tv Dateline NBC NBC July 1, 2011 9:00pm-11:00pm EDT
>> she was pretty, popular.ûó o cf1 o >> she made people feel better about themselves.43f#x >> an anchor in her dy#xclose-knit family. >> this is my home!ht yay!3 >> then one morning, this loving, reliable college student just vanished.ó[ >> it just wasn't like her, you know?e1 (ap>> nóv really noe1 clues at all. just her empty flip flops in a >> this was not a$v>ójf runaway. something bad had happened.ñrz+f%o
some day brook would come back home.ó[xd >> maybe will just decide to let her go.3 miles away, a college student is rescued, running from a kidnapper. >> she said he's got a 5aknife,."he said he's going to kill me. a5"yr this lead to brooke he's done this. >> they couldn't imagine what it would take to find the answer.s7 >> i don't want to knowñr where she is. >> bringing brooke home.qr >> good evening nl?;?nlcome to "dateline." i'm ann curry.tniclg when the young woman at the heart of this story disappeared, her family knew something had to be wrong. she wasçó always punctual.u she yould never take off without calling. her f) find her and graceq under pressure touched even veteran police officers. but still, no one would guess how far solving this case would take them.
here's kate snow.t(a5g >> some images are eternal, timeless.tdvcw immeasurable, the possibilities pgqez endless, but in an instant, yo] cf1 o3 can bexd left with only memories to hold till the end of time.çó brooke wilberger lived as if she52lg had all of the time in the world to grow up, t)jsp)ry, to create a close-knit family like her ownfá parents had. >> we have six children andhçó >> always wanted to have a big family?xd >> we ended up with one. w3fáxêoñ÷xd >>t( tammy wilbergerr husband greg raisedjf their family near beautifulq>=ñ÷ eugene, oregon, a older brother bryce and sister
stephanie.çó >> we used to have so much fun dressing her up. toy, if you will. >> i know, let's dress up brooke, right? >> yeah. >> little brooke didn't speak çó until she was 4 and even then could be a bit hard to ñrxdçóxdñr understand. but as brooke grew, her natural talents spoke loudly.w3ñi she loved animals and 4-h, played basketball and ran track.w3 she was better than most of the rest of us at the sports that we played.çóñrc ço >> she snìarded on slopes as her little sister jessica xd remembers, +' r' being scrappy on the soccer field.w3 >> she came home from soccer andp hñó/ she kind of had2xsçó black eye and myok brother asèádhappened. she kind of laughed and said, i got into a fight.q/vr and he said, no, you don't, brooke, you don't get in fights. she said, you're right, i got hit in soccer practice but isn'tçó it so cool?álzñ >> brooke was also an honor :h)÷ student at elmira high, who loved to bake, scrapbook, and see the sights on the west
coast. >> this is my home, yay.ú 3 >> she could be seriously t(u/0: i]e1u silly -- >> thip(áhsv rib, you know.g >> or stylish, happy to shop for shoes or fashion.ñixd she was reliable, thoughtfull out. ym >> she made people feel better about themselves.ua >> people wanted to be with her? >> yeah.vn&úxdñr and she w)cnice.ú 3 she was intelligent and myñct cf1 o beautiful but she was also really nice.ñilpe1e1w3 >> the minute she turned 16, when dad's rules allowed her to jf start dating, she knew she wanted her child food friend to e>vé b/mq%99ñ,% 9èá(ájjá ñi decided to follow him to brighamt - young university in utah. >> she just really wanted to experience life outside of our ñr qíe5u9%qee)r'd of branch out. e1 >> the girl who had grown up pathology.
brooke loved her new friend)wand5aná byu, but returned home her freshman year for thanksgiving to spend time with her family and shop.c1fñ >> we returned to meier & frank before it was macy's.fáe1xdxd she really liked this watch.lp it was kind of a dressy watch. she was pretty classy in the things she chose to wear.ñi-9 she sees it in the case and she mentioned it to you?ó[& >> yeah. she's like, i really like that watch, mom. >> easy christmas present? >> it was. >> six months later in the ñi spring, her freshman year was history.w3ñixdt3 brooke returned home to oregon. she had a summer job in xdmy corvallis, about 30 miles from ñ apartments, managed by her sister stephanie and stephanie's husband. and on monday, may 24th, 2004, xkk she left the house where her ,am%mq rujuár(p as getting readyrkjú for another day of seventh grade. -'zt(oku >> she was kind of in a rush andñr walked out the door and left and about five minutes later she ñ walked back in and she just
yelled through the door, i love you./÷ and walked out. and that was the last time i talked to her.cñiokt( >> by 9:00 a.m., brooke was at the apartments and an hour latert( hard at work. >> i could see through our apartment to the back window facing our patio and brooke was bending over filling up a bucketw3 of water and that was the last time i saw her. >> at what point did you realize that she wasn't out there anymo÷%tk,ayrruu'til probably 1:00.co cf1 o i had fixed lunch for my hadn't@&o=]9áerxd >> what starts going through your head when she doesn't come in for lunch?lp 4a jeuip there's over 100 apartments. so i wasn't like immediately .7&i% jt(uáq thought she okwsr could be chng, you know, laundry room somewhere.t( i even said something lij1ly well, let's take out the search lpñiñi party. tongue in cheek and took my little kids out with me;(f> her. >> you're not in a full-blown panic at this point? >> no.e1v6=k
no. t(qq"t r eit jusjj áuq(hanie would come upon these.çq;/si] her flip-flops were on the >> the little piece of plastic qó[ that g/q between your toe was ripped out on one and there were muddy toe prints sliding down w3 the actual sole of the shoe so it was clear shm]#%o"%jjure @r(t&háhp &hc& stay put and stay groñg#q" whenú she lost her shoes. ñr >> you knew that right then? >> immediatelqém yeah.ñi >> still, though, no panic, no cries for help for a couple of stephanie's husband p d a very calm call to 911. ok >> 911, what is your emergency?ñi >> yeah, i've got somebody that g is missing,xçi]ymworker of mine we can't seem to find. >> missing from where?q >> i'm a manager of oak park myñiwo# apartments and this worker happens to be my sister-in-law. she's 19. >> when is the last time anybody saw her? >> around 10:30.ñr >> where hady9ájjáu)s!erger
gone?çóco cf1 o why couldn't anyone find her? brooke's mñz: p!out to learn of her daughter's disappearance sons. >> i said, where is brooke? and he said, we don't know.5a i said, what do you mean you he goes, we don't know where she is.5a i said, spence, don't tease me.e>ífw3 what are you talking about? and he goes, no, seb4"!6eá)járñr we can't find her.&>euçó and rightáen i just had this 3 >> coming up, a whole community investigation by focusing on her >> stephanie was just grilled çop r(t&háhp &hc& about, you know, where was she? did you do it?e1 >> when "br-6eing brooke home" re áutáyxd2 -çxd
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. . on a sunny, spring day in 3 corvallis, oregon, the clock was ticking. 19-year-old brooke wilberger had disappeared about 10:30 a.m. as she worked cleaning lamp posts in the parking loet of the oak park apartments. just a block away from the blusling campus of oregon state university. at 1:00 p.m., her sister stephanie got worried when brooke didn't show up for lunch.
