FORSYTH, Mo. -- A convicted bank robber is charged with killing a woman from Hollister 10 years ago. The Taney County prosecuting attorney charged Phillip Dodd, 40, with first-degree murder on Thursday.
Dodd is charged with killing Becky Sutton on March 21, 2003. Sutton, 19, disappeared from her home in Hollister, leaving behind her 2-year-old son, Cole. It was the son who alerted a neighbor that his mother was gone when he was found wandering around the courtyard in their apartment complex. The neighbor then called Sutton's mother, who alerted the Hollister Police Department.
Sutton’s skeletal remains turned up in February 2004 in the Mark Twain National Forest near Bradleyville in Taney County, about 35 miles from Hollister. An autopsy concluded she was strangled.
Until now, no one was charged for her murder, although it's apparent from the probable cause statement against Dodd that he was a suspect from the beginning of the case. A Hollister detective talked with Dodd on March 23, 2003, and say he gave conflicting accounts about the night that Sutton disappeared. A Missouri State Highway Patrol detective interviewed Dodd in a jail in Texarkana, Texas, on July 17, 2003, and says he again gave conflicting information about the night of March 20-21.
The probable cause statement says Dodd was "Sutton's ex-boyfriend's, cousin's husband." A friend of Sutton told detectives that Sutton told her that Dodd stopped by her apartment about 11:30 p.m. on March 20, 2003, and tried to kiss her, but she resisted and threatened to call the police if he didn't leave, which he did.
About two hours later, at 2 a.m. on March 21, Sutton called her ex-boyfriend, but he was sleeping and didn't answer. No one reported seeing Sutton after that.
Six months after the murder, a witness told a detective that Dodd told her that he was at Sutton's home on the night she disappeared. He implicated a man nicknamed "Scooty" for her death. Detectives never found a person using that nickname.
Another witness told detectives that Dodd asked her to lie to police to provide him with an alibi for the night that Sutton disappeared. This was shortly after Dodd got a new truck and told the witness that he was going to leave town but didn't want to look guilty by doing so. The witness says she told Dodd she wouldn't lie for him.
The day after Sutton disappeared, detectives said, Dodd showed up for work six hours late. The managers at the restaurant where he worked said "Dodd was ordinarily a prompt worker."
The probable cause statement doesn't provide any events in the investigation between the identification of Sutton's body in 2004 and this month. That's when detectives twice interviewed in a state prison.
On March 4, Highway Patrol investigators say, Dodd admitted he was at Sutton's apartment that night and saw her overdose on narcotics. Dodd said he took Sutton's body in his vehicle and tried to clean up the apartment and remove evidence. He admitted he took the body into the national forest and hid it under a rock outcropping, and then threw away the floor mats from his vehicle, according to the probable cause statement. He also admitted he lied previously and made up the story about "Scooty."
Investigators interviewed Dodd again on March 8. He changed his story and admitted he went to Sutton's apartment hoping to get high with her and hoping to have sexual relations with her, which she resisted. Something happened then, but that part of the probable cause statement provided to the public is blacked out, and "she was dead." Dodd then took Sutton's body and the sheets from her bed, took the body "to a wilderness area and placed it under a rock outcropping." He then said he burned the bedding materials at a construction area and then took his vehicle to a carwash in Branson, where he washed the outside, vacuumed the inside and threw away the floor mats.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol, Taney County Sheriff Jimmie Russell, Hollister Police Chief Preston Schmidt and Taney County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Merrell held a news conference on Thursday afternoon to talk about the case, but they revealed no additional details than what are in the probable cause statement. They refused to say what happened between 2004 and 2013 that led them back to Dodd, how they know Sutton was strangled, or what happened in the apartment between the time that Dodd and Sutton used drugs together and Sutton was killed,
Some of Sutton's family was at the news conference but law enforcement officials said they would not talk to reporters, and the relatives were escorted out of the room at the end of the news conference.
Dodd is serving a 14-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty in 2010 for robbing the Joplin Metro Credit Union. He originally was charged in 2009 with first-degree robbery but Newton County prosecutors offered a plea agreement for second-degree robbery because Dodd never displayed a weapon. At the time of the robbery, Dodd lived in Carl Junction.