Videos helped crack Wyoming kidnapping, assault case

2014-01-12T00:15:00Z 2014-01-13T07:40:05Z Videos helped crack Wyoming kidnapping, assault caseBy ED KEMMICK ekemmick@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

In a notorious case involving the kidnapping and rape of a young girl in Cody, Wyo., video surveillance cameras played a "huge role" in bringing the perpetrator to justice.

Dave Joly, a spokesman for the FBI office in Denver, used those words in describing what he said was "an amazing case."

Largely as a result of video footage obtained from numerous locations in Cody and nearby Yellowstone National Park, a then-39-year-old nature photographer from Manhattan, Jesse Paul Speer, was arrested six days after the incident.

He later pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and two counts of sexually abusing a minor. In November, he was sentenced to life in prison.

The affidavit charging Speer with those crimes laid out in unusual detail how authorities tracked him down, relying heavily on video footage gathered from private businesses in Cody and later in Yellowstone National Park.

The case started at about 3:55 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2012, when Speer approached the 10-year-old girl outside the county library and asked her to help him find his lost puppy.

The girl at first said she'd help, but when she changed her mind, Speer brandished a handgun and forced her into his sport utility vehicle. After binding the girl's hands and ankles, he drove to a remote area outside Yellowstone National Park and abused her.

Four hours after the abduction, a pair of hunters found the girl wandering along a dirt road about 20 miles southeast of Cody.

Joly said the FBI immediately sent in about a dozen agents to help the Cody Police Department and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. Based on what the victim told them and where she had been found, investigators had a rough idea of where the kidnapper might have driven on his way out of town.

Joly said investigators went door to door, asking mostly businesses but also some homeowners if they had any surveillance video that might help them crack the case. They also reviewed surveillance tapes from an 80-mile radius around Cody.

Gathering and analyzing video footage can be "extremely time-consuming," Joly said, but the effort soon yielded dramatic results.

Based on a review of footage obtained from multiple cameras, investigators placed a white SUV with a gray and black Thule cargo box on the roof in the vicinity of where the victim was approached and abducted. Video was also used to identify where the suspect had been before the abduction.

Still images from the surveillance images were sent to Toyota Motor Corp., which identified the vehicle as a Toyota 4-Runner SR5 from the 2003-05 model years.

Two ranchers who saw the vehicle on a dead-end road outside Cody, not far from where the assault took place, were also shown the still images from surveillance cameras, and they positively identified the vehicle as the one they saw.

On Oct. 12, investigators reviewed surveillance video from the Maverick store at 1802 17th St. in Cody. It showed the vehicle entering and leaving the store parking lot around 12:55 p.m. The video did not show the vehicle parked, and there were no images of the person driving the vehicle.

Investigators then reviewed surveillance video from an Albertsons store across the street from the Maverick. That video showed the suspect vehicle parked near the Maverick, in front of Rocky Mountain Discount Liquors. It showed a person walking to and from the vehicle, entering and leaving the liquor store. He was wearing a blue or black jacket, light-colored shirt, tan baseball hat and glasses with dark frames.

On Oct. 13, an FBI special agent reviewed video from a surveillance camera at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, just outside Gardiner. It showed a white Toyota 4Runner entering the park on Oct. 7 at about 4 p.m. It also showed investigators a Montana license plate: 6-26712A. There was a Thule cargo box on the roof and the driver matched the description of the man from the other video images.

Video from the park's northeast gate was reviewed the same day. It showed the SUV in question leaving the park at 5:20 p.m. Later that day, the Montana Department of Motor Vehicles database showed that the license plate in question was assigned to a 2004 Toyota 4Runner registered to a Jesse Paul Speer.

Authorities also matched a driver’s license photo of Speer with an artist’s rendering of the suspect and said the two resembled each other. Also, the driver's license photo was compared with the image of the suspect recorded on the surveillance video from the liquor store, and authorities said it appeared to be the same person.

At 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 13, the 4Runner vehicle was spotted in Belgrade. It was stopped and Speer was arrested.

"It's not every day that things work out so well," Joly said. "That was really a textbook case."

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