>> it just wasn't like her, you know. she was always on time. >> by 3:00, stephanie's husband called police. >> we've looked everywhere we could think to look for her here. >> word was spreading among brooke's five siblings. their sweet by feisty little sister had disappeared. >> when did they call you, brice? >> it was mid afternoon sometime. i knew something was seriously wrong when the comment was, we can't find brooke. it didn't take anything longer than that. >> brice picked up his mother who was trying not to panic. >> a lot of people talk about that maternal feeling that you sometimes get inside. did you get a feeling? >> i just kept thinking, you know, maybe she met up with one of her friends that was going to osu. no, brooke wouldn't do that. it's not brooke. >> by late in the afternoon with brooke now missing for hours, cell phones started buzzing. >> i was sitting at my son's tee ball game and i got a phone call from one of our patrol lieutenants at the time who
said, john, we have a missing girl. >>)i+[w captain jonathan sassaman and lieutenant tim brewer of the corvallis police department were about to begin a journey unlike any they had ever experienced. >> i asked him, what do you think? is this real? he had the natural gut instinct that this was not a walk away, not a runaway, that something bad had happened. >> he was struck by how few clues he had to work with. >> it is a parking lot with a pair of flip-flops and a bucket with soap and some water under a lamppost. >> also left behind, brooke's wallet, purse, cell phone, and car. nobody, it seemed, saw anything but someone heard something about 10:30 that morning, a blood curdling scream. the evidence pointed to an abduction, but investigators started with questions for the people closest to the victim.
first question, where was brooke's boyfriend, justin? it turned out he was serving a two-year mission for the mormon church 4,000 miles away in venezuela. next, brooke's family. >> we needed to go through, is the family a suspect? and we had to get that work done and we had investigators doing that. >> stephanie was just grilled about where was she, why don't you know where she was and did you do it? >> that had to be awful. >> it was terrible. we made the decision that we as a family, we would do anything to get brooke back, whatever the police asked us to do, we will do it. if they suspect us, that's okay. we don't care. we want to find brooke. >> and soon a community came together. within hours of brooke's disappearance, dozens, then hundreds of people showed up,
many from the wilberger's church. others, concerned citizens and cops. >> she could be anywhere. we have to look everywhere. >> they came in droves that first evening and every day after with one goal, find brooke. >> by golly, come hel or high water, we are going to find her. >> but for detectives, the sheer number of searchers presented a challenge. >> as an investigator responsible for this, we're looking at, is our bad guy here? it's not uncommon for people who commit the crime to circle right back around, be present, learn, see what's going on. >> by this time, the fbi had also entered the investigation. supervisory special agent joe boyers' first question, had brooke been taken by someone who lived at the apartment complex? and could that person be among the tens of thousands of oregon state students who would soon be leaving town for the summer? agent boyered a fbi profilers for help. >> they asked us, do you have a
crime scene? no, we don't, other than flip-flops in a parking lot. do you have any witnesses? no, we don't. do you have a vehicle description? no, we don't. do you have a body? no, we don't. they said, frankly, there's very little we could do for you at this point. >> with so little evidence, investigators found themselves thinking back to another crime, a crime many here in corvallis barely recall. on another day in may, nearly 30 years to the day and one mile away from where brooke disappeared, a young oregon state student vanished. it wasn't until her body was discovered and her killer caught that people here realized this town had been visited by one of america's most notorious serial killers, ted bundy. authorities in corvallis wondered if there was now another sexual predator bold enough to abduct a young woman in broad daylight. >> it was a rough day for the sex offenders in our county because there was a team who went out and put their finger on every single one of them. >> how many sex offenders are
there in this area? >> i think that was something that was very startling to realize is how many there actually were. >> when police told brooke's family there may be 2,000 sex offenders in the area, they were horrified. >> when they tried -- when they get into details and i just have to lay back on the bed because i would become nauseated. you know, just the whole trauma of it was too much. >> it just took a couple days, i think, to sink in that something bad had happened and that she was really gone. >> there seemed to be little question, brooke was gone and in grave danger. the family took to the airwaves. her father, greg -- >> if anyone has seen brooke at all, if they would just please call in. >> tips poured in to police hotlines. >> we have dozens and dozens of brooke wilberger sightings in practically every state. >> everybody that went for a walk in following days who saw someone who looked out of place called us up.
>> the search expanded daily. at times it seemed the whole state of oregon was pitching in to find brooke. >> i have daughters this age and i want to help. >> more search teams, dozens of square miles. >> what is the geography like around here? where could someone have taken brooke? >> limitless. we're ten miles from interstate 5. we have a north-south highway running right through corvallis. we have an east-west highway running through corvallis. you could drive five miles from corvallis and be in a very remote area. >> in the deep woods? >> absolutely. >> but despite the odds, within days investigators were hot on someone's trail. coming up, a police search turns up a terrifying check list and investigators wonder if it's the lead they have been waiting for. >> either someone is planning a very heinous mutilation, sexual assault crime and murder or it's a fantasy. >> when "dateline" continues.
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their family optimism afloat. >> did you think she was alive somewhere? >> yes. that was the overwhelming feeling that we felt and that's why the focus was, find brooke. it's what drove us. we know the statistics, but this is our family. this is brooke. she's got to be there. >> and there was reason to hope. >> we don't have happy endings like this all that often. >> in that summer, 2004, the story of elizabeth smart was still fresh. she was the 14-year-old snatched from her bedroom in utah, held captive by a deranged street preacher then amazeinglyamazingly, after nine months, returned to her family alive. >> i would think, maybe somebody just has her captive and they will just decide to let her go one day. >> a family friend put the wilberger family in touch with elizabeth's uncle. >> was it comforting? >> it was comforting. he was very positive, of course, because of their experience and he said, never give up hope. just keep thinking positive. >> and she came home. >> right.
right. and so i was like, you know, i i don't know how, i don't know the circumstances, but i cannot give up. >> and while the search continued, what seemed to be a lead emerged. >> that burglary pointed them to this man, sung koo kim. >> the name sung koo kim came to the attention of investigatorsless than a week after brooke vanished. kim was a recluseive 30-year-old with a degree in genetics and biology who still lived with his parents in this home 80 miles from corvallis in a suburb of portland. he spent much of his time online trading stocks. just weeks before a search of kim's home turned out thousands of pairs of women's underwear, stolen from college dorms throughout the area. burglary charges had been filed and he would soon be charged with stealing underwear from a dorm at oregon state university, just blocks from where brooke was abducted.
police had an investigative theory based on their experience with other cases. >> when you start taking steps to entering other buildings and dormitories and going and stealing other people's 4= 1pproperty, being underwear, that's a progression. >> meaning what? that he could then do something violent? >> there's going to be step two, step three, and contacting somebody next and ultimately abducting somebody. >> then, just five days after brooke's disappearance, another search in a dramatic middle of the night raid captured on videotape taken by police, an oregon state police s.w.a.t. team blew open the front door of the home that kim shared with his parents. 15 officers stormed inside to serve a search warrant looking for physical evidence. hair, body fluid, or more, evidence of kim's possible involvement in brooke's disappearance. they found no physical evidence but what they did discover drew
their attention. on kim's computer, investigators found tens and thousands of photos and thousands more videos, what police termed a vast collection of pornographic images, including a small number of staged scenes depicting tortured, raped, and mutilated women. then there was this, a document labeled osu, as in oregon state university. it read like a how-to guide for committing a sex crime, including a list of supplies, hood, glasses, video, and digital cameras. >> it's more than just a check list. either someone is planning a very heinous mutilation, sexual assault crime and murder or it's a fantasy. but either way it's extremely important to us and our investigation and very startling. >> as detectives dug deeper, they discovered this -- while kim was stealing underwear from dorms and laundry rooms, he had also developed a bizarre fetish for collecting lint from
clothes dryers. in kim's home they discovered a bag of some of that lint labelled with the name of an oregon state university swim team member. like brooke wilberger she was young, blond, blue-eyed and she used to hang out a lot with other swimmers in corvallis, right here at the oak park apartments. >> so i'm imagining red flags are going off all over the place when you start getting this information. >> from our perspective, every red flag went off that we had to spend some energy looking at sung koo kim. >> the media pounced. >> a person of interest in the -- >> no comment. >> sung koo kim's life was examined from every angle. his new nickname -- the panty thief. soon brooke wilberger's family heard news reports that kim, on the day of brooke's disappearance had purchased cinder blocks.
