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Many leads but no answers in search for body of Joyce Yost

Apr 27, 2021, 10:10 PM | Updated: Apr 28, 2021, 8:29 am
causey reservoir...
More than one tip mentioned the area around Causey Reservoir as a possible location for the body of Joyce Yost. But her body has never been found. Photo: Dave Cawley

OGDEN, Utah — In the months and years after the conviction of a man in the rape of Joyce Yost, who vanished just days before she would have testified in the trial, investigators continued to hold out hope for new information that would lead to her body. 

It never did. 

The latest episode of the COLD podcast, available free from Amazon Music, details some of the leads and tips they chased down, to no avail. 

The search for the body of Joyce Yost 

When Joyce Yost disappeared in August 1985, it left prosecutors without the ability to put her on the witness stand to testify against Doug Lovell, who stood trial for raping her. A jury convicted Lovell of rape anyway, as detailed in the previous episode of COLD

joyce yost and son greg wearing a tux

Greg Roberts, left, with his mom, Joyce Yost, some years before her disappearance in 1985. Photo: Joyce Yost family

What they could not yet do, however, was charge Lovell with Yost’s murder. For one thing, while her family had discovered chilling evidence in the form of a large bloodstain on her mattress, it wasn’t enough to prove she was dead. 

The family, however, became convinced Doug Lovell had murdered Joyce Yost and hidden her body. 

Kim and Randy Salazar, Yost’s daughter and son-in-law, took their concerns to the police. 

“I remember [Kim] telling them, ‘I know that son of a [expletive] has something to do with it. I know he has something to do with it.’ And they told Kim, ‘We’re sure he is too, but we just can’t, I mean, we can’t just go over there and tell him he has something to do with it. We have to figure something out here,'” Randy Salazar remembered later. 

They needed more evidence. Ideally, the body of Yost would provide that evidence, but other proof could work to bring a murder case against Lovell. Witness accounts, evidence of a death — any number of things could offer that proof. 

Arresting Lovell’s wife 

Just two months after a judge sentenced Lovell to two sentences of 15 years to life, to run concurrently, in the rape case, a South Ogden police sergeant showed up at the Eccles Building in Ogden, where Rhonda Lovell worked for the state of Utah, to serve her with an arrest warrant. 

Police told Kim Salazar, Yost’s daughter, they hoped to use information about an earlier poaching report to apply pressure to Rhonda Lovell. 

“I know that they were trying to get information,” Kim Salazar said. “So they used this poaching as a way to get… to put some pressure [on her].” 

Sgt. Brad Birch and another detective, Terry Carpenter, questioned Rhonda Lovell about a trip the previous fall into the Monte Cristo Mountains where she and Doug were questioned by a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officer. Eventually, the Rich County prosecutor had decided they were involved in poaching. 

Rhonda Lovell told the officers they hadn’t shot any deer, and she didn’t know anything about poaching. She told them they were in the area to go snowmobiling with friends. Her story this time didn’t match what she had told the wildlife officer months before. Birch warned her unless she cooperated and told the truth, they would take her to jail. She declined to cooperate further and was booked into jail on the poaching warrant.

“Do you trust me to handle this?” 

The Rich County Circuit Court ordered Doug and Rhonda Lovell to appear at a hearing on the poaching charge on May 13, 1986, roughly five months after Doug received his sentence in the rape case. 

“Do you trust me to handle this,” Lovell would later says he asked her, “because they’ll never convict.” 

He opted to represent the couple as their attorney in court and succeeded in convincing the judge to dismiss the case.

A short time later, one of Lovell’s fellow inmates contacted South Ogden police and offered to provide them with information. The man had recently been transferred from the Utah State Prison to the Duchesne County Jail due to crowding at the prison.

New information comes to light 

Sgt. Birch, the South Ogden officer who’d arrested Rhonda Lovell on the poaching warrant, drove to eastern Utah on June 4, 1986, to interview inmate Roy “DJ” Droddy. 

In a recorded conversation, Droddy told Birch he had discussed Yost with Lovell as he helped him draft legal documents for an appeal. 

“He told me that, ah — that that was the young lady he was accused of raping and kidnapping back in April of ’85, and, ah, in August, ah, he killed her,” Droddy’s voice can be heard saying on the tape. 

According to Droddy, Doug Lovell denied raping Yost, but admitted killing her, then moving the body. 

“In talking about moving the body, when did he say that that happened?” Birch asked on the recording. 

“In November,” Droddy answered. “He was stopped in November for poaching and it was during that time that he moved the body.” 

The poaching stop in the Monte Cristo mountain range was not public knowledge at the time, so Droddy’s reference potentially backed up his credibility in the eyes of police.

