Five years had passed since the August 10, 1985 disappearance of Joyce Yost. South Ogden police detective Terry Carpenter, who’d inherited the investigation, had exhausted all leads but one: a far-out claim that Joyce had died at the hands of a satanic coven.
The tip had come from a woman named Barbara who’d been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. During therapy, Barbara had reported recovering memories of having witnessed a ritualistic murder. She’d told a psychologist, and later Terry, that men in black robes had dismembered and burned a blond-haired woman she believed was Joyce Yost.
“She just knew that Joyce was buried in a gravel pit and she’d been scooped up in a truck and taken away,” Terry said.
Barbara had told Terry the leader of the coven had accepted a contract to kill Joyce. She’d said the person who’d offered the contract was a man named “Love.”
Joyce Yost task force
The emergence of the coven lead in August of 1990 brought new life to the Joyce Yost investigation. Terry, in cooperation with the Weber County Attorney’s Office, formed a task force comprised of additional law enforcement officers from surrounding agencies.
The task force spent months during the winter season of 1990-1991 surveilling and interviewing purported members of the coven group. They conducted searches of the property in South Weber where the coven was said to meet, as well as of a nearby gravel pit where Barbara had said Joyce Yost’s body was initially deposited. Cadaver dogs and forensics teams were unable to locate human remains there.
“I can’t tell you the hours that we put into trying to prove or disprove it,” Terry said.
Terry had his own skepticism about the coven lead, but hoped the investigative press would uncover new evidence linking Joyce Yost’s disappearance to the most likely suspect: Douglas Lovell.
“We’d known all along that Doug killed her. We just couldn’t prove it.”Former South Ogden police Sgt. Terry Carpenter
But by the spring of 1991, efforts related to the coven lead were beginning to stall. The woman at the center of the story, Barbara, told Terry during an interview on March 13, 1991 she doubted the validity of her own memories.
Hail Mary to Rhonda Buttars
Terry decided to make a long shot play in the hopes of verifying the coven lead. On April 10, 1991, he went to the state office where Doug Lovell’s ex-wife Rhonda Buttars worked. He intended to ask Rhonda questions about the information Barbara had provided.
“You talk to both of them hoping at some point they may cross or that there might be some ties there or that there might be some indication that yes, Barbara’s telling you the absolute truth,” Terry said.
Terry told Rhonda he believed she knew more about what’d happened to Joyce Yost than she’d previously disclosed. He said as long as she hadn’t pulled the trigger, he would attempt to secure immunity for her.
“And she says ‘oh, he didn’t shoot her, he just stomped on her throat,’” Terry said. “And she almost immediately started to cry. And I says ‘Rhonda, we can help you.’”
The coven lead had been untrue, a red herring. Yet, it had also indirectly led to the most significant break in the Joyce Yost case.
Rhonda Buttars confession
Rhonda Buttars’ confession to Terry Carpenter unfolded with a play-by-play account of the night of August 10, 1985 and the following morning, encompassing her ex-husband Doug Lovell’s murder of Joyce Yost.
Rhonda told Terry she had driven Doug from their apartment to a street just east of Joyce’s apartment sometime between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., where she’d dropped him off. Rhonda had known Doug intended to kill Joyce.
“He’d laid in the bushes across the street from Joyce’s house and waited for her to come home,” Terry said.
Rhonda said Doug had cased Joyce’s apartment a few weeks prior to the night of August 10 and had discovered a window did not latch tight. He intended to enter Joyce’s apartment through that window after she’d gone to sleep.
After dropping Doug, Rhonda had returned to her own apartment and gone to sleep.
“Meet me at the Wilshire”
Rhonda told Terry she awoke to a phone call from Doug sometime around 5 a.m. the following morning. He’d called her from the Hermitage Inn in Ogden Canyon and told her get out of bed and meet him at the Wilshire Theater in South Ogden. She’d arrived there to find Doug driving Joyce’s Chevy Nova.
Rhonda said Doug had instructed her to follow him up Combe Road to a water tank where he’d abandoned Joyce’s car.
“And she says ‘he stepped out of the car and threw the keys down the hill,’” Terry said. “That’s exactly where we find the keys, I know she’s being 100% honest with me.”
Rhonda said Doug had then joined her in her car, bringing with him a suitcase containing Joyce’s clothing. Together, they’d then driven to a wooded lot off the side of U.S. Highway 89, where Doug had burned the clothing.
Morning light had been growing on the eastern horizon while Rhonda’d waited for Doug to burn Joyce’s clothing, she’d said. The suitcase had proved too big to burn, so she’d told Terry that Doug had returned to the car with it.
They’d then driven back north to where the highway crossed the Weber River and Doug had disposed of the suitcase there.
“Up by Causey“
Rhonda told Terry that Doug had described to her how he’d startled Joyce awake when he’d entered her apartment. He’d been holding a knife and in the ensuing struggle, he’d slashed Joyce’s fingers. The wound had bled, causing a blood stain on Joyce’s mattress.
Doug had told Rhonda he’d bandaged Joyce’s hand, mopped up the blood with a washcloth, stripped the bed sheets, flipped the mattress and remade the bed.
Then, Rhonda said Doug had told her he’d taken Joyce out to her car, driven her to some place “up by Causey,” walked her from the road up a hill into a patch of trees and strangled her to unconsciousness. Then, to make sure Joyce was dead, Doug had reportedly told Rhonda he’d stomped on Joyce’s throat.
“She says ‘I wasn’t there that’s just what Doug told me,’” Terry said. He had previously seen the bloodstained mattress recovered from Joyce’s apartment and believed it was more likely Joyce had died in the apartment. “But that’s what he’d told her and that’s what she thought.”
Rhonda told Terry that at some point the morning following the murder, Doug had discovered Joyce’s blood on his own clothing. They had then driven together to where Riverdale Road crosses the Weber River and Doug had disposed of his bloodstained clothing by setting fire to it in a trash can.
Hear what happened after Rhonda Buttars’ confession in episode 6 of Cold: Here We Are
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/here-we-are-full-transcript/
KSL companion story: https://ksltv.com/461379/secret-recording-broke-open-joyce-yost-murder-case/>
Talking Cold companion episode: https://thecoldpodcast.com/talking-cold#tc-episode-6