Ep 7: Shameless

Rhonda Buttars dropped by the Utah State Prison on January 18, 1992 to visit an inmate: her ex-husband. She carried a concealed audio recorder past the fences, making a secret audio recording of her meeting with Doug Lovell.

Rhonda had done this once before. She’d made the first Lovell wire recording in May of 1991, just weeks after first confessing her knowledge of Joyce Yost’s murder to South Ogden police Sgt. Terry Carpenter. That first wire recording had captured Doug making incriminating statements about having killed Joyce to keep her from testifying against him in a rape case.

The front entrance to Utah State Prison complex at Point of the Mountain, as it appeared on May 2, 2021. Rhonda Buttars twice wore a hidden recording device into the prison at the request of South Ogden police to record her ex-husband, Douglas Lovell. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Podcasts

The audio quality from the first wire had been marginal, bordering on unintelligible. At one point, Doug had seemed to reference the location of Joyce’s body but his words had been too distorted to discern on the audio tape.

Rhonda’s goal for the second wire recording was to bait Doug into disclosing the location of Joyce’s remains and to capture his words in high fidelity.

Nagra audio recording of Doug Lovell

To that end, Terry Carpenter and a U.S. Secret Service agent named Glen Passey procured a miniature reel-to-reel tape recorder made by a Swiss company called Nagra. The Nagra was, at the time, the type of high-end audio equipment used by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The investigators concealed the recorder beneath Rhonda’s clothing before sending her in to the prison shortly after 2 p.m. She met her ex-husband in a visiting area minutes later.

“They want the death penalty out of me. Carpenter told me that. He wants to see me executed and you’re the only one that can do it,” Doug told Rhonda.

Terry Carpenter
South Ogden police Sgt. Terry Carpenter took over the Joyce Yost homicide investigation in 1988. He broke the case in 1991 by gaining the trust of Doug Lovell’s ex-wife, Rhonda Buttars. Photo: Terry Carpenter family

A copy of the audio recording from second wire recording obtained by Cold through an open records request reveals Doug was concerned about a newspaper story that had recently published about the Joyce Yost case.

“I think that they surfaced this story out hoping that I would get on the phone and say, you know, something that might incriminate me,” Doug said.

State of the case

Doug had at that point in 1992 not yet been charged with the murder of Joyce Yost. He was serving a pair of 15 years-to-life prison sentences for kidnapping and sexually assaulting Joyce, but had publicly maintained his innocence for both crimes.

“If they find a body, I have motive,” Doug said. “They can’t prove opportunity.”

Doug had lost a direct appeal of his conviction in the rape case at the Utah Supreme Court but was pursuing a habeas corpus appeal of his sentence. He’d enlisted the help of a fellow inmate, William Babbel, in drafting the paperwork for the second appeal. As part of that effort, he’d also asked Babbel to draw up a statement, as if it’d been written by Rhonda.

“All you got to do is sign it, date it and get it notarized and send it back to me,” Doug said.

Doug Lovell’s deceptions in the audio recording

The statement drafted for Rhonda was to include at least two falsehoods. The first involved one of Doug’s shirts.

Joyce Yost had told police hours after Doug had abducted and assaulted her that he’d provided a blue shirt for her to wear home. The shirt had been introduced as evidence during the sexual assault trial in December of 1985.

Doug wanted Rhonda to claim he had not owned any such blue shirts.

Doug Lovell shirt
The evidence list for Doug Lovell’s December, 1985 sexual assault and kidnapping trial included the shirt Joyce Yost said Doug had given her to wear home following the rape. Highlight added by the Cold team.

The second issue involved his stolen Mazda RX-7. At the trial, a woman named Sharon Gess who’d worked at the club where Doug had first encountered Joyce testified she’d been stalked by a driver in a red sports car with flip-up headlights.

“Well now how controversial is that? I drive a little red car with flip-up lights,” Doug told Rhonda on the audio recording. “That really tainted the jury a lot.”

Doug admitted to Rhonda on the wire that he’d “hit up” on Gess at her workplace but insisted Gess had lied during the trial about being followed. He intended to counter Gess’ testimony by having Rhonda claim she’d had possession of the Mazda during the period Gess reported being stalked.

“I’m just preparing you now for what’s coming up months down the road,” Doug said, “so you don’t have to argue about it on the phone because I think your phone’s tapped.”

Joyce Yost’s remains

Doug repeatedly reassured Rhonda that she wouldn’t be arrested in connection with Joyce Yost’s murder and, if she was, he would arrange to have her bail quickly posted.

“If they come at you Rhonda … they’re going to treat you like a dog,” Doug said. “They’re going to come at you religiously. You know, ‘you’re a Mormon and the right thing to do would be to do this-and-that.’”

Rhonda did not reveal that she’d already confessed her role in the plot and was at that time cooperating with police. When she directed the conversation toward the topic of Joyce’s remains, Doug side-stepped the issue of their location, saying only that he’d covered the body with leaves.

“You think that will never happen, that they’ll find it,” Rhonda asked.

Doug said no, leaving Rhonda to ask why he felt so confident.

“Do you know what seven years of leaves are? A lot,” Doug said. “I mean, we’re talking mountains. There’s snow on the ground down here. What do you think’s on [Joyce] up there?”

The Causey body

Doug said he’d felt nervous the first few years after the murder, fearing a hunter might find the body. That fear had since abated.

“The only thing I’m nervous about is that one time that caller called in. I remember seeing it on TV,” Doug said.

This was a reference to news reports about an anonymous caller who’d phoned Roy police and the Weber County Sheriff’s Office on April 3, 1987 and claimed to have found a woman’s body near Causey Dam.

Causey body
Causey Reservoir is an impoundment on the South Fork of the Ogden River. An anonymous caller told police in April of 1987 that he’d located a woman’s body in a canyon adjacent to the reservoir. The Doug Lovell audio recording from the second wire at the Utah State Prison included Doug’s discussion of the anonymous caller. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Podcasts

Doug said he believed the anonymous caller report was a fake, because he was the only person who knew the whereabouts of Joyce Yost’s body.

“That’s why I think it’s a fish story. I really do,” Doug said. “I think they’re scared to death I’m going to get out. I really do.”

Hear what else the hidden recorder captured in Cold season 2, episode 7: Shameless

Episode credits
Research, writing and hosting: Dave Cawley
Audio production: Nina Earnest
Audio mixing: Trent Sell
Additional voices: Andy Farnsworth (as Jeff Pratt), Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell)
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/shameless-full-transcript/
KSL companion story: https://ksltv.com/461939/investigators-other-victims-may-be-found-near-joyce-yosts-body/
Talking Cold companion episode: https://thecoldpodcast.com/talking-cold#tc-episode-7