Correspondent Peter Van Sant reports on the
investigation and subsequent trial.
Howard and Barbara Pepper have always believed their
only child, a daughter, was living proof that miracles
do happen: The couple was married for 10 years, and
Barbara says she didn’t think they were going to be able
to have children until she got pregnant with Stephanie.
Stephanie grew up in tiny Jonesboro, La. The daughter of
two teachers, Stephanie was at the head of the class, a
talented writer who also loved to sing.
“When she came into a room, it just it's like somebody
turned on a light," her father recalls. "She would tell
me, “Mama, you're my best friend," her mother added.
"She never failed calling every day."
Stephanie was at the heart of her parents' lives, and
they admit they spoiled her a bit. But all that love
paid off. She graduated with honors from college, and
followed in her parent’s footsteps, becoming an English
instructor at Louisiana Tech University.
She had everything, except a serious relationship in her
life. But at age 25, that was about to change.
Stephanie caught the eye of a local accountant, David
Sims. Ten years her senior, David was a former student
of her father's.
"She was attractive, talented, intelligent. She just had
everything," David remembers.
On Feb. 27, 1999, after dating for just six months,
David and Stephanie married. But the honeymoon didn’t
last. Barbara says it was "not very long" before
Stephanie told her there were problems in the marriage.
David insisted on separate bank accounts. "He set up
separate bank accounts and she had to keep separate
receipts,” Barbara explains. "She didn't like that."
David says he went over receipts for everything and
admits he is rigid and could be controlling. He also
acknowledges that it could drive his wife a little nuts.
About two years into the marriage, David says they
stopped communicating. Pretty soon, it wasn't just the
checking accounts they were keeping separate — David
says they started sleeping in separate beds.
"I remember one time she said something about being
lonely. And I said, ‘Boo, 'I'm right here.’ And she
said, ‘David, we can be in the same room together and I
can still be lonely,'" he recalls.
It was now November 2002, and Stephanie confided in her
good friend Ginger Steward that she was unhappy.
"I think she had always done everything by the rules,
exactly the way that she was supposed to do it — that
everyone expected her to do — and I think she did want
something exciting," Ginger explains.
One night after finals week at Louisiana Tech, Stephanie
joined Ginger at a local bar, even though she didn’t
drink. Ginger says they were having a chat when a man
named Wayne Guidry Jr. sat down and introduced himself.
"He said he was a professional golfer and he was on his
off-season from that so he was hunting," Ginger
remembers. "I thought he was sort of a smooth-talking
guy and I just didn’t like that.”
But Ginger says Stephanie seemed fascinated with Guidry.
“She seemed to really like him, and he seemed to really
like her too," Ginger recalls.
Ginger says Guidry swept Stephanie off her feet. "She
had told me that they had spent pretty much the whole
weekend together," she says.
After a few days, Ginger says she could sense that her
friend was in love.
Less than a week
after meeting this handsome golfer, Stephanie
told her husband that she wanted to separate.
"She said, 'David, I lived with mom and dad.
Then I met you and I moved in with you.' She
said, 'I have never learned how to stand on my
own two feet.' And when she said that, I got
it,” David recalls.
By giving Stephanie some space, David hoped he
could save their marriage. He even helped
Stephanie move into her own apartment.
Despite her moving out, David says he was holding out
hope the marriage would survive. But Stephanie failed to
tell her husband that the real reason for the separation
was Wayne Guidry.
"It was Wayne's idea," says Ginger. "I think he
definitely pushed her to do that. She wouldn't have done
it so quickly on her own.”
Stephanie remained in occasional contact with David, but
was having trouble keeping her affair private.
"We were sitting together on the couch and she got a
call on her cell phone and it was a man’s voice. And I
asked her who it was and she said, it was Ginger," David
recalls. "It was clear to me it was a male voice."
Besides hearing the male voice, David also found another
man's hat in the trunk of Stephanie’s car.
"It was a golf hat," he explains. "And I asked, 'Well,
who's is that?' And she said, 'Oh, that's Daddy’s.' I
knew it wasn't her dad's, but I didn't question it."
For five weeks, Stephanie lived a double life, with a
secret lover in a shared apartment and a husband left
alone to worry about what was really going on.
On Jan. 5, 2003, Stephanie's mom got a terrible feeling
when her daily telephone calls from Stephanie abruptly
stopped. Barbara's premonition was right — Stephanie had
The missing persons case was assigned to lead detective
Jeff Terrell, who first focused his attention on David
Sims. He considered a jealous husband situation as a
possible motive in the disappearance.
