The Usual Suspect 

Is Bill Harrison the victim of overzealous law enforcement? Or a man who got away with murder?

Page 3 of 5

click to enlarge The murder case stayed open for years. - JERRY KING CASE FILE
  • The murder case stayed open for years.

Andy Davis, a 60-year-old Army vet, jokes that he's on his third career now as the Phelps County coroner. After retiring from the military, he joined the Rolla Police Department in 1996 before migrating to the sheriff's department. He rose to become the department's top detective before he retired again in 2013.

He was off the job for about three weeks when Beger called to see if he'd take a crack at the Jerrry Wayne King murder.

"Honestly, I was chief of detectives for the sheriff's department, I didn't even know the case existed," Davis tells the RFT.

But he was interested. He called over to the prosecutor's investigators in November 2013 and started gathering the old files. With his glasses and sandy hair parted on the side, Davis looks more librarian than lawman. He says he likes to approach cases by imagining them from the perspective of a defense attorney.

"If I can defend it, then obviously it may not be the guy I'm going after," he says.

It's an effective strategy. In roughly 50 murder investigations he's pushed to an arrest, only one failed to lead to a conviction — and that was a result of factors outside his control, he says.

Davis spent the next year driving the backroads of central and southern Missouri, re-examining 21-year-old evidence and probing the hazy memories of aging boozehounds in hopes of finally uncovering what happened all those years ago.

He keyed in on three people: Bill Harrison, Henry Faulkner and John Lister.

It hadn't come out publicly in the '90s, but detectives suspected both Faulkner and Lister were involved in some way in King's death or at least knew what happened. Lister was asked (and refused) to take a polygraph test. He was even arrested six days after Harrison, on suspicion of first-degree murder in the case, and held for twenty hours in jail before he was released without charges.

As with Harrison, the evidence against Lister was circumstantial — but, viewed in a certain light, troubling. A neighbor near Gourd Creek had noticed a maroon sedan that matched Lister's car parked on the road leading to the cave about 10:30 p.m. on the last night of King's life. The neighbor talked to the driver, who matched Lister's description. The man said he was supposed to meet someone to look at a Jeep engine. But why would that put him on a dark, rural road late at night? When investigators questioned Lister about it later, he said he'd met the potential seller at a gas station and agreed to meet him that night in the middle of nowhere. He didn't know the man's name or where he lived.

"He has direct knowledge," retired Phelps County Detective Mark Williams says today of Lister. "I have no doubt."

Attempts to reach Lister were unsuccessful. He left Rolla after King was killed and eventually moved closer to his family in Douglas County, less than 50 miles north of the Arkansas border. He was arrested in March 2015 for destruction of property and criminal use of a weapon. The Douglas County Sheriff says Lister shot up two vehicles that belonged to the new boyfriend of his ex-wife or girlfriend. Lister's attorney didn't respond to a request for comment.

Davis obtained search warrants to collect DNA from Lister, Faulkner and Harrison in the spring of 2014. In the warrant application, Davis revisited Lister's strange encounter with the Gourd Creek neighbor on the night King was killed.

"It is believed Lister was waiting for Harrison and Faulkner and possibly acting as a 'look out' on a road that has extremely low traffic volume, few residences, and it dead ends at the cave," he wrote.

Faulkner voluntarily allowed him to swab his cheek. The detective served the warrant on Harrison at the Walmart Distribution Center.

As for Lister, Davis drove in March 2014 to the tiny town of Ava in Douglas County to meet him. Lister has become a federally licensed firearms dealer and a breeder of prized goats in the years since the killing. Davis found him in his workshop.

"He had just finished inseminating some of the goats and was now making a thousand custom loads of ammunition," Davis wrote in a report on the interaction.

Lister claimed he didn't remember anyone named Jerry King, anything about the murder or even what he was doing back then, 22 years earlier.

When Davis asked him for a DNA sample, Lister initially refused, saying he knew from working with the goats how easily DNA could be manipulated. He only agreed to a cheek swab when Davis showed him the search warrant.

The entire interaction lasted just fifteen minutes, and Davis left feeling Lister knew a lot more than he would ever say.

"He doesn't answer a lot of questions," Davis says. "He doesn't volunteer a lot of information. Would I have loved to have questioned him longer and get him to open up? Yeah, absolutely, but I felt I had what I needed."

Davis sent all the DNA samples off to a forensic lab, where scientists tried to match them against the evidence collected in 1992 as well as a profile for King, created in part from a sample provided by his now-grown son, Justin.

The results came back a few months later — no matches.

The investigator also sent pictures of Harrison's old tennis shoes along with the footprints from the crime scene to Reebok in hopes of comparing the two, but the company wrote back there was little it could determine all these years later.

Davis found himself facing roughly the same case investigators had in 1992. No physical evidence linked Harrison or the other men directly to the killing. He had no witnesses to the murder. No murder weapon.

He still felt strongly that the timeline and connections established through dozens of interviews continued to point to the same place.

"I just followed what I had in front of me," Davis says. "I considered Lister, and I considered Henry Faulkner and I considered, obviously, William Harrison, but everything I had turned to William Harrison."

Best Things to Do In St. Louis


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

© 2019 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation