Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Absurd Case of Dale Helming

After a three day trial in 1996, Dale Helmig was convicted of killing his mother by the people of Missouri. They sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

The prosecution's theory was that, almost three years earlier, Dale had a pizza delivered to his motel room at approximately 10:30 PM. He then drove his car over the Missouri River Bridge, killed his mother at her house, put her body into her own car trunk, drove her car to the Osage River Bridge, bound her with a nylon cord which was attached to a concrete block, dumped her over the bridge, drove her car back home, parked it, and returned in his own car to the motel in Fulton, once more crossing the Missouri River Bridge.

I have compiled the evidence against Helmig by reading through the appellate decisions. Appellate decisions frequently give summaries of the evidence presented during the trial. By the appellate judges' own admission, they present the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution. (They claim they are legally bound to do so.) The appellate decisions therefore typically represent the most favorable presentation of the state's case. So that's what you are about to read below: a most favorable summary of the evidence used to convict Dale Helmig and imprison him for life.

Here goes:
Dale Helmig separated from his wife in September, 1992. His mother separated from her husband (Dale's father) in the spring of 1993. Dale moved in with his mother.

He was close to his mother and relied on her for money. Even though he was in his thirties and married, his mother paid his bills and gave him gas money. Relatives saw her give him money from her purse on different occasions. In the month of her murder, she was still giving him money.

There was no evidence of ill-feeling between them until after he moved in with her. The two did not argue over money until four days before the murder.

His aunt observed that he and his mother argued over his children and money, that he was agitated and "hyper" around his mother, that he was angry about not seeing his children regularly and his mother could not calm him down.

His aunt testified also that he and his mother argued over a $200 phone bill. The aunt spoke with the mother a few days before the murder. The mother reported that her son had "run up" her telephone bill, that they had argued over it, that he was furious, and that she was afraid of him.

A tow truck driver who had earlier towed Dale Helmig's car, talked to Dale's mother as she paid the towing charge and recovered his car. The driver testified that his mother said "He'd better enjoy this one, because it's the last. I'm tired of being a meal ticket."

When Dale Helmig arrived home to find his mother missing, he telephoned his aunt. He told her that a fan and some of his mother's new nightgowns were missing. His aunt said she and her husband would drive down from Jefferson City. He said he would not be there when they arrived. Dale Helmig was the first person to mention a missing nightgown.

Before his aunt and uncle arrived, he took a shower. He and his girlfriend were watching television and drinking beer when his aunt and uncle arrived.

He once again told his aunt that two of his mother's new nightgowns were missing. He added that a gold chain was missing.

As various relatives arrived during the afternoon, he pointed out details around the house and associated them with foul play even though they did not indicate foul play to others.

He told his girlfriend that his mother's purse was missing and her keys must be "in her purse."

His aunt asked him to call the police three times over a fifteen to twenty minute period before he made the call.

After speaking to the deputy sheriff, he told his aunt that he was "going to change his story."

Later that evening, he told his girlfriend: "Someone must have gotten crazy drunk and went in and killed her."

Still later that evening, he angrily asked his estranged wife: "Are you trying to say I killed my own mother?"

The next day, while the police were conducting an aerial search for the victim around the Gasconade River, he commented that he did not think they would find anything down there.

His absence from his mother's house on that next day showed he was not worried as the others who stayed at the house.

When the sheriff informed the family that the mother's body had been found, he "looked very surprised and very shocked" and started tapping his foot rapidly. Unlike the other relatives in the room, he did not start crying.

When the sheriff asked if anyone could identify a gown, he volunteered a description of the nightgown victim was in fact wearing.

He volunteered that the motive was robbery and he had no motive for the crime and stated that "whoever had done this had to have been strong."

The mother's purse was found a mile and a half east of the Missouri River Bridge. A state expert in water currents and water movement testified that the purse must have been thrown off the Missouri River Bridge in order for it to end up where it did. That was the very bridge the state claimed Dale Helmig drove over as he returned to his motel room.

The mother's keys were found in her purse, just as Dale Helmig had predicted. His aunt, however, testified that his mother never carried her keys in her purse, but always carried them in her belt loop.

A police officer who was instructed to arrest Dale Helmig

Another police officer who was instructed to arrest Helmig was informed that Helmig "had a rifle, a large caliber carbine, .44 caliber; that he had a 4-inch fillet knife taped to his leg and possibly a shotgun." That officer was also cautioned that Helmig was "going to Osage County with whatever was on his mind."

Helmig stopped even though the patrol car's lights had not been turned on, offered no resistance, and made no statement other than, "You guys are making a big mistake."

He had a knife taped to his leg and a loaded carbine rifle on the front seat of his vehicle.

He "was extremely polite and was not in the least bit antagonistic. He was cooperative and assisted officers in the performance of [their] duties."

When interrogated, his face flushed, his voice broke, he started crying.

When told by his interrogator that his mother was watching and that he could speak to her, Dale Helmig said "I'm sorry, I'm just sorry."

He told the police that he knew who did it, but no one could prove it.
So there you have it.

I'm not kidding.

That's the evidence on which Dale Helmig was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. I did not include any forensic evidence in the list, or any eye-witness testimony to the crime, because there was none. What you see is what the jury got.

The State of Missouri argued that Dale Helmig had the opportunity to kill his mother. Helmig did not have an alibi for the time of her death, and he could have thrown the purse from the bridge as he traveled across it after he killed her.

The State of Missouri argued that Dale Helmig had a motive to kill his mother. Though Helmig and his mother had long had a loving relationship (he had in fact been her favorite son), he had recently moved in with her. They started arguing about money, and she was planning to cut him off.

The State of Missouri argued that Dale Helmig had inside knowledge of the case. He knew that she would be found in her nightgown, that her keys would be in her purse, and that she would not be found in the Gasconade River.

The State of Missouri argued that Dale Helmig acted suspiciously. To recount just a few of his damning actions, he took a shower, watched television, and drank beer soon after telling his aunt his mother had disappeared. His aunt had to ask him to call the police three times over a fifteen minute period before he called them. He was not as worried about his mother as were his relatives. He did not cry when informed that she had been found dead, instead he "looked very surprised and very shocked" and started tapping his foot rapidly. Under interrogation, his face flushed, his voice broke, he started crying. When told his dead aunt was listening, he told her "I'm sorry, I'm just sorry."

The jury and the appellate courts agreed with the prosecution's rock solid case. Dale Helmig has served more than fourteen years behind bars so far, based on the evidence just presented.

As you suspect, however, there is perhaps more to the story.


Perhaps on Monday.

Part II is now available.