Joyce Yost had made a serious accusation.
She’d told police on the morning of April 4, 1985 that a man she didn’t know had raped her, kidnapped her and then raped her again. Clearfield, Utah police detective Bill Holthaus had found Joyce’s report credible. It was buttressed by physical evidence.
Holthaus identified and arrested a suspect, Douglas Anderson Lovell, within hours of first meeting and interviewing Joyce. Prosecutors in Davis County filed criminal charges against Lovell the following day.
That meant Joyce Yost would have to again face the man who’d assaulted her. What neither of them knew was that Lovell had hatched a murder-for-hire plot to keep Joyce from testifying.
Out on bail
Doug had, by Joyce’s account, threatened to kill her if she reported the rape. Yet a judge set bail at just $25,000. This meant Doug was able to convince his father, Monan Lovell, to secure his release by way of a property bond.
Utah’s Second District Court scheduled a preliminary hearing in the case for June 12, 1985. Joyce would be expected to testify, presenting her account of the rape to a judge. Then, the judge would determine if the evidence supported moving the case to the next step, which is called arraignment.
Joyce confided in her ex-husband Mel Roberts that she feared taking the witness stand.
“We talked at length because she didn’t know what to do,” Mel said. “She was beside herself and I said ‘hang his ass.’”
Doug, meanwhile, did not want to return to the Utah State Prison.
He’d previously served time there on an armed robbery conviction between 1979 and 1982. That case, in which Doug had acted as wheelman in a hold-up at the U-Save Market on 7th Street in Ogden, Utah, had hinged on the testimony of a lone female witness.
Joyce’s account of what Doug had done to her held similar potential to incriminate him. If heard by a jury, it would likely prove persuasive enough to tip the scales toward conviction.
Doug did not want to give her the opportunity to testify. He decided murder-for-hire was his best option for keeping Joyce quiet.
Doug had made connections during his time in prison. He called one of those friends, a man named William “Billy Jack” Wiswell, on the telephone toward the end of April. Doug told Billy Jack he needed help with a job.
Billy Jack was at the time living with a relative in Grand Junction, Colorado. Doug made the more than five-hour drive from South Ogden, Utah to Grand Junction the same day as the phone call.
On the return drive to South Ogden, Doug told Billy Jack the job was murder-for-hire. Doug needed Billy Jack to kill Joyce Yost. He offered $5,000 for the hit, payable after it was done.
Billy Jack accepted.
Doug and Billy Jack drove up Ogden Canyon and into the pastoral mountain town of Liberty on the evening of May 4, 1985. They parked on a dirt road as the sun set, watching the nearby farm houses.
The windows of one nearby house remained dark, leading the two men to believe it was unoccupied. They slipped in through an open door in the garage. Once inside, they located a collection of rifles and shotguns. Doug and Billy Jack took all of the guns they could carry.
They intended for one of those guns, a Winchester, to serve as the instrument of Joyce’s death.
Billy Jack took the Winchester to the apartment in South Ogden where Doug was then living with his wife, Rhonda Lovell. He used a hacksaw to cut the barrel and stock off the shotgun, making it easier to conceal and use in tight quarters.
The two ex-convicts decided they would stash the remainder of the guns someplace safe.
Cabin near Callao
Doug had spent some of his earliest years growing up on a farm in the central Utah community of Oak City, on the eastern fringe of Utah’s vast West Desert region. He’d also spent time hunting in the mountains of the West Desert, particularly the Deep Creek range near the isolated community of Callao.
An old wooden cabin in those mountains had become a favorite haunt of his. So he, his wife Rhonda and Billy Jack headed there over Mother’s Day weekend in 1985. Once there, Doug dug a hole in the ground and buried the additional stolen guns.
A Utah Highway Patrol trooper spotted Doug and Billy Jack near the city of Nephi while they were on their return trip home. Billy Jack was emptying his bladder on the roadside. The trooper cited both men on suspicion of driving under the influence.
The trooper did not know, nor did he discover, that the two men had just returned from burying the stolen guns.
Murder for hire
Billy Jack set out with the sawed-off Winchester one evening in May of 1985. He walked north from Doug and Rhonda’s apartment toward Joyce Yost’s home, keeping the gun concealed in a fluorescent light tube box he’d fished out of a garbage bin.
Joyce was not at home when Billy Jack arrived, so he took up a position concealed beneath some bushes across the street.
“I just set there and wait,” Billy Jack would later tell police. “Drank a few beers, sit there and wait.”
Billy Jack did not see Joyce arrive home that night. He felt a pang of conscience and decided he could not kill a woman he’d never met and held no grudge against.
He buried the shotgun and then skipped town. But Doug Lovell had another friend he would next turn to in order to keep the murder-for-hire plot alive.
Hear what happened when Joyce Yost testified in court in Cold episode 3: Nightmare on Top of a Nightmare
Research, writing and hosting: Dave Cawley
Audio production: Nina Earnest
Audio mixing: Trent Sell
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Additional songs: By Outrageous used with permission
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Workhouse Media executive producers: Paul Anderson, Nick Panella, Andrew Greenwood
Amazon Music team: Morgan Jones, Eliza Mills, Vanessa Rebbert, Shea Simpson
Episode transcript: https://thecoldpodcast.com/season-2-transcript/nightmare-on-top-of-a-nightmare-full-transcript/
KSL companion story: https://ksltv.com/459925/missed-opportunities-could-have-prevented-joyce-yosts-death/
Talking Cold companion episode: https://thecoldpodcast.com/talking-cold#tc-episode-3-4