Marily Gren often overheard conversations among the attorneys and other staff at the Davis County Attorney’s Office. She was aware, working as a secretary there in April of 1985, of a particularly egregious case that had come in from Clearfield police. It involved a woman named Joyce Yost and the testimony she had given at a preliminary hearing.
“A case that came in, a bad case,” Marily told me. “I wasn’t the secretary assigned to the Clearfield area but we all typed up the reports and you kind of knew about all the cases.”
A young prosecutor named Brian Namba had taken Joyce’s case. He’d been the one to question Joyce during that preliminary hearing, at which she’d described being followed home and sexually assaulted by a man she didn’t know. Police had identified that man as Douglas Anderson Lovell and arrested him on suspicion of rape.
The Joyce Yost testimony clearly established Doug had threatened to kill Joyce if she reported what he’d done. She’d reported him anyway.
Then, Joyce disappeared.
Blood on the mattress
The scuttlebutt around the attorney’s office was that Joyce had likely been murdered by the man she’d accused of rape. Detectives from the city of South Ogden, where Joyce lived, had questioned Doug Lovell. He’d claimed to have no knowledge of Joyce’s whereabouts and had offered an alibi for the night she’d last been seen.
Police had searched Joyce’s apartment and found a blood-stained washcloth. They’d recovered her missing car near a water tank in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains days later. But Joyce’s location had eluded them.
During the search of the apartment, detectives had stripped the sheets from Joyce’s bed and collected them as potential evidence. It wasn’t until Joyce’s children and relatives went into the apartment weeks later though that they made a critical discovery the detectives had missed.
“The family went in to move the furniture out and they were the ones that discovered the blood on the bed,” prosecutor Brian Namba said. “That’s pretty unusual.”
The underside of Joyce’s mattress was stained with dried blood. The detectives had not thought to flip the mattress while stripping the sheets.
“Somebody said there was so much blood that a person probably wouldn’t live through loosing so much blood,” Brian said, “but that’s not conclusive enough to be able to tell the judge she’s dead.”
Joyce’s disappearance complicated matters in the rape case. She was both the victim and the key witness, the accuser whose account was most likely to lead to a conviction. Her absence raised the very real risk that Doug Lovell might be acquitted.
The Davis County Attorney’s Office opted to press on with the prosecution.
“We were pretty resolute,” Brian said. “He could be a Josh Powell, easily. And so then he gets away scot-free from everything, which is his objective. And so you don’t want to give him what he’s trying to do.”
Brian needed to find a way to bring Joyce’s voice forward during the rape trial. He turned to Marily Gren with an unusual ask: could she play the part of Joyce Yost at the trial?
Joyce and Marily
Marily was a secretary, not an actress. She had never met Joyce herself.
“Only thing I’ve seen mostly is that one picture of her that you see everywhere, a professional picture,” Marily said.
They were similar in age — Marily was 42 to Joyce’s 39 — but had lived very different lives. Still, she felt an empathy for Joyce and agreed to serve as her proxy on the witness stand.
“I hadn’t ever been in that type of situation but I’m a woman and she didn’t deserve it,” Marily said.
The job required that Marily read Joyce’s words from the transcript of the preliminary hearing. This was a challenging task, as the prosecution needed her to convey the feel of Joyce’s testimony without going too over-the-top. During the trial, Utah 2nd District Court Judge Rodney Page warned Marily to avoid any theatrics.
“I was just to basically be neutral and read it, so I did,” Marily said.
Joyce Yost testimony
Joyce Yost’s testimony from the preliminary hearing had included detailed first-hand accounts of her efforts to fight off the man who’d assaulted her. She had pointed to Doug Lovell and identified him as the man who had raped and kidnapped her. Marily mimicked that motion in Joyce’s place.
“I tried to get out of my car, realizing I was definitely in a situation that my life was at stake,” Joyce had said. “I just prayed for help and as I was getting out of my car I grabbed ahold of the horn and thought maybe if I honk the horn that one of my neighbors or somebody would hear. It didn’t work. He became very angry.”
Brian Namba, the prosecutor, walked Marily through that and other difficult passages. Marily recalled it being a small part, but she was happy to help.
“One of the girls from the office was sitting behind some relatives of Joyce’s — and this is hearsay because that’s what this girl told me — but she said when I first started out, that they looked at each other and kind of rolled their eyes,” Marily said. “Towards the end they kind of got into it and she says she could tell that they thought I was doing a good job.”
Clearfield police detective William “Bill” Holthaus, the lead investigator on the case, shared that opinion. He’d sat in the courtroom and listened to Marily’s recitation of the Joyce Yost testimony.
“She read it just like Joyce had said it,” Bill said. “I think that had a little bit to do with the jury understanding what Joyce was saying, because it sounded like Joyce.”
Rape trial verdict
The rape trial against Doug Lovell spanned two days. Marily had served as Joyce’s proxy on day one. Doug himself had testified at the start of day two. His testimony conflicted with Joyce’s. He did not deny that they’d had sexual intercourse, but insisted she had instigated and encouraged the encounter.
“He was quite the cad,” Bill said. “Separated from his wife, chasing women around and he just struck me as a guy who didn’t respect women much.”
The case went to the jury on the afternoon of the second day. Only an hour had passed before the jurors notified the judge they had reached a verdict.
Marily had by that time gone back to her secretarial work in the attorney’s office across the hall from the courtroom.
“I stepped out of the county attorney’s office to get a drink at the drinking fountain and [defense attorney John Hutchison] was coming back with Douglas Lovell,” Marily said. “He was telling Doug, ‘It’s not good when they come back so quick.’ And I remember bending over the fountain thinking, ‘Yes!’”
The jury found him guilty on both counts, having found the Joyce Yost testimony as relayed by Marily more credible than Doug’s account. But the verdict did not answer the question of what had happened to Joyce.
The words Doug uttered on his way out of the courtroom that day also left little doubt he was the person responsible for her disappearance.
Hear what happened following Doug’s conviction in Cold episode 4: She’s Gone, Buddy
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
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/shes-gone-buddy-full-transcript
KSL companion story: https://ksltv.com/460347/joyce-yosts-rape-case-first-prosecuted-without-victim-to-testify/
Talking Cold companion episode: https://thecoldpodcast.com/talking-cold#tc-episode-3-4