Seemingly resilient bonds of friendship frayed and split on the latest Unlocking The Truth episode, in which Ryan Ferguson and Eva Nagao doubled down on the case of Byron Case.
Case is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder for the slaying of Anastasia Witbolsfeugen. The case has exhausted its appeals, Nagao noted, and she and Ferguson had the tall task of finding new evidence, lest Case remain behind bars.
As it stands, no useful physical evidence has been collected as part of the investigation.
In October 1997, Witbolsfeugen, then 19, was found dead in the early morning by Kansas City Police Captain David Epperson. She’d been shot in the face late at night in the corner of a cemetery, and though the hours before dawn were pitch black, Epperson remembered clearly the shock of finding her body plainly at rest in the corner of the property’s lot.
The night before, Witbolsfeugen and three friends — Case, his girlfriend Kelly Moffett and Witbolsfeugen’s on-again/off-again boyfriend Justin Bruton — had been riding around in a car. They were a tightknit group steeped in goth culture and spent all their time together. Still, Bruton and Witbolsfeugen had a pretty tumultuous relationship that was falling apart.
Police sought out Witbolsfeugen’s friends for questioning after the murder, and Moffett and Case shared the same story: Bruton and Witbolsfeugen had an argument the night of the murder, Witbolsfeugen got out of the car and Bruton took off. Police aimed to talk to Bruton too, but he’d disappeared, and two days later, he was discovered dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Naturally, police initially saw this as a potential murder-suicide but later concluded that the gun Bruton used to shoot himself was not the same one that killed Witbolsfeugen.
Without any further evidence, the case went cold, until Moffett returned to police and changed her story.
Three to four years after Witbolsfeugen’s death, Moffett insisted her earlier testimony was all a lie, and that she knew the real story. This time, she said Witbolsfeugen and Bruton got out of the car to talk the night of the murder, and Case decided to intervene. He instructed Moffett to remain in the car, at which point Moffett said Case took out a gun from the trunk of the car, aimed it at Witbolsfeugen and shot her. Moffett also told police that Case was a “morbid” person who was fixated on gore, fascinated by death and steeped in offshoots of Satanism.
Police, still without physical evidence, convinced Moffett to try to extract a confession from Case by telephone. She called him with a recorder and repeatedly asked him why he’d killed Witbolsfeugen. He didn’t give her an answer but didn’t deny having done it. Police saw this as a tacit admission of guilt.
Cyndy Short, Case’s attorney, said this still wasn’t enough to convict Case. The day after Witbolsfeugen’s murder, Moffett was calm and believable, she said, but when Moffett came back years later to change her story, she was shaky and hesitant. Short said witnessing a murder cements details into your memory that you can’t forget, and that Moffett’s amendments to her story didn’t seem fully realized.
Case and his friend Jamie Rickly both explained there was a clear reason Moffett may have lied — she was a notorious fraud with a drug addiction who’d wanted to exact revenge on Case.
In the aftermath of Witbolsfeugen’s murder, Moffett’s addiction to crack overwhelmed her, and Case said she’d often show up to his house to beg for money or ask for food. Case was Moffett’s last-resort enabler, Rickly said, and to escape the dynamic, Case told Moffett he and Rickly were planning a move to St. Louis to start fresh. Moffett threatened to make Case’s life hell, Rickly recalled, and soon after, she went to police with her new story.
Case said he wouldn’t typically give credence to Moffett’s exaggerations and lies, but even he couldn’t believe she’d implicate him. Rickly, on the other hand, wasn’t surprised, and said Moffett was precisely the type to pull such a stunt — in other words, she was a nothing-to-lose crazy ex-girlfriend.
Because of looming anxieties surrounding goth culture and its potentially violent correlations (the 1999 Columbine High School Massacre, in which goth subscribers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and a teacher, was still fresh in people’s minds), Case became an easy target and scapegoat. Police used his dark interests as fuel to vilify him and tried to characterize him as a sociopath. Case maintains he was a weirdo then, and still is, but that doesn’t mean he killed his friend.
As Nagao pointed out, there are two credible realities — is Moffett, indeed, a scorned, unhinged ex-girlfriend who didn’t want Case to start anew? Or did she really witness his murder, and was she committed to keeping Case from moving away so that he didn’t elude justice and so that she wasn’t left alone in Kansas City to deal with the case’s fallout? Share your thoughts, and be sure to tune in a brand-new Unlocking The Truth next Wednesday at 11/10c!