Before Stephanie disappeared, Ginger says, she was
struggling with her secret life and says not a lot of
people knew of the affair.
Stephanie's mother, Barbara, knew only that her daughter
had a new friend and says she didn't think it was
anything more than a friendship.
Then, on the morning Stephanie failed to show up at
Louisiana Tech to teach her class, the Peppers went to
their daughter's new apartment looking for her. Minutes
later, the phone rang. It was Wayne.
"He said, 'This is Wayne. Where's Stephanie?'" Barbara
recalls. "And I said, 'Well, we're here looking for her.
That's what we'd like to know. Have you seen her?' And
he said, 'Yes, I saw her last night.'" She says Wayne
As the days went by, with no sign of Stephanie, her
parents became desperate. Hundreds of people were now
searching for the 29-year-old college professor.
Terrell first questioned David. "He was obviously real
concerned about Stephanie. He didn’t know where she
could be," Terrell remembers. The detective says he
believed David, who had passed a polygraph test.
Terrell then conducted a series of interviews with
Guidry, the last person to see Stephanie alive.
The detective says Guidry’s rambling answers raised red
flags. "We knew that something had happened," Terrell
Guidry was changing his story. During the police
interviews, there were a lot of inconsistencies.
Something else troubled Terrell: unusual purchases on
Stephanie's credit card the weekend she disappeared —
nearly $5,000 worth of golf clothing and equipment, all
for delivery to Guidry.
On the very day Stephanie’s parents reported her
missing, Guidry cashed a $3,000 check Stephanie had made
out to him.
"You know, $3,000, that's a large amount of money,
especially to her. She just doesn't spend money like
that, and it just didn’t make sense," Terrell points
Then Wayne left town, heading home to Luling, La., just
outside New Orleans. He went straight to see his
lifelong friend, Erik Dufrene.
Erik and Wayne grew up playing Little League together.
As adults, they became hunting and golfing buddies.
"He was a nice guy. Very competitive, just like me,"
says Erik. "He strived to be the best golfer he could
be. He wanted it be his livelihood."
Erik says Wayne came knocking on the door and told him
Stephanie had gone missing. Erik says he thought Wayne
was in love with her.
"I asked him if he had any idea where she might be. And
he'd mentioned maybe somewhere with some friends in
Tennessee or just that she needed a break," Erik
Was Wayne worried about Stephanie?
"Yeah, he looked worried," Erik says.
But the worried look quickly wore off, Erik says. "It
kind of got to me that he would go play golf everyday.
I'd be more concerned. I'd be more involved," he says.
In fact, Erik was about to become involved.
Investigators approached him, hoping he might provide
clues to prove their developing theory that Wayne had
What was his reaction?
"I was shocked, in disbelief because I didn't want to
believe it.," he says. "They asked me if I knew of any
areas where he might have dumped the body. So I just
showed them areas on the map where we hunted. …
Jackson-Bienville, the management area."
Investigators knew Wayne liked the outdoors and
sometimes took Stephanie into the woods to make love.
Erik had a vague memory of a place in the woods that
fascinated Wayne: a hole in the ground, somewhere in the
preserve. "He found it to be, kind of neat. I just saw
it as a hole in the ground," Erik says.
So Terrell turned to another man who had often hunted
with Wayne: his own father, Wayne Guidry Sr.
"Mr. Guidry was concerned about Stephanie being
missing," Terrell remembers. "Whenever we put forth the
question, you know, if Wayne Jr. did something to her in
the wildlife management area, what would he have done
with her? So, you know, Mr. Guidry was thinking. And
there was a pause. Then he said, 'You know, Wayne did
mention this hole that he found out in the middle of the
woods like a year ago. He told us what road it was off
of, a little logging road.'"
Wayne's father then drew a map, marking the approximate
location of the hole with an X.
Investigators had long suspected that Stephanie was
somewhere in this vast wildlife refuge. Now, with a
hand-drawn map from Wayne’s father, they could finally
focus their search. About 150 people hiked through the
woods, side by side, until they found the hole, the one
that had so fascinated Wayne Guidry Jr. At the bottom of
this old, abandoned well, hidden beneath some brush, was
the decaying body of Stephanie Pepper Sims.
A warrant was issued immediately for Guidry, and within
hours, he was arrested 300 miles away on a New Orleans
"I love Stephanie and her family, and I didn't kill
Stephanie," says Guidry Jr., who swears he is innocent.
