bank just before stephanie disappeared. attorney burnhart confronted agent sadar.
>> you had no direct evidence of mr. bruner assaulting his wife? >> correct, no direct evidence of mr. bruner murdering her. >> of course, had dale taken the stand, he would have had to have answered to some stubbornly uncomfortable facts and this question that hung over the defense table like a cloud. you loved your wife. you loved her a lot. but in that moment of extreme rage when she was leaving you, you killed her. strangled her and then threw her body in the river. >> so not true. >> the theme of the prosecution was that you were an abuser and that it was -- >> it's beyond -- so not true. it's just not true. they painted quite a picture, though. >> oh, yes. they certainly did. with the help of a woman whose message, in a way, came back from the grave. you'll ask...
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story, who may also be living with the knowledge that he hit his wife on the head and strangled her and put her in the river and that's where she died and you have to live with that secret for the rest of your life. >> fortunately, i don't have to live with that. that, i don't have to live with. >> what dale bruner would have to live with would depend on the outcome of his trial, of course, and whether or not prosecutor could sway the jury without the benefit of physical evidence that dale killed the love of his life in a fit of blind rage. >> think dale bruner strangles her, believes she is dead, takes her to the river, dumps her in the river. >> so what did happen on the night of the murder? the prosecutor called a child to start the story, dale and stephanie's eldest daughter who walked into her bedroom at 9:00 pm. >> at 10 years old she could say what happened with specifics. >> out of the view of the media, she told the court she heard her parents arguing, not cuddling, as dale claimed.
after which, remember, dale claimed stephanie went for a walk to clear her head. at temperatures well below freezing? you've got to be kidding, said the prosecutor. >> his wife goes for a walk and he wouldn't call anybody until eight or nine hours later, ten hours later? that just doesn't make any sense. >> which, by itself, didn't mean dale was guilty. this is where some of those secrets began to spill out. the terrifying secrets of a fatally troubled marriage. like the one stephanie told this friend after that spanking incident when she applied for a restraining order. >> did she express fear to you at the time? >> yes, she d she looked at me and said he just sees red. he gets so mad that he goes into a red zone and he doesn't even know what he does. >> and so, said the friend -- >> she was afraid to get a restraining order against dale because he had already threatened to harm or kill her.
>> that threat from dale was years earlier, but stephanie had never forgotten how terrified she was. she told the story to her friend, jennifer, just before the murder. >> he strong armed her into a corner, choking her, threatening to hit her. he stopped short of hitting her, but he did. there was another time he threw her on the bed and put his neon her pregnant belly. >> how often would this happen? >> you know, there may be three of those -- two or three, i don't know, of those incidents that she talked about. >> then there was leah aiken, lifelong friend of dale. told the court his reaction of when she said she was in love with another man. >> he hoped that she would have a heart attack or get hit by a car. i told him to stop saying that. >> an ex-girlfriend from dale's past, woman named julie, who
told the jury and us the strange story of what happened one night when she lived with dale 20 years earlier. >> he hadn't come home for dinner one night and said he would be home. >> and you called him on it? >> he came home. we argued about it. and he became very angry. yelling at me. he pushed me down on to the floor and put his hands around my neck and said if you ever say or do that again, i'll kill you. he had a look on his face that i had never seen or recognized before. >> it was the most scared i had ever been in my life. >> even though that was a long time ago, said the prosecutor, it told a terrible tale which, sadly, is as old as time. dale, he said, was a man sometimes overcome by rage and his m.o. was to go for the throat. >> she was strangled so hard and with such force that it broke a bone in her neck. >> then the prosecutor
introduced his bombshell. stephanie herself, on tape. six week before her murder, stephanie begged a judge for that restraining order. and now, in court, her recorded plea was a voice from the grave. >> he has threatened my life. years ago but, you know, with a hand on my throat -- didn't squeeze it. screaming in my face, i will kill you if you leave. i've never forgotten. >> her sister was sitting in the courtroom, listening, and was overcome. >> and that was when we lost it. because it was feelings of -- oh, my god. and she's crying. >> it was as if stephanie was testifying in her own murder trial. >> i would so love to talk to him about it. and i just think that would go really bad. so i'm here, asking for help.
and i'm going to end up getting a divorce because there's no way i can go back. >> only she did. finally, this domestic violence expert weighed in. >> when a victim is attempting to leave a relationship or has left a relationship, it is by far the most dangerous time for a victim. >> but what was the trigger that, according to the prosecution, set dale off? the answer, he said, may lie in an unfinished e-mail stephanie was writing to the other man, ron, just before she was murdered. and though dale denied he knew what she was doing -- >> i honestly didn't know. i had no idea. >> prosecutor said dale must have seen her writing it, begging ron for another meeting because she couldn't accept the idea that her new love was leaving her. >> i think dale bruner got angry at that and hit her with something. then he strangles her, believes
that she is dead. she's probably unconscious at that point. but she is not dead. takes her to the river and dumps her in the river. >> the jury stayed out four hours. >> the court has reviewed the verdict. >> it was early, which is always worrying. >> dale bruner stood, awaited his fate. >> you're trying to maintain and not just melt under the -- so, you know, you prepare yourself to just breathe. just breathe. >> and then there it was. >> we, the jury, find the defendant, dale bruner, guilty of murder in the second degree. >> dale bruner was taken away in handcuffs and later was sentenced to 112 years in prison. is he appealing. >> it is a perfect storm.
i'm going down with the ship. >> stephanie's friend, jennifer, was driving when the verdict came in. >> i was in my car, yeah, parked on the side of the road, crying like a baby. >> and, like others who knew stephanie, she wishes now she had taken her friend's secrets more seriously. >> i beat myself up over it every day, about how i should have done this or should have done that. >> an almost good marriage with one deadly flaw. >> lot of stephanie's close friends and family didn't even know what was going on. i knew of a couple of events over the years. and let's say it was only two. it only took three and she's dead. >> and so, say her friends, take some advice. heed the warning. don't hide the secret. >> that's why i'm talking about it now, and hopefully just one woman would have the courage to stand up and say, i'm being abused. i'm living in fear.
i'm living with secrets and i need to stand up and be bold. that's all for now. thanks for joining us. what evidence doesn't lie? it actually tells a story. >> tonight, you're there at the crime scene. >> you can almost recreate the crime. >> right there on the wall, a mystery scrawled in blood. three cryptic letters. what would you make of this? >> is that a word? is that a person? the clues pointed in so many different directions it was a total mystery. >> the murder of a former model and flight attendant. >> when she got dolled up, oh, my god. gorgeous. >> did she write these letters?