>> my thought was, maybe if he were the person and if he took brooke, then he might have tied her to bricks and dropped her in a river. >> those reports about kim buying bricks were never substantiated. his besieged family attempted to clear his name any way they could. >> he's not related to this disappeared girl. >> despite all of the suspicion, was it possible that sung koo kim really was innocent? coming up, new information about the person of interest in brooke's disappearance. >> put all three of those together, that's an iron clad alibi. >> where would the investigation lead? when "bringing brooke home" continues.
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nearly two weeks after brooke wilberger disappeared while working outside of these apartments in corvallis, oregon -- >> search teams spent a 12th day surveying acres of land. >> -- the search was winding down. the official end would soon come. members of brooke's family expressed their gratitude. >> you've given up so much to help and i was thinking yesterday, brooke would be saying, they didn't even know me. >> while detectives were still looking at sung koo kim as a person of interest, one of brooke's siblings thought, no way. >> i personally didn't think he had anything to do with it. she could get away from him. he didn't look very threatening
to me. >> and soon more reason surfaced to cast doubt on the idea that kim was involved in brooke's disappearance. >> he offers an alibi. >> well, offering an alibi and us being able to validate that alibi are two different things. >> but kim's alibi for the day of brooke's disappearance consisted of not just one but three-pieces of evidence. put together, they showed kim could not have been in corvallis at 10:30 a.m. when the kidnapping occurred. first, these records show an online purchase of 500 shares of stock with ameritrade executed on kim's computer 75 miles from the crime scene at 11:14 a.m. pacific. next, a witness came forward saying kim answered a phone call at the family home at 12:10 p.m. and entered an electronic store at 12:42 p.m. and a receipt
showing a purchase at the same store at 1:11 p.m. >> put all three of those together, that's an ironclad alibi. >> steve went was one of kim's attorney. >> prosecutors should look at that and say this is a case we simply cannot charge. we have the wrong guy. >> did they say that? >> they didn't. they went public naming sung koo kim in a person of interest in the wilberger investigation. >> investigators insisted it was a lead they had to follow. >> there were moments when we were challenging each other with how much time do we spend here versus spend it over there. >> looking for someone else? >> we didn't want to chase the red herring with 100% of our resources. it was the healthiest thing for the investigation. it made sure nothing fell through the cracks. >> at what point do you start thinking, maybe it's not sung koo kim? >> i don't know that we were at a point where we thought it was
sung koo kim. we felt it was our job to investigate that to see where it led us. >> any comment about being a person of interest? >> it took months but authorities officially cleared kim. kim's family filed a lawsuit claiming excessive use of force. the state of oregon, without admitting any wrongdoing, eventually settled with the family, paying them more than $330,000. >> there was a lot of pressure to try and save this young woman. undoubtedly the officers were /%gop r(t&háhp &hc& hoping that they could find her and hoping that they could find her alive but they really didn't have many facts here. and the search was done in ic5áe aggressive, i think quite radical fashion. >> kim was eventually convicted of burglary in connection with his panty stealing and given what many considered a harsh sentence, 11 years in prison, where he still is today. the summer of 2004 wore on and investigators in the wilberger case seem to be back at square one. members of the fbi and the corvallis police department
worked hard but leads were wearing thin. >> the weeks turn into a month, three months, how frustrating is it to not have more of a lead? >> it was extraordinarily stressful. you had a community looking for answers. you had a community that was scared. was there somebody else out there who is going to be the next victim? and we have got a family in tremendous pain. and they are hurting. and they are doing everything they can to support us, to encourage us, to inspire the investigators not to give up. >> in what sense? >> they didn't turn. they never became an adversary. they were a partner with us and it was incredible. >> but the wilbergers were feeling the strain as well. in september, three months after brooke's disappearance, it was time to return to school. jessica was heading into eighth grade. >> i always thought about it. there were days i got up in the
morning and thought, i don't want to do this today. but i would put a smile on my face and go to school and just worry about school. >> their mother would do the same, returning to her job as a third grade teacher. >> how did you go back to school? how did you walk in the classroom and teach little third graders? >> i wasn't sure if i could do it but it actually became very therapeutic. because when i walked through that school door, i was mrs. wilberger and it gives you the opportunity to love little children and to be concerned about their needs and so it was really a good therapy for me. it kept my mind busy on other things. >> the wilbergers didn't know it but before the holidays would arrive in 2004, there would finally be a legitimate break in the case of their abduction of their daughter brooke. >> coming up, halfway across the country, a college student runs screaming from a kidnapper.
>> i told her to get in the car, that i wouldn't let anybody hurt her. >> a lot of people didn't stop. >> no, nobody stopped. >> would one woman's quick thinking help bring brooke home? when "dateline" continues. booster, and look at them now! now they can be my thing forever. yay. that's my tide. what's yours? i use ti de sport because it helps get odors out of athletic clothes. i mean, i wear my yoga pants for everything. hiking, biking, pilates... [ woman ] brooke... okay. i wear yoga pants
six months after brooke wilberger's disappearance, police in corvallis, oregon, were frustrated. her family's hopes were fading. slim, but steadfast. >> what did you do around that table? >> we still had a good time. just because we love each other and are hopeful. i think when we get together for myself brings a lot of joy and a lot of comfort. and so even though we missed brooke, it was just comforting
being together. >> police announced the reward had been doubled, hoping more money would loosen lips and shake out new leads but even investigators felt trapped as if it were groundhog day. >> we don't have a suspect. we don't have any clear leads. >> every press conference, simply another chance to make the same plea -- help us find brooke. >> the investigation had kind of gotten to a point where they were still plugging away, following up on tips, still talking to people, still turning up rocks, still searching. and at that time, we were just hoping for something to break. >> just waiting? >> it was difficult. >> and then that very week, the last week ofdy!= november, 2004, it happened. nearly 1400 miles away in new mexico, a place aptly known as the land of enchantment, the break that they had been praying for. in albuquerque, in one of the city's tougher neighborhoods, a waitress was driving her suv down the street with her three daughters just after dusk when
they saw a young woman. >> we were sitting at the light and the girl comes running across the street and my daughter in the front seat says that she doesn't have any clothes on. >> that's kind of weird, you see a naked woman running across the street. >> yes. we were watching her run into the restaurant. my daughter was ready to jump out the car. i'm like, no, no, no, we'll go over there and see what is going on. >> it was clear, she says, the young woman was in trouble, frantically trying to get help from someone inside the restaurant across the street. >> no one helped her because we pulled around there and my daughter got out of the car and met her at the door and brought her over to the car. >> to your car? >> and that's when she said, he's got a knife. he's trying to kill me. >> the woman said she had been kidnapped but had escaped. >> i told her, get in the car, lock the door, that i wouldn't let anybody hurt her. >> how scared were you? >> my tire iron is in the front seat of the car. my kids are in the car.
