At about 2 a.m., on September 27, 1994, 36-year-old George Revelle called police to report a possible prowler outside his $300,000 home situated on a golf course in Freemont Hills, Missouri. Police arrived and investigated, but dismissed the report after finding no footprints in the wet grass around the home.
The following morning, at about 5 a.m., Revelle called police again, but this time he reported that an intruder had entered the family home and shot his 37-year-old wife, Lisa, while she was lying in bed. Revelle said the gunman fled, but apologized for the shooting.
Lisa Revelle was taken to a hospital. She never regained consciousness and died not long after.
The murder shocked the residents of Freemont Hills, a town of less than 1,000 residents located south of Springfield, Missouri. George Revelle was Freemont’s mayor and a banker in nearby Ozark, Missouri.
Police swarmed the area and spent the next month combing the house for clues, but did not find a gun—the weapon was determined to be a .45 caliber pistol—or other physical evidence related to the murder.
Revelle told police he was awakened by the sound of his alarm system beeping and when he went into a bathroom to find his shotgun, he heard someone go into the bedroom. He said he saw the gunman shoot his wife and then flee through the garage with another man. The couple’s two children were safe in their bedrooms upstairs.
Police found the garage door open about two feet. None of the outdoor motion detector lights had been activated, no neighborhood dogs were barking and there were no footprints in the grass.
In searching the home, police found several bank deposit and withdrawal receipts in the bedroom and a piece of paper in the bathroom with what appeared to be codes for the home’s alarm system. In the basement, police found a cigar box containing a note from Lisa to George saying that she was concerned about their marriage. “I can’t continue living this way,” the note said. “I’m afraid of you, afraid of your anger and your silence!”
At the same time that Revelle was being investigated for the murder, the FBI was investigating his finances and discovered that he had embezzled more than $50,000 from Ozark Bank, where he was the third highest ranking officer, as well as $5,000 from the town of Freemont Hills. In March, 1995, he was charged with federal embezzlement.
The following month, in April 1995, Revelle was indicted for the murder of his wife and the state said it would seek the death penalty.
Revelle pled guilty to the federal embezzlement charges in June 1995. On September 7, 1995, the day he was to be sentenced on the federal conviction, an anonymous letter arrived in the Christian County Sheriff’s Office. The letter said that the murder weapon could be found in a pond and specific directions were given to the pond.
The letter said that Revelle was innocent and that the crime had been committed by two men who had been accomplices of Revelle’s estranged half-brother, Ronny Kistler, who had been killed in a car accident two weeks prior to the murder. The letter said that Kistler had planned to force Revelle at gunpoint to go to his bank and withdraw money. After Kistler was killed, the two other men decided to go ahead with the plan anyway, but after Lisa Revelle was shot, they panicked and fled, according to the letter.
The letter also said that the men had broken into the Revelle home on an earlier occasion and stolen the alarm codes.
Authorities drained the pond and found the gun wrapped in duct tape. The pond was on property that was being rented by Kistler and his wife. The gun was linked to the murder through ballistics.
Revelle was sentenced to 27 months in prison and began serving his sentence in October 1995.
In the spring of 1996, Revelle went on trial before a jury. The prosecution contended that Revelle killed his wife to cash in on an insurance policy worth $1 million because he was deeply in debt and had been embezzling to keep his finances from complete collapse.
A forensic analyst testified that the duct tape on the gun was similar to the duct tape found on a dryer hose in Revelle’s home and that fibers found on the tape wrapping the gun were similar to the carpet in the home.
A police officer said that he found the garage door ajar and when he walked outside, motion detecting lights went on and the family dog barked. He said that there were no footprints in the wet grass leading to or from the house.
An alarm system expert said that only one zone of the alarm system had been triggered that morning—the alarm for the bedroom window, which he said was set off by the blast from the shooting.
The prosecution contended that an analysis of Revelle’s 911 call suggested he was walking about the house while he was on the telephone and that it was then that he hid the weapon. They contended that Revelle later planted the weapon in the pond and wrote the letter claiming that Kistler’s companions committed the crime. No evidence linked the letter to Revelle—DNA tests excluded Revelle from genetic material found on the stamp.
Friends of Revelle recounted a lunch conversation with Revelle just days before the shooting. Revelle asked about the best weapon for home defense and whether a .45 caliber pistol would be sufficient. His friends assured him it would be adequate.
Revelle testified in his own defense and denied killing his wife. He said their marriage was solid and that the note came during one rocky time much earlier. He said he saved the note as a reminder to be a good husband and not take things for granted.
He said the alarm failed to go off when someone entered the garage through the house because earlier that night, his wife had gone to the garage to get some papers and she had turned off that zone of the alarm.
On February 11, 1996, the jury convicted Revelle of capital murder. The jury declined to impose the death penalty and Revelle was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In November 1997, the Missouri Court of Appeals vacated the conviction, ruling that the letter written by Lisa Revelle six months prior to the murder was inadmissible hearsay and should not have been admitted into evidence.
Attorney Shawn Askinosie, who had handled Revelle’s appeal after Revelle’s trial lawyer retired, took over Revelle’s defense at his second trial.
The retrial began in December 1998. The prosecution’s case was slightly hampered because Askinosie had discovered that two of the photographs taken at the autopsy were missing. He located the negatives and saw that the photographs showed a detective with his hand over the victim’s nude breast. He also learned that the detective had commented that he had never before attended an autopsy of a woman who had breast implants.
The discovery put authorities on the defensive. Askinosie attacked the sheriff’s department for failing to adequately investigate the anonymous letter and questioned their belief that Revelle had hid the murder weapon in the home because it was not found even though the investigators spent more than 1,000 hours in the home looking for clues.
Askinosie called a finance expert who testified that Revelle was not hopelessly in debt, but that in fact his debts would have been resolved over time with bonuses and other payments he expected to receive. The debt, the expert said, was a short-term cash crunch.
Moreover, Askinosie brought in an alarms expert who used a replica of Revelle’s system to show that an intruder could have gotten into the home and the display would have read just as the police found it on the morning of the murder. In fact, the expert said, the alarm had been poorly programmed and improperly installed and was untrustworthy as any sort of evidence.
Askinosie brought in another expert who said that the fibers found on the duct tape could have been found in any number of carpets in any number of homes. The duct tape on the gun was no different than any duct tape that could be found in a hardware store and could not be linked to the duct tape in Revelle’s home, the expert testified.
On December 13, 1998, the jury acquitted Revelle. The $1 million insurance policy was paid to Revelle’s children.
Revelle was released from the federal embezzling sentence on December 17, 1998.
– Maurice Possley