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The Usual Suspect 

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

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click to enlarge Justin King is the spitting image of his murdered father, his mother says. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • Justin King is the spitting image of his murdered father, his mother says.

Gourd Creek Cave hasn't changed much in the 24 years since Jerry King's body was found in the stream. A couple of stray beer cans and some graffiti on the cave walls are the only signs of visitors. Pigeons burst out of fissures in the cave mouth, their wings pounding like thunder in the quiet.

Mark Williams, a retired Phelps County detective who helped lead the original investigation, still recalls the scene clearly in his mind. He's long believed King was shot somewhere else and dumped in the stream. The killer probably rolled him up in the rug and then loaded his corpse into the laundry basket so he and an accomplice could carry him to the creek and roll him into the water, he says. But it's just a theory, and he's skeptical anyone will ever be able to prove it.

"The evidence just isn't there," he says. "It wasn't there then. It isn't there now. It's not going to be there unless Mr. Harrison would just suddenly have a change of heart and wake up one day and say, 'I did it.' And that's not going to happen."

Williams runs into Harrison every once in a while around Rolla. They last crossed paths a few weeks ago at a gas station outside of town.

"We chatted just a little bit, you know, just real briefly," Williams says. "I mean, what do you say?"

Rolla is a small town, and the tiny burgs scattered through the rest of Phelps County are even smaller. A milk run can bring old adversaries face to face on any given night.

King's ex-girlfriend, now Venita Robinson and married for two decades, says she has no doubt Harrison is guilty, and it terrifies her every time she runs into him. If she sees him in the grocery aisle, he'll just stare at her and smile, she says.

"I'm scared," Robinson says. "I'm scared of him."

Preparing for the new trial was hard on King's family. They wanted Harrison to go to prison, but they also had to confront old pain they'd tried to bury. King's youngest son, Justin, was six years old when his father was killed. He's now 30 with a six-year-old son of his own. He was furious to learn the case wouldn't go forward after all the heartache it had caused his family.

"They upset my mom," he says. "They upset my brother, upset everyone."

Harrison says he only wants to find some way to return to normal life. He talked to his old bosses at Walmart, he says. They wanted to hire him back, but they needed permission from corporate. That was weeks ago. He's not optimistic. He knows how this goes.

click to enlarge The death of Jerry Wayne King remains unsolved 24 years after he was found murdered in the Ozark Highlands. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • The death of Jerry Wayne King remains unsolved 24 years after he was found murdered in the Ozark Highlands.

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July 29, 2020

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