Man from West Plains is charged with stabbing, dismembering girlfriend

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WEST PLAINS, Mo. (KY3) - UPDATE, Aug. 18: Police say the remains were positively identified as Terri Jean Wright, 35.

Walter Stewart (Howell County jail)


Original report from Aug. 16:

West Plains police say a man's confession led them to the dismembered body of his missing 35-year-old girlfriend on Monday. Walter Stewart, 63, is charged with first-degree murder, domestic assault, abandonment of a corpse, and two counts of first-degree murder.

The police department asked reporters not to say the name of the murder victim because all her relatives may not know about her death. Her father, who lives in Mississippi, reported her missing on Aug. 9. He said he hadn't talked to his daughter since July 20 but normally talked to her five or six times a week.

After getting the missing person report on Aug. 9, a West Plains detective went to the woman's home on Lanton Road where she lived with Stewart, according to the probable cause statement against Stewart. The detective didn't find anyone at home but managed to track him down by stopping at a tavern, where someone knew how to contact Stewart.

The detective interviewed Stewart, who said his girlfriend left him after an argument. Stewart said his girlfriend was mad at him because he didn't want to "sling marijuana," a slang term for selling marijuana. He said he hadn't heard from or seen her in two weeks, since around July 20.

On Monday, two detectives returned to the Stewart's home at the trailer park on Lanton. They say Stewart invited them inside, and they could smell an odor that they thought smelled like a decomposed body. They say Stewart let them walk through the home and they found a blood stain on a carpet. That's when they took Stewart to the police department for questioning.

Stewart told them that he and his girlfriend hadn't been getting along for a long time. He said they argued on July 24 and "he struck her numerous times in the head causing visible physical injury," according to the probable cause statement.

That evening, after the woman went to bed, Stewart said he got a paring knife from the kitchen and sat in a chair and watched her as she was sleeping.

"He stated that he had gotten up on two occasions only to return back to the chair in the bedroom. Stewart said that he 'snapped,' jumped on her as she was lying in bed, and stabbed her multiple times in the chest. Realizing that there was no turning back, he stated he retrieved a larger kitchen knife, returned to the bedroom, stabbed her again, and slit her throat and wrist," the probable cause statement says.

Stewart then described to the detectives how he put her body in the bathtub and let it bleed, and washed the blood down the drain over the next two days by filling the tub with water and draining it several times. He said he dismembered the body, then put some of the remains in a pond on the east side of the trailer park, and put the rest of them in several different locations in a wooded area west of the trailer park.

Stewart was then jailed and the search for her remains began. Searchers found several pieces of the body in places that Stewart described. Tuesday evening, detectives were still combing the field nearby their trailer. An autopsy on Wednesday will try to verify if Stewart's account matches with what the physical evidence tells investigators.

Neighbors say the 35-year-old victim was a kind woman who always made small talk when they passed by her. They say their hearts stopped when they saw a recent newspaper clipping listing her as a missing person. At that point, they feared something must be wrong.

Neighbors tell us they noticed they hadn't seen her in a while, and assumed she left town to go back home to live with her parents out of state. They were shocked to hear the news of her death.

A detective said Stewart has a past history of violence and drug arrests. He's in the Howell County jail with no bond.