By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jeff Balke
"It's a nice, peaceful town," Charlie says. He likes the weather.
After living in Joplin for a month, Charlie says, he called Paul and asked if there was work.
"Sure," Paul said. "Come on down."
In the beginning of December Charlie showed up at Paul and Jeanne's pale blue trailer. He crashed on their couch while he looked for work. Jeanne says he had two "friends" with him: "John" and "Heather." He never told Jeanne their last names, and she never thought to ask. John and Heather held hands, kissed often and slept in the same bed. Jeanne never asked if they were married, because she's not married to Paul.
Jeanne is unemployed and spends most of her days sitting in a battered, pink armchair, smoking generic cigarettes and watching TV with her half-blind Pekingese, Oreo. Having Charlie and his friends in town gave her something to do. She drove them around searching for an apartment. They picked a place on West Brazos Street that Jeanne thought was a dive (and Jeanne lives in a filthy trailer with bare plywood floorboards swarming with fleas and flies). They rented a one-bedroom in a dreary, brown apartment building. Just a few blocks over from the street of ugly, unmanicured lawns stand antebellum-style white colonial mansions surrounded by wrought-iron gates. A few more blocks southeast are the offices of Victoria's sheriff and chief of police.
To some people this small town of 40,000 feels like a prison: It's a place they feel trapped. To Lynette, maybe it seemed like a big city, big enough to get lost in. She grew up in a place with more cows than people. Terry shaved off his mustache and dyed his hair black, making him look more like Johnny Depp than Johnny Rebel. Lynette dyed her crimped blond curls dark brown and started putting back on the 15 pounds she'd recently lost.
Charlie worked at Labor Ready, a temp agency for heavy lifters. Lynette and Terry hung out with Jeanne. They went bowling, ate pizza and drank cans of Milwaukee's Best. Other days they sat around rolling fresh cigarettes from stubbed-out butts, listening to Jeff Foxworthy, Tom Petty and Cheap Trick tapes. Life was an episode of Roseanne.
Word on the street in Hamilton, Lynette's hometown, was that she had been forced into aiding Terry. People figured he must have threatened to have his friends on the outside whack her if she didn't help him.
"It just shocked the hell out of everybody around here when she pulled this trick," says Harold Lockwood, 61, her former landlord.
Lynette's eldest sister, Lonna Nelson, hasn't been able to work since the day Lynette disappeared. She lost her job packing Guy's Potato Chips in Liberty, Missouri. She was certain that Lynette was kidnapped -- and that whoever stole Lynette could come back and grab her.
"She was just so nervous and paranoid she couldn't drive up and down the road to work," Harold says. "She was afraid everybody was following her. The mother was the same way -- she thought every car that drove up to the house was somebody watching her, waiting to shoot her. I had to change all the deadbolts."
The two women spent their days in Harold's house, praying and worrying about Lynette. Scared that they were next, they felt like they were living in a horror movie, waiting to die.
In complete disbelief and denial that Lynette was capable of her alleged crime, Lynette's family concocted conspiracy theories. They told Lipanovich that Dave had engineered the escape to frame Lynette. That way he could "make her look bad, and he could get a divorce and get the property," Lipanovich remembers.
That theory was quickly disproved.
"They were just trying to relocate the blame," Dave says.
Her mother, Faye Moots, told authorities that the weekend of the disappearance Lynette had planned to interview for a job in Kansas City. No one had heard of that.
Lynette absolutely didn't do this on her own, her sisters insist. She was kidnapped.
"Running off and living on the road wouldn't have been Lynette's style," Lorra says.
Lynette was a woman who liked a set routine and wore three pairs of shoes a day -- if she were planning to run, she wouldn't have left a brand-new pair or Reeboks in a box under her bed, Lorra says. Not to mention the newly reset diamond earrings Lynette had waiting at the jewelry store. Plus she'd only just started her Christmas shopping (and Lynette liked to give a lot of presents), and she'd bought a bag of Hershey's Miniatures to give out Halloween night. But more important, there was her divorce court date scheduled in mid-November.
"She wanted a divorce bad enough I don't believe she would've split," Lorra says.
Lorra told Kansas City Star reporter Matt Stearns that Terry was good-looking and Lynette was lonesome, so maybe they did fall in love. Now she has changed her mind.
"She wasn't the cheating kind," Lorra says. "There's plenty of sleazebag guards that work out there. Lots of them got into trouble screwing around [with inmates]. Lynette was above that. She thought it was disgusting. You think of what men do with each other in prison -- would you really want a man from there? I wouldn't want any of them touching me."
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