"So you tell me it's just a coincidence that her body
ends up in the hole that you had pointed out to your
good friend; the hole that your own father knew about?"
Van Sant asked.
"I don't if — if that’s the same hole. I don’t know,"
"It is the same hole," Van Sant said.
"Well if based on your word, then I would say yeah, it's
a coincidence," Guidry said.
Guidry says his affair with Stephanie was overwhelming,
right from the start.
"Why do you get emotional when you're thinking about
this?" Van Sant asked.
"It changed my life. It wasn't just a need for sex. It
was a need for a relationship that was romantic and
passionate," Guidry replied.
But Guidry also had other needs. He was out of work —
and Stephanie's friend Ginger says he did not contribute
anything, financially speaking, to the relationship.
Guidry was happy to be a kept man. While Stephanie went
to work, he stayed in her apartment, spending hours on
"I was addicted to pornography and golf. That's the
honest answer I can give you," he says.
Guidry says Stephanie knew he was doing this and says
she was ready to divorce her husband. "She kept saying,
'Well, we're going to get a divorce. It's just going to
take time.' I was very satisfied with the relationship
that I was in with Stephanie," he says.
Guidry was satisfied — but was Stephanie?
"She would come into school and be tired and she would
tell me than she was up fighting with Wayne," Ginger
recalls. "It sounded like the fights were just nasty."
On the last day Stephanie was seen alive, Guidry says
they spent a typical Sunday afternoon together.
"We had sex that day. Then we left, decided we were just
gonna go for a drive … there's a little store that we
went to," he recalls.
Store clerk Sarah Fitzpatrick remembers Stephanie coming
in that Sunday and that everything seemed fine.
"She came in and said 'Hey,' and we said 'Hey, how ya
doing,' and she left…," Fitzpatrick remembers.
That night, Guidry claims that he and Stephanie had an
argument and that Stephanie threw him out of the
apartment. He says he drove around in her white Ford
Taurus all night long, until morning.
"I brought it back at about 7:15 (a.m.), which was
usually the time she leaves to go to work…but there was
nobody at the apartment," says Guidry.
Part-time cop and full-time prosecutor Hugo Holland says
that's a lie.
"I'm gonna maintain that Stephanie's dead at the bottom
of the hole long before this argument takes place," he
Holland’s theory of the crime is that right after the
stop at the convenience store, Guidry took Stephanie
into the woods and shot her.
"I don’t know if Wayne shot Stephanie as soon as she got
out of the car, or somehow got her to walk into the
woods with him. Bottom line is, he was looking at her
and she was looking at him when she was shot. He dumps
her in the hole in the woods, and then he drives back to
the apartment," says Holland.
But how can Holland convince a jury? There were no
eyewitnesses to the crime.
"That computer is what will allow me to prove that Wayne
Guidry is a liar, bold-face liar," Holland explains.
A forensic examination of the hard drive in Stephanie’s
computer revealed that during the exact time period
Guidry says he was driving around after Stephanie kicked
him out of the apartment, someone was in the apartment
surfing the Web for 11 hours.
"The person that was on the Internet was ordering golf
supplies, looking at golf supplies, and looking at
pornography. It wasn’t Stephanie," says Holland.
As for the $3,000 check Stephanie gave Guidry the day
before she disappeared, Howard Pepper thinks his
daughter may have been trying to get rid of him at that
time. "And she thought 'Well, it's worth $3,000 to get
him out of my life," he says.
But Guidry says that's not what it was. He says there’s
nothing sinister about cashing the check and leaving
"I’m heading home to get my vehicle outta repair," he
"How do you leave and head for southern Louisiana on a
day in which the woman you love has gone missing?" Van
"Well, I didn’t know she was missing until I was already
on the road," Guidry replied.
Guidry acknowledges cashing the check and leaving town
"You know that Stephanie is missing, and you continue on
your trip to southern Louisiana?" Van Sant asked.
"Yeah, and I'm not tryin' to water this down like I was,
like I did anything that was acceptable. Because it
probably, it definitely wasn't," Guidry replied.
Guidry now admits he may be guilty of bad manners — but
not of murder. He says he had nothing to do with
Stephanie's murder and doesn't know who killed her.
It could have been almost anyone, says Guidry, including
Stephanie’s husband, David. "He didn't know my name and
he didn't know who I was. But I believe he knew she was
having a relationship with somebody," he says.
But David says he didn't know that Guidry was seeing
Stephanie until Jan. 6, 2003, the day after his
estranged wife disappeared.
David, Holland says, was at first a suspect but was
ruled out as the investigation moved forward.
