By JOSH VARDAMAN
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Thursday was the first full day of testimonies at the Robert “Gene” Pilcher trial.
The first witness called by prosecuting attorney Denise Timmins was Jacque Williams, the oldest sister of the victim, Mary Jayne Jones. Jones was murdered on April 9, 1974.
Williams, who now lives in Georgia, explained that she moved to Ottumwa in 1971 after getting married. In 1973, while Williams was pregnant with her son, Jones came from Fayetteville, N.C., to help with the baby and decided she would stay in Iowa and get her GED instead of returning to school.
In January 1974, Williams and her husband moved from Ottumwa to Fairfield and asked Jones to come with them. But Jones said she would stay in Ottumwa because she had a job at Henry’s Drive-in, located where Taco John’s is now, and she had numerous friends in town.
Williams also was a waitress at Henry’s Drive-in for a period of time, and it is there where Jones came into contact with Pilcher, who was apparently a frequent customer.
“He came in for lunch when I worked there … on almost a daily basis,” Williams said on the stand.
Later in the morning, the prosecution asked Kathleen Mitchell, formerly Lynn Guyette and roommate of Jones, to the stand. Mitchell also worked at Henry’s Drive-in, and she echoed Williams’ statement that Pilcher came into the restaurant very often. Not only was he a regular customer, but Mitchell said he also made very sexual comments to the waitresses, including Jones.
“It was always something sexual,” Mitchell said.
Although Pilcher would make sexual comments to Jones and the other waitresses, Michell said she never saw the two together outside of the restaurant. He would ask the waitresses out, according to Mitchell, but to her knowledge Jones never accepted.
The prosecution also called Max Marlin, the owner of the farmhouse where Jones was found dead and cousin of Pilcher, to the stand Thursday morning.
Marlin was a recently divorced 27-year-old in 1974, and he lived alone at the house on Route One just west of Ottumwa, where Jones was discovered. He was an avid hunter and owned the .22 caliber rifle that was found at the scene, but there was also a shotgun found in pieces at his home that he said he did not recognize.
Since he was a bachelor at the time, Marlin said he had occasional parties at his home, but he never remembered seeing Jones at his home and did not recollect ever meeting her. He was close with Pilcher, since they were cousins, and at one time Pilcher told him he was hoping to get to know a waitress at Henry’s Drive-in a little better. However, he never mentioned the name of the girl.
Marlin was in California on a recreational trip when Jones was murdered in his home. His parents, who were in Ottumwa so Marlin’s father could tend to the farm, were the ones who found Jones’ body in the bedroom of the home.
When Jones was found by Marlin’s parents, it was obvious she had been severely beaten. According to the Deputy Chief State Medical Examiner Dr. Dennis Klein, who was brought to the stand Thursday afternoon, the bruises seemed to coincide with the timing of the gunshot wounds, meaning Jones was beaten somewhere close to the time she was killed.
Klein also said that based off of his findings the gunshot wounds to Jones’ head and left breast seemed to come at a very close range, and Jones was lying down when she was shot. He said he was able to come to those conclusions based on the laceration patters of the gunshot wounds and carbon matter found beside the bullet holes.
If Jones was indeed lying down, that would explain why Division of Criminal Investigations (DCI) agents at the scene in 1974 found the two bullets directly under where they exited her body into the bed she was lying on. Michael Peterson, a former DCI agent who was on the scene in 1974, testified Thursday that agents found one bullet in the foam pad and one bullet that had went through the bed and floor and was found in the dirt under the floor.
The other witnesses called to the stand Thursday included Diana Fairchild. She is the ex-wife of Pilcher, and the two were married in 1974. Part of her testimony was that Pilcher picked her up from her job at approximately 5 p.m. on the day of the murder, but she did not notice anything suspicious from his behavior and did not recollect ever having to wash blood off of his clothing.
Another ex-lover, and the only person who has ever heard Pilcher mention possibly killing someone in the Ottumwa area, also took the stand Thursday. Kim Armstrong, who was in a relationship with Pilcher for six or seven years until 2012, claimed in her testimony that Pilcher had told her that he had “offed someone” in the Ottumwa area “many years earlier.”
Armstrong claimed that Pilcher mentioned "offing someone" while the two were under the influence of crack cocaine. She has also admitted to huffing paint every day for years and taking several other drugs.
Pilcher and Armstrong, according to her, would often get high and talk about their inner feelings, and usually he would tell stories that she never believed, except for the story about Ottumwa.
The trial will continue Friday morning at 9 a.m., and then will be out of session until Tuesday. Court will not be in session on Monday due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
— To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh