By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
Soon, Denise filed a petition for divorce from Larry. But Larry persuaded her to settle for a legal separation instead, and she agreed.
Within a few years, Denise bought the home on Bancroft with the help of her grandmother. Larry bought a house a short distance down the street, on Jamieson. Some of Denise's friends and family members questioned the wisdom of such a move, particularly if Denise ever decided to go through with a divorce, but she told them she figured it was best for their daughter. "When he moved down the street, I said, "You're nuts. What happens when you're done with this guy and you want a boyfriend?'" Cathy recalls. "She said, "This is perfect. This way, he can keep Jennie.'" The arrangement seemed to work, at least for a while. Over the years, Denise struggled to make ends meet, working as a waitress at the downtown Radisson Hotel and the Missouri Athletic Club, going to cosmetology school but then deciding hairdressing did not pay enough, cleaning houses and, ultimately, attending dealer school. With their homes so close, Jennie could sleep over at Larry's when Denise was working nights at the casino. The two maintained an unusual relationship, relatives says. Though they were separated, Larry sometimes slept over at Denise's and, up until about a year before she died, they occasionally had sex. From time to time, he'd help with the bills, and he regularly cooked meals for the three of them. On holidays, they were together.
In the six or seven months before Denise's death, however, things began to change. Denise told her older daughter and her sisters how she was yearning for independence. She told her mother she was tired of having "no life" and needed to find herself a husband she could get along with. She talked about divorcing Larry. And in the few months before she died, she talked about her new lover.
If Larry knew of any of the changes going on in Denise's life, he certainly didn't let police know in the hours after his wife's murder. Larry told police he didn't have a clue. He knew of no problems Denise was having; he had no idea why anyone would want to hurt her.
Angie, Denise's older daughter, was at Larry's house, in the same room with him, when police questioned him. A detective asked her to step outside for a brief interview. Who could have done this to your mother? the officer asked. Angie, visibly shaken and crying, motioned with her head back toward Larry, who was inside the house. Her mom had been trying to divorce Larry, she said. They'd been fighting a lot. She'd been dating a man she worked with on the Admiral.
Other witnesses provided additional tantalizing details. Detectives spoke with Scott Baird, a financial planner with the Travelers Group, who had been working with Denise on obtaining a debt-consolidation loan. He had met with her one week before she was killed; she had told him she was in financial trouble. She was in debt, with a new car and a house payment, and she had cosigned for her husband on his $9,000 car loan, but he hadn't made payments in more than a year. She also told him she was planning to finalize a divorce from her husband. The loan was approved on July 16, but the financial planner hadn't been able to reach Denise to give her the news.
Some family members offered a variety of possible theories that did not point to Larry.
Denise's sister Cathy told detectives that Larry fixed Denise meals almost every day, helped her with bills and, even though Denise treated him badly at times, he stuck around and loved her. She said Larry had never shown any signs of violence and that it was Denise who had the short temper. She told police she suspected Denise's "big mouth" might have had something to do with her murder.
Another sister, Sue Doetzel, told detectives that although Larry and Denise were separated, she felt they loved each other. They had keys to each others' homes and, when they were getting along, Denise would ask Larry to help around the house and ask him for money. When Denise was mad at Larry, Sue said, she would tell him she wanted a divorce, and though she had been telling Larry that for several years, she hadn't actually made an attempt to get one. There was never any violence between the two, as far as she knew. Sue knew of her sister's affair, and she asked Denise what she would do if Larry found out. "She said she was separated," Sue recalled, "and it was her house and she could do what she wanted."
Sandy, Denise's mother, says she had her suspicions about Larry, but she wasn't ready to tell detectives. Instead, she spoke about the casino: Could it have been a disgruntled customer who lost money there? Could it have been related to a complaint her daughter filed against the casino with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission? Sandy told detectives that Denise had been demoted from supervisor to dealer, which meant a cut in pay. Denise's father, Roy "Buck" Cantrell, told detectives the same thing. "He believes the murder was somehow tied to the boat," a detective wrote in his report.