Evidence being reprocessed in mother's disappearance 26 years ago


by Sybil Hoffman


Posted on November 22, 2011 at 9:54 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 22 at 9:54 PM

PHOENIX -- For more than two decades, a Valley family has been haunted by the disappearance of their mother and the suspicion their father killed her. Now 26 years after she vanished, Phoenix detectives discuss how science may help solve the crime.

Vernette Wester's daughter won't give up on her mother.

"I want a place where I know she is, where she deserves to be, she deserves a decent burial," Wendy Rawson said. "She deserves more than what she got, and what she got was discarded like she was garbage."

Vernette was only 38 years old when she disappeared on Nov. 22, 1985.

"I had just turned 12 and now I'm 38 and that's how old my mom was," Wendy said.

Vernette was last seen visiting her ex-husband, Bruce, at his Parkside Drive Home in Tempe. Her white '79 Chevette was found just a few blocks away near West Howe and Judd Street. The car was locked yet none of Vernette's things were inside.

Wendy isn't sure what happened but has her suspicions. "I don't know if he overpowered her there and took her somewhere else."

Vernette was only 5 feet 2 inches tall and her ex-husband was well over 6 feet tall.
Police photographs show the driver's seat in Vernette's car reclined all the way back and the pillow she used to see over the steering wheel lying on the passenger's seat.
Phoenix police Detective Will Andersen believes that "Vernette didn't move that car. She wasn't the last person in that vehicle."

During the course of the investigation, Andersen has learned Bruce was active in the Boy Scouts, often taking kids on wilderness trips and during some of his outings, "He spoke about being able to dispose of a body. He spoke about knowledge of several open mines and that he could get away with this crime."

Yet Bruce wasn't arrested. Instead police focused on Vernette's then-boyfriend, Don. Afterall, Don made the perfect suspect, a struggling alcoholic who had trouble remembering details.

As Wendy explains, "He made a great distraction because he did have problems."

But Wendy and her sister, Genette Slemp, have no doubt their father killed their mother. And for 26 years, believe he's held onto that secret.

"He has the answers and he is going to die at some point and when he dies, he's going to take that with him," Wendy fears.

"I have to brace myself for the fact that I may never, ever know," Genette said.

But Andersen remains steadfast. In fact, last year he convinced a judge to issue a search warrant of Bruce's home.

"The investigation continues until we can explain to that family what happened to their mother," he said.