i'm not going to let anyone hurt us. >> but then the young woman saw something back out in the street that made her scream. he was back. the man that kidnapped her was looking for her. >> she sees him. he pointed at him. he was sitting at the light. >> the person that kidnapped her? >> that kidnapped her. >> the man with the knife had come to find her. dara called 911. she described the man, his red compact car. within minutes, police were there. >> a lot of people wouldn't have stopped. stopped. a lot of people didn't stop. >> no, nobody stopped. there was a lot of traffic. >> they weren't even helping her in the restaurant. she was in the restaurant at the counter talking to someone. >> who was this young woman? blond, blue-eyed, abducted on her neck which she says was a mark from her kidnapper's knife. >> she was a college student. not from oregon but from russia. and the story this 22-year-old told officers was pretty incredible. she was walking home from work down this street, near the
university of new mexico campus. she noticed a small, red car parked near the curb and a man standing next to it, but she didn't think much of it. walked right past. a few steps later she felt someone grab her from behind and hold a knife to her throat. inside the car, she was sexually assaulted and then her abductor stopped at these apartments, tied her up with her own shoe laces and went inside. incredibly, the woman was able to wriggle free, left the shoelaces lying in the parking lot and ran into the street with no clothes on, where she was rescued by dara. >> what made you want to help? what made you want to stop? >> my upbringing, the way we are raised, i feel god put me here for a reason to help that girl because he knew we would help her. >> it was gutsy as hell. i think she's a hero, dara is the hero that night. >> theresa watley is the prosecutor who would handle the case for the district attorney's
office. >> had they not been there, he would have picked her up again. >> he was waiting. he was lurking right there. there was no question what he was waiting for. >> but though the victim was now safe, her attacker was still on the loose. the young woman gave an incredibly detailed description of the man and of his car. >> she described the car seats down to the detail. she described the tinted windows. she described the fact that the car was two-door, that it was red. >> and the victim remembered something else, a small, stuffed animal on the car side window. enter albuquerque police officer ed taylor. he showed up at the scene, ready to help track down the bad guy. first stop, the apartments where the victim escaped from her kidnapper. >> so you go to the door of the apartment. who answers?çe/ >> it's a female. but we went inside the apartment and you could tell she was not going to be helpful at all. >> not cooperative? >> not cooperative. she did tell us that she knew him as joe and he spoke spanish and that was about it.
>> the name joe, he spoke spanish, would it be enough to find him? and four states away, as you're about to see, would it be enough to help find brooke? coming up, police track down a suspect in the new mexico kidnapping case and start to speculate about his m.o. >> this is not the first time he's done this. you don't start grabbing people in broad daylight when you're almost 40. >> was it possible this wasn't his first abduction? when "bringing brooke home" continues. i wa to crus more car i want to selmore tea cups. ♪ ♪ ieed helpelling bread. ♪ ♪ i want to sell more crabs. [ male announcer ] you know where you want to take your business. i want to design more buildings. [ male announcer ] in here, small business solutions from at&t can get you there. from broadband, to web hosting to mobile apps. ca-ching. [ male announcer ] it's the at&t network. helping you do what you do... even better.
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22-year-old student off the street and sexually assaulted her. but when he carelessly tied her up and left her in his car in this apartment parking lot, she bolted, ran naked into traffic and thankfully had been rescued by this woman. >> that could be my daughter. she's a human being. she did not deserve to be run down the road with no clothes on. >> now albuquerque police officer ed taylor was among those looking for a suspect, a white male with a shaved head wearing a cap. police learned from a woman who lived in the apartments where the victim escaped that the man's name was joe, that he spoke spanish. she would say no more. >> i spoke to my supervisor and told him, i believe if i went by myself, she will tell me more information. >> why? why did you have that feeling? >> i thought i had a connection with her. so i returned to the location and i told her, i said, this is what is going on. this is what happened. basically god forbid something like this were to happen to you or somebody you know and she
reluctantly ended up telling me you might be able to locate the vehicle behind the restaurant just south of gibson. >> riding solo, officer taylor followed the woman's directions and parked right here on this dead-end street was a red, two-door honda with a stuffed animal stuck to the window. >> so i waited a little bit and a few minutes later i noticed three individuals walking out of that white house and walking towards me. i called out to them as joe. i said, "joe," and he acknowledged me. and as he got closer, i said, is this your vehicle? he said yes. i had him turn around and i placed him into custody. >> did you find anything on him? >> i find a glass pipe used to smoke crack cocaine and a small knife. >> did he ever ask you why he was under arrest? >> no i think he knew he was caught. >> caught was this man, joel patrick courtney, soon identified business his victim
and arrested on criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping and aggravated battery. joel courtney was 38 years old. he lived in this albuquerque suburb, rio rancho in this home with his wife and three young children. he had worked as a mechanic and fisherman and had worked all over the united states. a fluent span, teacher, he also lived in mexico. but the man who appeared in family photos as the ever smiling attentive father also had a dark side.wj.ú six months before, his wife had taken out a restraining order against him, reporting he had choked her. >> the first time i saw him, i remember thinking it was as strong of a reaction that i had had to richard ramirez. >> ramirez is the notorious night stalker, convicted of murdering more than a dozen murdering more than a dozen people in the 1980s, now awaiting execution on california's death row. prosecutor theresa watley once crossed paths with ramirez in the courtroom. >> he made the hair on my arms
stand up. because he was so evil. the only other person that has done that to me was joel courtney. >> when you first read the reports about this case, what went through your mind as a prosecutor? >> that this is not the first time he had done this. you don't start grabbing people in broad daylight off the street and grab them in your car when you're almost 40. that's not the way the criminal mind works. >> the new mexico prosecutor didn't know yet how right she was. and back in oregon, the wilberger family knew nothing yet of these developments as they faced the holidays still hoping brooke would walk through the door and take her place on the stairs for the family's annual christmas pageant and pictures. >> smile, angels. >> that's exactly what we kept thinking. this can't happen. this just can't happen. this is brooke, you know, she's too full of life. she's too dynamic and too much a part of us. i've got to keep hoping. and i've got to keep thinking
positive. >> this is my home, yay. >> where was brooke? six months had passed. was she still alive somehow somewhere? her sister stephanie was dealing with a lot of guilt. brooke was working for her when she disappeared.ç >> i was driving somewhere and just reflecting on where we were so far and i remember thinking, gosh, i wonder what it will be like when i don't think about this every day? what could i have done differently? or what if this little thing had changed? >> but something was finally about to change. the quick thinking that led to joel courtney's capture in new mexico was about to lead to more questions, and investigators would soon want to know if this father of three, now charged in a daring abduction, could also be the man who took brooke. it was not just police asking questions about brooke's case. so was the suspect's own sister.
joel patrick courtney was sitting in jail in albuquerque. it was december 2004. the married father of three was facing decades in prison if convicted of kidnapping, sexual assault, and battery charges. he had been caught carrying a knife and a crack pipe hours after a university of new mexico student said joel courtney abducted her near campus and sexually assaulted her. miraculously, she had escaped. >> this is an incredibly brazen crime.
