On March 25, 1988, Lisa Marie Kimmell vanished without a trace. The 18-year-old, known by her family as Lil' Miss, was driving through Wyoming to visit her boyfriend when she went missing. Despite frantic search efforts, investigators found her body eight days later.
This case, later known as the Lil' Miss murder, became infamous as it sat unsolved for 14 years. However, new DNA identification technology eventually led to the discovery of Kimmell's killer, a man who had provided a DNA sample when entering the prison system.
The facts and evidence surrounding Kimmell's murder eventually came together, leading police right to the man responsible and bringing her family justice well over a decade later.
Her Car's License Plate Inspired The Name Of The Case
One of the key clues in this case was Kimmell's car - a black Honda CRX - which sported custom license plates that read "LIL MISS," making it easy to spot. Kimmell had gone by the nickname "Lil' Miss" since she was a child, as her grandmother liked to call her Little Miss Lisa Marie.
Although investigators found Kimmell's body, no one found her car. Despite lengthy searches, police couldn't locate the distinctive vehicle - her father even chartered a small plane so he could fly over her route and try to spot it from the air. His search efforts, though extensive, were in vain. The car didn't turn up until officials finally searched Dale Wayne Eaton's property and found it buried there.
Kimmell's Body Showed Signs Of Excessive Abuse
Kimmell's last week of life was one of pain and violence. Her kidnapper, Dale Wayne Eaton, assaulted and tortured Kimmell for six days - and it was the DNA evidence he left on her body that led to his conviction.
When Eaton finished with Kimmell, he brought her to the Old Government Bridge, where he hit her on the head hard enough to leave a 4-inch crack in her skull. He then stabbed her six times before throwing her body into the North Platte River below.
Eaton's Behavior Led Police To Believe He Could Have Been A Serial Killer
Greg Cooper, a former FBI profiler, believed Lisa Marie Kimmell was murdered by "a very organized serial killer." Several aspects of the case were common to serial killers, such as Eaton keeping Kimmell's vehicle as a "trophy" and the methodical way he killed her. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Ronald P. Walker also pointed out the significance of the bindings on Kimmell's arms. Eaton removed them before throwing the body into the river, which to Walker suggested Eaton knew they could be used as evidence.
Investigators Used A Variety Of Tactics Trying To Find Kimmell's Killer
Before the major forensics breakthrough in 2002, police struggled to gather leads and information on the Lisa Marie Kimmell case. Don Flickinger, a now-retired federal agent from Billings, MT, told the Casper Star Tribune in 2003 about the various methods the authorities used back in the '80s and '90s.
According to Flickinger, he personally traveled to Texas, Nevada, and even Alaska in his quest to find Kimmell's killer. He became deeply involved in the case, spending six years taking blood samples from dozens of people for DNA, interviewing cult members, and consulting psychics.