On Tuesday, February 5, 2013 the state rested its case in the 23 year old murder of Catherine Beard with John Oldson up for felony murder. This morning (Wednesday, February 06, 2013) the defense came out ready to roll with five witnesses and 3 police reports being read to the jury. Let it be noted that two of these police reports are from two deceased men: Michael Howely and Melvin Ellingston. The other report came from incapacitated Ord resident, Dan Johnson who was unable to give court testimony for the defense. Judge Karen Noakes would give the jury once they were allowed into the courtroom, special instructions and given the fact that the state is not able to cross examine these testimonies. The jury then listened as defense attorney Mowbray read the reports.
Ellingson’s report described his intimate relationship with Beard since she was 17 years old. Ellingson was a truck driver and cattle buyer in NE, SD and MT and would travel extensively. He heard from his wife that Beard went missing and made a call to police that he thought he saw her when he was on his way back to Ord. He described Beard as being in the middle of a front seat of a blue sedan sitting between two men who were driving at a high rate of speed. This was the day after Beard disappeared on May 31, 1989.
The first morning witness was retired Scottsbluff county Nebraska State Trooper/Investigator Pete Moreno. The retired investigator had received a tip of a possible sighting of Beard was seen at the Bridge Café in Morril NE on 6-1-89. The waitress spoke with Moreno as did the owner of the café. They described a disheveled weather worn woman came into the café with a green duffle bag. She was wearing a pink flowered night dress that was much too big for her and showed her breasts. The woman also was described as having short “punk” like dirty hair. The woman apparently walked in and was hungry. The waitress fed her and even made her a meatloaf sandwich to go and did not make her pay, even though the woman offered. The waitress, Joan Wilson stated to Moreno that the woman had introduced herself as Mrs. Farold. The woman left on foot and was never seen again nor identified by law enforcement.
Next witness is Dale Hoppes, 92 years old of Ord took the stand briefly. He was very hard of hearing and his memory challenged the events of the day Beard disappeared. However he did cooberate testimony of the police reports made back on May 31, 1989.
The final witness of the morning retired NE State Trooper Jerry Schmitt (Ex Valley County Senator). Schmitt had testimony to the effect of his interviews with the late Dick “Comanche” Oldson, John’s father. Schmitt was an investigator at the time and had a good rapport with Comanche (who was known to be quite gruff, did not mince words with anyone and was intimidating to some law enforcement and town people). The interview was recorded on tape, later transcribed and then the whole interview was read to the jury by Mowbray. In the interview, discussions of Beard and how John might be very involvement were discussed as well as other chit chat. Comanche signed a release to allow Shmitt and another officer to search the Oldson residence.
The afternoon resumed late for the jury, but not for council who met early to discus witness Jerome Walkowiak of Ord. Judge Noakes gave Oldson the opportunity to waive his right to sequester the jury once closing arguments are made on Thursday. Oldson did waive his right. Walkowiak was brought in before the jury. He had been having trouble keeping his story straight over the years and the defense wanted to use his initial police report to read to the jury. Walkowiak was brought in without the presence of the jury and questioned by both sides. Judge Noakes allowed Walkowiak to testify even in his confused state of mind. At times as he told his story of how he witnessed Beard and Oldson go out the back door of the SomePlace Else Tavern, he would contradict himself as to time and who was where. He stated Catherine handed him her cigarettes and lighter and went outside with Oldson to talk to him. Walkowiak said his curiosity got the better of him, and he watched out the back door through a window, as a blue ford club cab pickup was there and Beard was talking to the two men inside. One of the men had red long hair with a pony tail and another man with black hair and a black beard. (Note Walkowiak saw these men in the tavern before and he noticed the man with the red hair had a knife sheath on his belt)
Walkowiak went on saying that Beard voluntarily got into the pickup with the men. Sat down in front between them and then John Oldson got into the seat right behind her. Both Mowbray and state attorney Matt Lierman had Walkowiak and the jury spinning in confusion by the time the testimony came to a close and Walkowiak was excused.
A surprise witness this afternoon was Oldson’s ex-wife Minnie, now Olson (she has since remarried). In a calm manner Minnie took the stand and disclosed her testimony for defense. In questioning by Sarah Newell, Minnie stated she and John had been married for 12 years and that Oldson had never discussed with her the incident with Catherine Beard. The only time her name came up was before the two were married on April 22, 1992 four days before Beards remains were found off of a minimum maintenance road by Dee Petska, southeast of Ord.
Minnie also denied Suzanne Pelster’s allegation that Oldson had threatened Minnie, “If you don’t do what I want, the same thing that happened to Cathy with happen to you!” Even after cross examination from O’Brien, she was shown a police report with evidence to prove otherwise, Minnie would not bend. By the time her testimony closed, Minnie Olson, (who would not look at John, or he to her) stated, “I’m tired of being drug back into John Oldson’s life. We’re divorced.”
The final witness today was retired Nebraska State Trooper/Crime Investigator William Mach. Mach had been involved with the Beard disappearance since the beginning. Defense council Newell made it a point to let the jury know, Mach’s police reports were always spot on accurate and factual. Throughout testimony, several of Mach’s investigation reports were discussed including a search warrant on February 6, 1990, of Comanche’s 86 Ford tan pickup. It was vacuumed, seats and carpet and inside door panels removed, sprayed with luminol and a black light was used for traces of blood. Nothing ever came from the search for evidence in this case.
Mach also interviewed a Rex White. (Who along with Glen Hall robbed Lloyd Hamilton of CO with a sawed off shotgun at the Hilcrest Hotel west of Ord, the same night Beard disappeared) White denied knowing anything about Beard’s disappearance. The only reason why he and Hall were looking for her that night is that they had met Hamilton at the Y’all Come Back Saloon as Hamilton was waving around a lot of money. Hamilton had offered both White and Hall $200 to find him a woman and go back to Hamilton’s hotel to party.
White and Hall left the bar and headed over to the SomePlace Else Tavern to find Beard, only she was not there. This is the point where White and Hall still wanted money and devised the plan to rob Hamilton.
The defense has 3 more witnesses to bring before the jury on Thursday, February 7, 2013 at the Howard County Court House. Closing arguments should begin by Thursday afternoon. Then it will be in the hands of the jury.