>> 6:45, it's just about dark. >> that's either incredibly stupid or insane. >> no, it's experienced. he knows what he's doing. he's done it before. he knows how to make it happen. he picked his spot really well. it's a very quiet street. it was dinnertime. as awful as it sounds, it's a smart move for what he's trying to do. >> but it didn't work and with joel courtney safely in custody, albuquerque police begin a routine background check on their suspect. in addition to new mexico, he had lived in several states, alaska, florida. and oregon. and a detective noticed that nearly a year before, in january 2004, in coastal lincoln county, oregon, courtney had been pulled over by a state trooper and charged with driving under the influence. but courtney had failed to appear in court so a warrant had been issued for his arrest. and that's when an albuquerque detective did something he didn't have to do.
he decided to dig deeper. picked up the phone and made a call to oregon. that would lead to a long awaited break in the case of brooke wilberger. >> he calls up lincoln county and gets to a detective. what do you know about this case? this is what he did in new mexico and he's relaying the circumstances. and the lincoln county detective, having heard about brooke's case -- >> because everyone here has heard about it. >> says to him, you need to call corvallis police department. it's that simple. and he does. >> did somebody yell out over the -- oh, my god? >> there was an element of cautious optimism with, this sounds really good but you can't jump in with both feet and just go crazy because we've been down that road so many times. >> as investigators began checking out this new lead on joel courtney, charged four states away with abducting a blond, blue-eyed college coed, a call went out to brooke
wilberger's family. they had waited more than six months for news, any news, about their daughter's disappearance. now there was a man in custody who they thought might be able to reunite them with their daughter, just as elizabeth smart had been returned to her family. >> what are you thinking when you hear this? >> actually, i had prayed so faithfully all fall that whoever had done this would make a mistake. and when i heard the news, i thought, they made a mistake. they tried it again. and no one else knew what i had prayed, because i hadn't told anyone else because it was always, find brooke, help us to find brooke. i guess that was a selfish prayer, that to help whoever had done this make a mistake and i felt like, they made a mistake. >> but if this mistake could help find brooke, investigators first had to find out all they could about this latest possible suspect.
and specifically they wanted to know more about that suspect's ties to oregon. detectives quickly determined that joel courtney grew up in beaverton, a portland suburb about 75 miles from where brooke disappeared, but that had been 20 years before. police also knew he had lived in several different states. the question was, had courtney been anywhere near corvallis on the day of the kidnapping?p+ there was one person who could answer that question and many more. >> her name, dina mcbride, joel courtney's older sister. she lived in portland. >> my first thought is, cute dimpled little blond haired mischief vows kid, with sweet little spirit and hilarious laugh. >> days before, corvallis police got that call from albuquerque and heard joel courtney's name for the first time, dina received a call herself. it was from joel's wife with word of his arrest in new
mexico. dina and her mother took in the news together. >> how did your mom react? >> she was horrified. you know, there were very few details that she felt like the truth needs to come out. >> but the truth was hard to figure out in those first moments. the scowling man in the mug shot was hardly the joel his sister knew when he was little. >> i remember him coming home from the hospital. i remember him toddling, all of the classic childhood milestones. and we were a very, very happy family. >> at some point did you see a shift? >> when he was probably 11:00-ish, he started hanging out with some older kids. i remember my mom backtracking and saying, i think that's when it really started. >> it was joel's drug use and before long when joel became a teenager, more reason to worry. >> he was starting to dabble in some satanism a lit bit and kind of explaining how much power it gave him and a sense of, you
know, a rush of being in control or whatever, and he was pretty good at throwing a punch here or there. >> scare you? >> yeah, hurt me. yeah. >> so around the same time that he dabbles in satanism, he starts becoming physical? >> uh-huh. >> but as joel got older and more violent, his sister says he was handsome enough, charming enough, and smart enough to get away with a lot of bad behavior. >> at some point in time it was the in thing to have iq testing in school. i remember not being as smart as i had hoped and hearing that he had a genius level iq. >> genius level? >> uh-huh. >> did he study a lot? did he read books? >> he loved to read books. but, no, he kind of got away with really good grades with very little effort which seemed monument tally unfair to me. >> joel courtney's luck would eventually run out. he had a string of arrests for shoplifting and other offenses and was in and out of juvenile detention until he was 18.
that's when joel admitted beating and sexually assaulting a woman had he known in high school. he blamed the crime on drugs and alcohol and a judge sentenced courtney to probation. he never finished high school and worked various jobs as a fisherman in alaska and as a mechanic. he got married at 23 to rosie who was from mexico. he and rosie had three children and eventually courtney seemed to settle down, savoring his role as a father and building a e life in that home in an albuquerque suburb. >> what kind of father was he? >> he changed diapers, he got up in the middle of the night, he made lunches, he -- there are a lot of pictures of him on the ground wrestling with the kids and laying in the grass, looking at four-leaf clover kind of stuff. the kind of dad that we had that
wanted to be there for his kids. >> but now at age 38, this seemingly loving father was facing the trial of his life. locked up, caught with a crack pipe and knife, given his checkered history, something, maybe intuition, the massive media coverage throughout oregon of a similar crime, a young, beautiful femó9]ollege student snatched off the streets just months before, something compelled dina and her family to ask the question themselves, the very questions corvallis police were just beginning to look at. >> just the details that we heard about the case in new mexico, there were some similarities and -- >> so you thought to yourself -- >> could it be? no. i mean, you couldn't even say the whole sentence because it was unthinkable, right? >> coming up, new clues provide an answer and break brooke's case wide open. >> this was dynamite to us. >> when "bringing brooke home"
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wilberger. minutes, hours, days. but in early december 2004, more than six months after she went missing, it was as if the clock suddenly sped up. police in corvallis, oregon, were struck by the parallels between brooke's abduction and the crimes joel patrick courtney was accused of in albuquerque. from our perspective, it's a signature crime. right next to the university of new mexico campus, young woman, attractive, broad daylight, abduction in a vehicle, drives away. yeah, we were real excited that we were on the right track at that point. >> by the time the police learned joel courtney's name, joel's sister dina and family had been thinking about the same connection for days. >> we couldn't even say the words out loud. we were up till the late hours in the morning going over the calendar thinking, could he have done that? we decided to pray about it. >> what were your prayers? >> we really prayed that god
would give us wisdom, that we would make the right choices, that we would speak when we needed to speak and not speak when it was not wise. >> dina waited, saying nothing, until a week later, corvallis police, looking for information about her brother, called her. >> in that moment, do you know in your heart that he did something? >> in that moment i did not know that. i thought too many coincidences to automatically discount it. right? you can't just assume because he's your brother, somebody that you love, that he couldn't have, right? >> what dina told police was revealing. during their first interviews, she shared some dark, family secrets. when she was a teenager, her brother joel had attacked her. >> he would come in in the middle of the night and put a
hand around my neck and attempt to sexually assault me. >> more than once? >> more than once, yeah. and i have had a great old-fashion wind up alarm clock that met his head. >> two more courtney family members.ujjr(áátjuu(áq claiming that joel had raped or tried to rape them. >> the further we got into the investigation as far as the number of people we interviewed, the more sexual assaults came to light. >> and more pieces of the puzzle were coming together quickly. despite their troubled past, dina and joel had maintained a relationship over the years. joel's sister now showed police these photographs of joel and his family, not at their home in new mexico, but visiting dina's home in the portland suburbs, in may 2004, the very month brooke wilberger disappeared. joel, his wife rosie and three kids needed a place to stay. joel had gotten a job supervising a cleaning crew, a
job that meant that he would be traveling all over the state of oregon. >> we were under the impression that he would be there for a couple of months. a lot of the time there would be -- you know, he would bow outá fairly early on, i've got to do something for work. so it was mostly rosie and the kids with the rest of us. >> so he was traveling quite a bit. >> that was my understanding, yeah. >> and then this bombshell. may 24th, the day brooke was abducted, was one of those days when joel courtney was traveling. he had a court day, it turns out, over on the oregon coast on that drunken driving charge, but he never showed up. according to court records, he called the courthouse and said he was going to be late and that phone call was made from the very town where brooke disappeared. right here in corvallis. joel courtney then disappeared, for about 36 hours, before returning to dina's home in the portland suburbs. >> he walked through the door
and announced kind of loudly, you'll never believe where i've been. and i said okay, where were you? he said, i was kidnapped. there were these guys, there were guns and knifes and we were in the woods and it was rainy and cold and there was a girl there and we were hiding and there was blood and it was awful. >> at the time, dina chalked it up to joel's chronic drug abuse. >> he's delusional? >> uh-huh. >> you just think he's coming off some bad drugs? >> uh-huh. >> you don't call 911? >> no. >> dina says she didn't feel like she was in danger at that moment, so she did not call authorities. but all those months later, sitting with investigators, she suddenly realized how crucial that strange conversation with joel might have been. >> just as i was saying it, it occurred to me, oh, my word. could he have been -- was he
talking about that? and she remembered the very next day after brooke disappeared, her brother joel would visit his doctor in portland complaining of chest pains and anxiety but all of this information, while damning was nothing more than circumstantial evidence of joel's potential involvement in brooke's disappearance. without brooke or if she were dead, her body, the detectives had no physical proof linking joel to the crime. until, that is, police learned what joel was driving the day brooke disappeared. a green dodge caravan with minnesota license plates supplied by the company he was working for. >> the minute you hear green minivan with a minnesota plate, somebody remembers that was one of your tips? >> absolutely. >> two separate tips pulled from the database of thousands called into the police. the first, 9:30 a.m., 100 yards north of where brooke was kidnapped.
