See No Evil

Denise Wolff was gunned down in front of her home in a quiet South St. Louis neighborhood. Police thought they had the killer until their star witness wrecked the case.

For Denise Wolff's family, it has been difficult to move on. Her mother, in particular, is haunted by the case, by the way her daughter's life ended so abruptly, the way she was never allowed to experience the joy of her second grandson, born two months after her death, the way she looked the last time she saw her, her body so bloated from her injuries that she lay in her casket wearing a size 18 instead of a size 8. "You know how when you look at a person in a casket, you see that relief?" Sandy says. "They look like they're at peace." Not her Denny. "She looked like she was scared to death. It did not look like her. It was horrible, unbelievable."

For her and the rest of their family, Sandy says, it's been a sort of never-ending nightmare. In August, after another costly custody fight, Sandy returned her granddaughter, Jennie, to Larry Wolff, after the judge in the case, Thomas Frawley, made it clear to them that they would not prevail in light of the dismissal of the murder charge against Larry. But that didn't mark the end of their court battles.

In July, the Cantrells and Angie filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Larry Wolff, essentially accusing him of murder. Sandy estimates her daughter had approximately $200,000 in life-insurance money, and she wants to make sure Larry never sees any of it. She wants $10,000 to go to Angie, to reimburse her for her mother's funeral expenses, and she wants the rest to go to her granddaughter Jennie. She also wants Larry to sign over Denise's grave plot. Larry never purchased a headstone for Denise, and her family would like to buy her one.

Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft (right) in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (left).
Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft (right) in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (left).
Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (above).
Jennifer Silverberg
Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (above).

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But the lawsuit isn't just about money.

"In our hearts, we know he did it," Angie says. "There needs to be some kind of justice served, and I don't think he should basically be paid for killing my mom -- and to me, that's what it is."

Denise's sister Cathy was one of Larry's staunchest defenders in the days after the murder. She scolded Angie for treating him badly and making accusations about him. And when her friends called her to offer their condolences -- most of whom asked, "Larry did it, didn't he?" -- she told them not to say such a thing. "It did cross my mind, but he was in our family for 18 years," Cathy says. "She was the mother of his child. You don't want to think he would gun her down like that. I would give anything in the world to beg that man for his forgiveness if he could prove to me that anybody had the motive he had."

Today, Cathy no longer has the doubts she once did. She says she is certain Larry did it. "Anything I can do to make his life hell, I will do it. I promise," she says. "He don't scare me. You got a gun? I got a gun. You want to play guns? Let's go. I am so fed up with him tormenting my family, and the fact that Jennie has to live with him just makes me sick.... I hope Larry is brought to justice," Cathy says. "I just pray he gets what's coming to him."

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