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May 12, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
When Becky Doisy went missing Aug. 3, 1976, Columbia Police Officer Chris Egbert was assigned the case. Although he investigated multiple homicide cases in his career, the mystery of Doisy’s case stands out to him the most. For decades Egbert searched for clues, but when he retired in 1993, there was still no answer. Just recently, though, he found closure. On April 11, 2011, Johnny Wright, 66, was found, convicted of Doisy’s murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Egbert sat in the front row of the courtroom during the Doisy trial. He was one of the only officers in Columbia who still remembered when Doisy went missing, and he delivered an important testimony about his involvement with the case. The moment Wright was declared guilty, Egbert extended his hand to the bench behind him. A hand grabbed onto his. It was Kathy Doisy, Becky’s sister. A photographer caught the emotional scene and sent a copy to Egbert days after the trial. It now sits in a frame in Egbert’s dining room. This is the only memento he keeps from any of the cases he investigated.
Although this level of sentimentality is unusual in Egbert’s profession, the Doisy case is different. Over the span of two decades, Egbert searched for Becky’s murderer. He was the officer who, in 1987, changed the case from one of a missing person to homicide when William Simmons confessed to hearing Wright claim he committed the murder.
Years later, Egbert’s suspicions were solidified when Harry Moore, Wright’s roommate at the time of Doisy’s disappearance, offered a similar confession. Egbert would run Wright’s fingerprints multiple times a year after that. Any time new evidence hinted at Wright’s location, Egbert picked the investigation back up with the same fervor as the day he received the assignment.
“You sit around, and every once in a while, you think about it,” Egbert says about dealing with an open case. “It eats at you. You want some justice served.”
As Egbert went from spending every day on the Doisy case to checking it a few times each year, the mystery continued to haunt him. He was sure Wright was the murderer, but the man had disappeared completely, holding the investigation at a standstill. Despite the bleak outlook, Egbert found support in the members of Becky’s family. The Doisy family had sent him letters early on that pleaded, “Keep looking for her.” Later letters encouraged him with messages such as, “Don’t give up.” In return, he offered condolences to Kathy when her mother and father passed away, just years before Wright was found.
In 2009, Egbert received a call. The Columbia Police Department had found Wright in Georgia under a different name.
“You’re apparently the only one who still knows anything about it,” the officer said. Egbert immediately jumped back into the investigation.
“At first, it was a little scary,” he says. “It was like, ‘Now we got him, what are we going to do with him? And where’s Harry Moore? Where’s William Simmons?’”
Egbert thought things were pretty dismal at the beginning of the trial. Although the department had Wright in custody, it would be hard to make a case against him. Over the years the police department had discarded physical evidence. The investigators had only testimonials to depend on.
Still, Egbert persisted in his search for justice. Egbert acknowledges the work of the department’s current officers as a large reason why Wright was convicted. Officers who had been born years after Doisy’s disappearance collected interviews and contacted witnesses to testify, which helped to build the case against Wright. Still, Egbert is surprised by how the case turned out.
“This one probably stands out the most,” he says. “To come to the conclusion it did — it’s a rarity to get a conviction on a 35-year-old murder case. Those don’t come along but once in a lifetime.”