a blond osu student said a white male adult in a green minivan approached her and opened the back of his van to look for a map. when she saw a blanket on the floor, she rushed off, telling the man she was late for a class. then they reported a man in a dodge caravan, possibly green, with minnesota plates, asking a female student for directions in the stadium parking lot, in close proximity to where wilberger was abducted. the witness was later asked to identify the man in this photo lineup and picked out joel courtney. >> this was dynamite to us. this told us, this is our guy at the moment. we needed to focus on him and find the van. that's our one piece of physical evidence we've got to get now. >> and that's exactly what the fbi did. agent joe boyer found the van in washington state and had it taken apart, piece by piece, and shipped to an fbi lab across the
country. >> we knew that if we were going to prove that joel courtney was responsible for this, the best chance we had was to find evidence of brooke being in the van. >> the wilberger family was informed. they wanted to know the truth, but were almost afraid to discover more about joel courtney and his crimes. >> i googled him and passed it on to you. >> you googled him? >> yeah. sure. >> what was it like to see his face? >> i just looked at him and at that point was just a numb that point was just a numb feeling. even then, i didn't feel hatred. it was just all about getting brooke back. i wanted to know what you did and where she is. >> but neither the wilbergers nor investigators nor courtney's sister could ever have guessed how they would get the answer to the question where was brooke? coming up, evidence finally implicates joel courtney in brooke's kidnapping. >> that's the smoking gun. that's the nail in the coffin.
>> but will that help bring brooke home when "dateline" continues. county motel. tonight 11 news is live at that scene where loved ones gathered in their memory. plus new state laws now in effect. see how it'll impact everything from your driving dining even your dog. and...police impersonators invade two homes in two days. but are the incidents related? we'll have the latest.
in the months after joel 3 courtney had emerged as a suspect in brooke wilberger's disappearance, brooke's mom had desperately tried to hold on to the hope that her daughter was still alive. but her heart was finally giving in to what her head was telling her. >> i just had this sick feeling, even though i would never give up hope, you know, my motherly hope was always there. i knew deep down that she was probably gone. >> and it would be another mom in another state who would move the story forward. joel courtney had already been interviewed by the fbi but refused to answer any questions and when shown her photo denied ever knowing brooke. but when confronted by his own mother, courtney came perilously close to a confession.
>> she actually asked him, point blank, joel, did you do this? and he said, it's not really what it seems like and i'll never be held accountable for this. >> he said that to your mother? >> uh-huh. >> they'll never hold me accountable to this? >> uh-huh. >> why did he say that? >> because i don't think he feels the need to be held accountable for the things that he does. >> power? >> yeah, power, and doesn't have to play by the same rules that other people have to. >> the rules, to investigators, it did seem like joel courtney thought he was playing a game. the inmate whose sister said he had above average intelligence knew that without physical evidence or brooke's body it would be nearly impossible for investigators to charge him with murder. by the spring of 2005, fbi scientists were working feverishly examining every inch of that green minivan joel once drove, hunting for dna evidence. on the day marking the first
anniversary of brooke's abduction, her family and police dutifully held a news conference. privately, the family had held the secret for months that the police had a strong suspect and that brooke was likely no longer alive. yet, in public, they held fast. >> you still have that hope, though. you don't give that up. >> one year after brooke wilberger disappeared, her tattered picture is still posted on street signs in corvallis. >> but as local stations played the story of a christmas anniversary, some real news was about to break. >> we were heading back to eugene and we got a call and they said, how far out of town are you? and we said well, not too far. they said, could you come back? >> unbelievably, that very day, on the one-year anniversary of brooke's disappearance, special agent joe boyer received a long-awaited call from the lab. >> they told me, you're not going to believe what we found, and i said what is that? they said we found joel courtney's dna in the van. and i said, well, that's good, but that doesn't quite get us there. and they said, we also found
brooke wilberger's dna in the carpet of the van. >> it was the physical evidence >> it was the physical evidence that they had been waiting for. beneath the backseat in the carpet, they found a mixture of male and female dna, belonging to joel courtney and brooke wilberger. >> what happens here at corvallis police headquarters when you find out? >> that's the smoking gun. that's the nail in the coffin. >> the wilbergers return to corvallis to get the news themselves. >> they said, we got a dna confirmation that brooke's dna and his dna were in the van together. >> did you breakdown? >> no. you get up for certain things. you just steal yourself for that. it was like yes, you know?m and then, of course, i sobbed the whole way home. >> the dna evidence revealed details no mother should ever have to hear and no witness had yet disclosed. >> it was the nature of the dna evidence which told an even
bigger story. >> benton county oregon district attorney john haroldson. >> the dna evidence was in the form of bodily fluids which were commingled, that told us a story in terms of what had occurred in that van. >> the commingled dna indicated that brooke had been raped so joel courtney was charged with that crime, in addition to kidnapping and murder. >> so you've got him in corvallis, near the point of abduction, you've got evidence that she was in his van, that he assaulted her in that van, the only thing you don't have is brooke wilberger? >> yes. >> you charge him with the death penalty? >> yes. i believe it was justified due to the evidence we had before us. >> news of inviemtdictment hadn't come out yet.
joel courtney sat in a new mexico court hearing on that case and he has served with the oregon charges. >> they came to court, gave it to me, i gave it to the defense attorney who gave it to courtney in the jury box with other inmates. death penalty and he's laughing. >> he's laughing? >> he's laughing and he's showing it off to all of the other inmates like this is a badge of honor somehow. >> what does that tell you? >> we read him exactly right. this is something that he's proud of. i think he felt at that time, particularly because he knew in that case he knew they didn't have the body, this was something that he could enjoy because it wasn't going to affect him in the long term. >> and from that day forward, joel courtney did everything that he could to delay and disrupt his own case. he knew that the charges here in new mexico of kidnapping and rape would have to be dealt with before he could ever b .9q back to oregon. so he did all could to turn to proceedings here into a farce. that meant he sometimes didn't communicate with his own legal team. he even fired one of his own attorneys and at other times he refused to show up for court appearances and then finally joel courtney claimed that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial.