The road through the Monte Cristo Range in northern Utah is typically closed after the fall hunting season ends, and does not reopen until the spring thaw. Photo: Dave Cawley A wildlife resource officer stopped to talk to Rhonda Lovell in late 1985 in the Monte Cristo Range, leading to poaching charges against her and her husband Doug. She may have been driving along this road. Photo: Dave Cawley Doug and Rhonda Lovell likely traveled this road through the Monte Cristo Range of Rich County, Utah, in the fall of 1985, before snows closed the route for winter. Photo: Dave Cawley Streams from several canyons flow into Causey Reservoir in northern Utah. Could one of those canyons be the final resting place of Joyce Yost? Photo: Dave Cawley Multiple tips mentioned the area near Causey Reservoir, seen here, as a possible final resting place for Joyce Yost, who disappeared in August 1985. Photo: Dave Cawley The Eccles Building as seen in downtown Ogden. Rhonda Lovell worked here in the spring of 1986.  Photo: Dave Cawley

More leads and tips

Two years to the day after the rape of Joyce Yost, on April 3, 1987, an unidentified man called the Weber County Sheriff’s Office to report the discovery of a body. He wanted to know how to reach Crimestoppers to report the discovery and location.

“Way up, you know, it’s way out, you know, it’s not in the communities or anything. It’s way out in the hills,” the man said. 

He described the location as 2 or 3 miles into the mountains behind the Causey Reservoir dam. Because of a purse nearby, he believed the body to be that of a woman. 

The dispatcher pressed him for more information about the location, but when she put him on hold to get an investigator, the man hung up. 

One of the canyons near Causey Reservoir reaches to the base of Monte Cristo, the same area where a wildlife officer had stopped Doug and Rhonda Lovell in fall 1985. The caller did not indicate which canyon he might have meant. 

Deputies went out to the area around the dam, combing the area, to no avail. They could not find a body. A Utah Crime Solvers segment offering a reward based on the tip also came up empty. 

A new detective and a strange tip

When South Ogden promoted Brad Birch to lieutenant near the end of 1987, a new detective took over in leading the investigation into the disappearance of Joyce Yost.

Terry Carpenter was familiar with the case, having performed some tangental tasks during the early phases of the investigation. He re-established contact with Yost’s daughter, Kim Salazar. 

“Things had gotten very stagnant until he took over,” Kim Salazar said later. 

“Not that anybody had done anything wrong,” Carpenter added. “They’d exhausted about everything that they could.” 

But in spring 1988, Carpenter received a phone call that changed the direction of the case. A woman, identifying herself only as George, called to ask if the Yost investigation remained open. Yes, because investigators could not conclude what had happened to her, Carpenter told her. 

‘George’ said she knew another woman who’d possibly witnessed the crime.

“She was murdered by some — a friend of the guy that raped her, who paid someone to kill her. And she was, she was tortured, and um, killed in a satanic ritual,” the woman said. 

She didn’t offer more information about where the body of Joyce Yost might be, but said it had been burned, the remains scattered. 

The search continues for body of Joyce Yost 

Five years after Joyce Yost disappeared, the anniversary of the tragedy brought fresh news coverage and attention on the case. A different woman saw those reports and reached out to Carpenter. She told Carpenter about a friend of hers who supposedly belonged to a satanic coven. 

“She never went into detail,” the woman told him. “I know that she still had a goblet and candles and things that they used to use. They used to meet there at this house all the time.” 

This anonymous woman claimed the leader of the coven was a friend of Lovell’s, who agreed to kill Yost on Lovell’s behalf. According to the tipster, the coven drove the body up Weber Canyon, disposing of it along an old dirt road. 

The account matched the one provided years earlier by the caller identified as ‘George.’ But it also matched, perhaps a little too well, reports of ritualistic abuse and killings that became part of the so-called “satanic panic” media frenzy of the 1980s and ’90s. Television reports warned of allegations against day-care centers, which later were proven false. In at least one highly publicized example, three teens wrongfully convicted of homicide ultimately spent 18 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. 

But Carpenter resolved to check out the tips, credible or not. 

“You want to either prove or disprove every possible lead that you can come on,” Carpenter said. 

Still no body in Joyce Yost case

Carpenter determined ‘George’ was likely the psychologist who’d treated the so-called coven member, a woman named Barbara. While in therapy, the psychologist had helped Barbara recover memories of a ritualistic murder involving a petite, blonde woman like Joyce Yost. 

The challenge: Barbara had dissociative identity disorder, which is what some people would call multiple personalities. Carpenter needed to meet with both Barbara and her psychologist, but more specifically, he needed to interview the specific persona with the memory.

The interview done, Carpenter and a crime scene team checked out the area around the supposed coven house. 

“I took canines in. I took cadaver dogs in there,” he said. 

They found traces of blood, but not human blood — most likely that of a chicken. The team sent a chip of bone found in a nearby gravel pit off for forensic testing, but it came back inconclusive. 

If the coven existed, and if they had any involvement in the death of Joyce Yost, the evidence would not support that conclusion.

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.

Free resources and help with sexual abuse are available 24/7 at RAINN.org.  You can also call 800-856-HOPE (4673).

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Many leads but no answers in search for body of Joyce Yost