SALT LAKE CITY — A legal concept called “corpus delicti” is at the center of the new season of the COLD podcast, hosted by KSL NewsRadio’s Dave Cawley, and focusing on the 1985 murder of Joyce Yost.
Prior to the disappearance and presumed murder of Susan Powell in 2009, KSL is aware of just three cases in the state of Utah in which prosecutors successfully convicted someone of murder without finding the victim’s body. One of those three cases was the murder of Yost.
COLD Season 2: Justice for Joyce Yost
Under the law, it’s required for prosecution to meet a certain burden of proof. This is often referred to as corpus delicti or “body of the crime.”
In short, facts must establish a crime has occurred before the suspect can be charged with that crime.
But under Utah law, courts hold that a murder can be proved to have happened without a body so long as the totality of the circumstances surrounding the person’s disappearance shows the crime has occurred. This precedent was set in April 1984, and it became critical in the disappearance of Yost just a year later.
Listen to the prelude episode for season 2, “Corpus Delicti,” below.
Who was Joyce Yost?
Joyce Figel was born Jan. 3, 1946, in Bemidji, Minn., a small college town right beside the headwaters of the Mississippi River. She was the third daughter of George and Hulda Figel.
Yost’s father was mostly absent, leaving her to be raised by her mother and sisters.
She met her high school sweetheart, Mel Roberts, when she was only a freshman; he was a senior. The two dated for nearly a year when Yost discovered she was pregnant at age 15.
Despite her mother’s wishes not to keep the baby — urging her instead to give the infant to a Lutheran home to be adopted — Yost married Roberts, and the two started their own family. Roberts dropped out of college as the two moved to Minneapolis, where he secured a lifelong job at a metal stamping company.
“[The hiring manager] said, ‘Do you have a girl pregnant?’” Roberts told Dave Cawley, host of the COLD podcast. “And I looked at him like he was on Mars. Come to find out, his son was in the same circumstances. Similar age to me. And honest to God, I think that’s probably why he hired me.”
The couple were married in January 1962 and gave birth to their daughter, Kim. A year later, they had a son named Greg.
A new start in Utah
Life wasn’t easy for the new family, as the two parents scrimped to get by. Yost would pick up evening waitressing jobs to bring in extra money, but the young couple divorced after a few years.
“Had we not been so young, I’m pretty sure the relationship would have been far more successful,” Roberts said.
After Roberts was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968, Yost wanted a fresh start and followed her eldest sister, Dorothy, to Utah. While there, she landed a job as a salesperson at a cosmetics counter.
Soon after, Yost earned enough money to move out of her sister’s home and moved to Sunset, Utah, in Davis County. It was there she got remarried to a man named George Yost, which only lasted about three years.
By the time she was in her 30s, Yost became a grandmother — which her children remember as one of her greatest joys in life. They also recall Yost pouring herself into her work, selling cosmetics at a ZCMI department store before working as a cocktail waitress at nights.
After working for ZCMI for 12 years, she was terminated from her position. Although she never knew why, her kids said she always thought it was because she was about to become eligible for their retirement plan. So, she went to work at another department store in Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah.
Anyone who knew Joyce Yost spoke fondly of her zest for life. She poured her heart into her children and grandchildren, while enjoying social events with friends.
On April 3, 1985, Yost met her friend Lex Baer, 62, for some drinks at the Pier 3 supper club. The two spent about three hours dining and dancing. At about 10:15 p.m., they walked out and parted ways.
Yost headed back to her home in South Ogden.
She didn’t notice at first, but someone was following her: A little red sports coupe with flip-up headlights bobbing in the rearview mirror.
No one would ever see Yost again.
Listen to the full episode
Season 2 of the COLD podcast will take you inside the no-body homicide investigation triggered by Yost’s disappearance. Audio tapes never before made public will allow you to hear Yost, in her own voice, describe the events which preceded her death.
You will learn why police suspected one man, Douglas Lovell, yet were unable to arrest him at the time. And you will see how some individuals and institutions gave — and continue to give — Lovell every opportunity to evade the ultimate penalty.
Hear Joyce Yost’s voice for the first time in the COLD podcast season 2, available to listen free on Amazon Music.
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