>> once that was brought up, when he would come into court, he would come in all bowed down, he would shuffle, only look at the floor. his whole demeanor had changed because now he wanted to be incompetent. because we couldn't try him. >> what did you really think was going on? >> it was absolutely inept. it was absolutely an act. >> nonetheless, had he to be and they worried he may try to flee. >> i was concerned for the entire time he would be looking for an opportunity to escape. he was fluent in spanish. i felt that he was going to head south, cross the border where he'd live before and disappear into mexico and make it very difficult for us to find him. >> as the fight over whether or not courtney was competent to stand trial dragged on through 2007, brooke's mom was struggling. for her, the mission to find her daughter was no longer a rescue mission but one of recovery and her hopes were being threatened by what many saw as the courtroom shennanigans of joel
courtney. >> i can remember one time i was near the edge. i knew that if they found him mentally incapable that that was a black hole for us. because we would never get brooke. he would never come to oregon. he would be there forever, you know, playing this game. >> it was nearly a year before a new mexico judge finally ruled in january 2007, nearly three years after brooke disappeared, that joel courtney was competent to stand trial. >> we were on our way to san francisco and we got a phone call and he said, they found him mentally stable. and we got out of the car, the girls and i, and did a dance around the car. i just felt like the world was lifted and i didn't realize how close i was, maybe, you know -- >> close to what?2.m >> to just a breaking point.zxd1ñ until i felt that being lifted. and then it was like, okay, we
can do this. >> later that year, in september 2007, joel courtney would finally plead guilty to kidnapping and sexually assaulting that university of new mexico student he snatched off the street. the young woman who somehow escaped. at his sentencing, another circus. >> it didn't take long for joel patrick courtney to tell district judge kenneth martinez, exactly what he thinks of him. >> i have no respect for this court. this is -- you're the rudest person i have ever met. >> i do believe, sir, that you are, again, attempting to delay this matter as you have repeatedly. >> the judge sentenced joel courtney to 18 years in prison but not before courtney took a parting shot. >> i would spit in your face if i was close enough. >> time had finally run out for joel courtney. he would soon be back on his way to oregon where investigators
were ready for his head games. their goal, the same as it had been for years, find brooke. >> there was a degree of vigor. you are not going to win, joel courtney. we will. coming up, brooke's family issues a plea to joel courtney to help them finally find brooke. >> we just wanted her back. we just wanted to bring her home. [ male announcer ] ly 4th get more bang for your buck at lowe's.by and get 3 for 10 perennials. that's just 3 for 10 bucks! then start up that paint project with an instant 10 dollars off every 50 dollars you spend on paint and paint supplies. and when you're done, break out the grill with buy one get one free on 16-pound bags of kingsford charcoal. the savings are in the air 4th of july weekend at lowe's. experience. lowe's. let's build something together. [ male announcer ] sprint changes the game again with america's first 3d phone. now anyone can watch and shoot video in 3d. cut, guys. uh, we're not making effective use
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joel courtney was finally in an oregon courtroom, pleading not guilty to murder charges. it was the spring of 2008, a full four years after brooke wilberger had disappeared. the man charged with stealing a beautiful 19-year-old from her loved ones had also stolen years from their lives. he had manipulated the legal system, forced delays in new mexico to avoid returning to oregon to face charges. if he were convicted now, it could mean the death penalty. >> did you think that he deserved to die? >> it didn't matter. it was -- we know the end result, how did it happen and
where is she? and so it wasn't a feeling of revenge or retribution. it was just, okay, what now, how do we find her and recover her? >> the family simply needed to know. remember, thousands of searchers had covered dozens of square miles in every direction from oregon's coastal range of mountains to its rocky coast without any success. joel courtney had not said a word to police or prosecutors since asking for a lawyer years before. the man who had studied law books in jail had to know that despite dna evidence linking him to brooke's rape and murder, without a body, the prosecution's case would be much harder to prove. so if courtney knew where to find brooke, he was keeping the d.a., john haroldson. >> you can't appeal to this man to just do the right thing, can you?
>> i never saw that as an incentive for him. i felt that the incentives were probably going to be more based from the perspective of a narcissist. >> selfish? >> yes. what can you do for me versus what can i do for society. >> and so the prosecutor thought, what could be more precious to a narcissist than his own life? after consulting with the wilbergers, the d.a. offered courtney a deal. admit to brooke's murder, reveal the location of her body, and avoid the death penalty in an exchange of life in prison without patrol. >> actually, that's what we hoped for, because the death penalty would draw it out years. >> but you wanted something in return? >> we wanted brooke. we wanted her remains. >> why was that so important to the family? >> we just wanted her back. our goal was still really the same. that we just wanted to bring her home, clearly, not the way that
we had hoped but i think that it was important to us to have her back, just to get her back. >> so the prosecutor went to courtney with the deal and true to form, the inmate made everyone wait again, for months. until his defense lawyers delivered the word. >> joel courtney was not interested. joel courtney was not interested. he did not return a counteroffer. he outright rejected our offer. >> feels like holding her family hostage in some ways, you know. >> courtney's sister dina watched all of this unfold, knowing a trial would mean she would have to testify about the times joel tried to rape her as a teenager, about his unexpected visit to her oregon home just before brooke's abduction, and about his incriminating, presumably drug-induced statements. dina knew her testimony could help put her own brother on death row. >> my mom and i actually talked
about this before she got sick and talked about, you know, we've always said that we believe in the death penalty and here it is -- >> your brother. >> -- my brother, her son. and so if you believe in it for some person that you don't know, does that still hold true if it's your loved one? and we did a lot of thinking and praying about it and we came to the conclusion that, yeah, we still did. >> dina says she was ready to testify but what she didn't know was that the pressure was building on her brother to find another way out. in new mexico, the courts rejected his appeals and life in oregon's jails was not pleasant for a notorious crimes against women were well known. more than once courtney was beaten by fellow inmates as you can see in this jailhouse video in which courtney is being tended to by medical staff after one particularly brutal beating.
then there were new charges of assault after courtney threw a fax machine at a prison doctor who wouldn't give him what he wanted. >> that was the very beginning of the end. >> why do you say that? >> we knew then that he was frustrated. he was feeling it. it was getting close because he threw the fax machine because he couldn't get some anti-anxiety medication. so we knew that he was feeling very anxious. >> but still no sign joel courtney was willing to reveal the location of brooke's body. the prosecutor was fed up. he was ready for a trial. >> if you go to trial at that point, can you win? >> yes. >> so you don't need to settle? >> no. >> the only reason to settle is to help the family, to get brooke's body? >> we were prepared to go to trial and secure a conviction and to pursue the death penalty. >> still, the judge wasn't quite ready to move on. he asked both sides to try one last time to settle the case
before trial.]o8gñ during weeks of tense talks with joel courtney's attorneys, the prosecutor finally discovered the one incentive that might appeal to courtney and give the wilbergers their daughter back. courtney wanted out of oregon. he might admit to murder and reveal the location of brooke's remains if he could serve his prison time near his own family, in new mexico. >> the wilberger family quickly agreed. anything, they thought, to get brooke back. >> we needed to have the approval of the oregon governor and we needed to have the approval of the new mexico governor. those were the two final pieces. >> you would think they would give their approval. >> we were becoming extremely concerned that this process was taking so long that joel courtney was going to change his mind and walk away and we desperately needed that approval and we needed it now. >> but while oregon's governor signed off on the deal almost immediately, new mexico's did not. brooke's family couldn't believe it.
>> i was frustrated to think that something like that could stop this whole process that had gone so far. >> and you've come so far. >> and we had gotten so close and here we were at this point and then to think that it could all fall apart because of that. >> so brooke's mom decided to make a personal plea to the governor of new mexico to try to get her daughter back. >> this one was unusual. i wanted full details and i wanted to be sure that i did the right thing. >> coming up -- >> i said that we had gone through a lot already. >> you're appealing to their hearts? >> i was. >> the emotional plea from brooke's mother for the deal that would finally solve the mystery, where was brooke. and coming up sunday on "dateline." rescue on the high seas. his ship attacked by pirates. >> i told him, we're all going to die in this boat.
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so many years had passed and now that the deal was nearly done that might allow brooke wilberger's family to bring her body home, could it all fall apart at the last minute? brooke's suspected killer, joel courtney had agreed to tell investigators where brooke's body was if he could spend the rest of his life not in an oregon prison, but in new mexico. oregon's governor was set to sign the agreement. it was now up to new mexico governor bill richardson who hesitated. >> you're talking about a convicted rapist and a man who's accused of a heinous murder. imagine you must have thought, i don't know if i want this person in our state? >> well, that's true. he was a very bad guy and i said to my staff, let's be sure of
all the facts. let's be sure that we're doing the right thing. >> the governor wanted to hear from brooke's family. her mother called the capitol and spoke to a top aide. >> do you remember the words thaw used? >> i remember that i said we had gone through a lot already and that we were hoping that this could be the end of it and that we would just hope that they would consider it. >> you're appealing to their hearts? >> i was. >> how critical was that phone call, that personal phone call from the wilberger family to your office? >> well, it was absolutely critical. as long as their is life imprisonment, as long as the family of brooke wilberger felt that this would bring closure, i was comfortable in signing this agreement. >> it was done. the word police in corvallis had been waiting for. >> i think we were all kind of on pins and needles for several days there. >> that call finally comes? >> yeah. i remember learning that the document was signed, the plea was done. now it's a matter of, we've got to find a way to get from him where she actually is.
>> you know, it was almost an excitement that's a strange word to think of or to use but we thought of this for so long, you know, this coming to pass, of actually i don't know what we were expecting. >> what had happened to brooke? her family and investigators who had spent more than five years trying to answer that question would in the coming days get their first details from her killer, joel courtney. courtney's lawyers relayed the story to the d.a., who then told brooke's family. >> i thought everything had been difficult until that time but when he told us the details of the crime it's the first time that i heard some of them and it was all company do to look there and look straight ahead just kept thinking, you can get through this day. you can get through this day. >> the story told by joel a courtney was this. he said that morning in may, he was high on cocaine.
when he drove up to brooke in the parking lot in his green van, asked for help delivering a package and when she came closer, he pulled out a knife and pulled her into the van. brooke began screaming as he tore her out of her flip-flops. from there, courtney said he drove west towards the town of philomath. he kept her tied up in the van for hours, even going through a mcdonald's drive through, he said, doing more drugs before night fell he raped brooke and when she fought back, he killed her by bludgeoning her in the head with a piece of wood before concealing her body in the forest. >> but to know that she fought, you know, which didn't surprise us, it was just a really difficult time and very emotional i think for all of us as a family. >> and in addition to those
details, joel courtney provided the most critical piece of information, what brooke's family and investigators had been waiting for. >> he drew a rough hand sketched map that he says depicts where he took her. >> do you know this location? >> it's not too far away. >> detectives drove from the police department passed the iqñt apartment complex west five miles through the small town of philomath and then five miles further off the highway on to a logging road shown on the map. >> had you been there? >> not precisely. >> close by searching? >> absolutely. >> ten miles is so close by. >> yeah, but it may as well be an eternity. >> we went up into the woods and we're trying again to be quiet. we don't want the world to knowë and we're looking and we're not finding and i remember being rather frustrated. >> did you think he lied? >> well, that certainly crossed our mind that he lied. >> the team called it a night. but the next day they went back with more details supplied by joel courtney. >> okay. it's about 9:40 a.m. on september 19th. >> and with the help of a
cadaver dog, through heavy timber, just a few hundred yards off that highway -- >> chief deputy medical examiner came back and said, i think we found her. >> on a hillside investigators found some clothing, including a sweatshirt and before long small flags sadly marked several spots where human remains had been recovered. one of oregon's most timeless mysteries had apparently been solved. >> i certainly can't sit here and tell you that i wasn't choked up a few times. yeah, there were emotional times there. >> but it would take time to identify the remains so searchers told the district attorney about one particular item found on that hillside. they wanted him to ask brooke's family about it. >> he texts me and said, can you describe brooke's watch? >> that was the watch that you gave her for christmas? >> uh-huh. >> that beautiful watch that brooke had wanted so badly, one brooke had wanted so badly, one one of the last gifts cammy
would ever buy for her daughter now signaled the time had come. >> so i described the watch and he said, we found her. it was like having the first day and six years and then the snowball just came down on top of you. everything landed on you. >> brooke's parents then told the rest of the family. the wait was over. >> when she just said the words, they found brooke, it was -- i didn't feel excitement at all and it wasn't what i thought i would feel. i just sat there and i cried and i cried. that hope of her coming home alive was kind of torn from me. >> in that moment i felt such a powerful wave of emotion and heaviness in my heart. as a human being, as a parent, i was just personally really, really struck at that point with what that really meant for the family. that the dream of an elizabeth smart miracle would be dashed forever.
>> the next day joel courtney pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. >> do you remember that day? >> i just remember thinking, why would you have done that to that precious child? i can't imagine holding out for that long without needing to come forward and say, this is the truth. and here is your precious baby. >> after sentencing, most of brooke's family paid a brief visit to the site where brooke's remains were found. 7,b2x >> i could hardly breathe and it was wooded and shaded and someone made the comment that, you know, it was a beautiful peaceful place and i thought, it would be if your daughter hadn't been murdered here. >> at the corvallis library, a number of police agencies gather at the end of a five-year effort. >> and as the news broke that day, brooke's mother stepped to the podium to say thank you, not
only to thank those investigators that had worked so hard towards this day but also in a moment of incredible grace, to thank brooke's killer. >> it might be hard for you to understand but at this time we just really feel gratitude. even to mr. courtney, that he could see fit to tell us where he left brooke. and for our family, what happens to him, we are thankful that justice was served and that he will not have the opportunity for parole but now he can go on with what's left of his life and we want to strengthen our family and to go on with our life. >> did it surprise you to hear mrs. wilberger family say thank you to joel courtney? >> it didn't surprise me. they are a giving and caring family. you can only hate for so long. at some point as people we have to be able to get beyond that.
>> people always throw the world closure around. >> when people use that term, they are trying to be helpful and comforting. but i think in the death of anyone there's no closure. >> it is the end of a horrible ordeal, one that lasted much longer that it needed to. for brooke's killer, joel courtney, a lifetime of solitude awaits at the penitentiary of