Meanwhile, Guidry, who maintained his innocence, asked
why he would kill the one woman who really loved him. "I
met with a person who didn't care about what — my past
or what mistakes I made or whether I was smart enough or
good looking enough, you know. She was interested in the
man inside of me. Not just what people see," he says.
Barbara Pepper will be haunted forever by her daughter's
last phone call. "She had talked to Wayne and he told
her he had a surprise for her, and he wanted her to come
back to West Monroe. So she said, 'I guess I’ll go see
but I'll call you and let you know what it is,'" she
Her daughter never called back. The surprise, Guidry
says, was a lunch of venison and nachos.
But Terry Coleman, who was locked up with Guidry in a
cell, says Guidry was cooking up more than lunch that
day. The surprise, says Coleman, was a plan to lure
Stephanie out into the woods.
"And so he tells you he heads out to the woods. What
does he do?" Van Sant asked Coleman.
"They parked where they had met before they get out of
the car and go walking in the woods," he says.
Coleman says Guidry then made a deadly proposal:
marriage or murder. "He produces the gun. Tells her
she's either going to marry him or he's gonna kill her.
But anyway, he shot her," Coleman claims.
Coleman says Guidry told him he used Stephanie's own gun
to kill her and then picked her up and threw her into a
Guidry says he knew Stephanie had a gun, a Larson .25
caliber semi-automatic handgun, but doesn't know where
that missing weapon is today.
Stephanie's father, Howard Pepper, says he bought his
daughter a .25 caliber pistol for target practice. "I
sometimes feel I’m partially responsible for her death
because of that," he says.
Pepper says he is "almost positive" that Stephanie was
murdered with the gun he gave her.
Coleman says Guidry told him that he disposed of the gun
by throwing it into a pond. In an eight page,
handwritten letter he provided to investigators, Coleman
detailed Guidry’s alleged confession.
"I've never had a case where the only direct evidence is
from a crazy guy that's got murder charges pending
against him," says Holland, who admits that Coleman, who
has been found to be both mentally competent and
incompetent at various times, will be a tough sell to a
"I had described him as crazy as an outhouse rat. He is,
he's crazy," says Holland.
But Holland believes that in this case, Coleman, who was
not offered a deal to come forward, is credible. "As
crazy as he is, and even though he's got first-degree
murder charges pending against him, the fact is there
are details in the letter that could only be obtained
from the mouth of the killer," he explains.
"Terry, could it be you are as crazy as an outhouse
rat?" Van Sant asked Coleman.
"I suppose so," Coleman replied, laughing. "If I am, I
don't know it. I really don't know. If I'm insane, I
don't know it."
"So, what you’re telling me is that you’re an honest
man, but you wouldn’t necessarily believe what comes out
of your own mouth?" Van Sant asked.
"No, I wouldn’t. If I was a juror, no, I wouldn’t take
their word," he answered.
"Are we supposed to believe you, or not?" Van Sant
"That’s up to you," Coleman replied.
But Guidry denies shooting Stephanie and dumping her
body in the hole.
Joseph Clark, Guidry’s court-appointed attorney, says
relying on a jailhouse snitch shows that Holland doesn’t
have any solid proof against his client. "There is no
evidence hanging out that says Wayne Guidry or anyone
else," says Clark. "There is no evidence of who killed
Clark thinks there's reasonable doubt.
At the historic courthouse in Homer, La., a jury would
hear the arguments over who is responsible for the death
of Stephanie Pepper Sims.
Holland presented his key witnesses, Det. Jeff Terrell,
Ginger Steward, Erik Dufrene and Wayne Guidry, Sr.,
hoping to convince the jury that the only man with a
motive for murder was Wayne Guidry, Jr.
Jurors also would hear from Terry Coleman, Guidry's
former cellmate, who would provide them with his unique
perspective as the man Guidry supposedly confessed to.
But Guidry denies confessing to Coleman. "I mean, he’s a
very strange character, he’s very unique. It sounds like
something he’d come up with."
Clark told the jury Coleman couldn’t be trusted. He also
said police failed to properly investigate David Sims.
"Their approach to David Sims was to find something that
in their mind allowed them to exonerate him and move him
out of the picture so that they could then focus purely
on Wayne Guidry," claims Clark.
But the prosecution presented compelling evidence.
Computer records showed Guidry was surfing the net the
night he claimed Stephanie threw him out; credit-card
purchases and cashing a $3,000 check from Stephanie
after she went missing were also damaging; and most
important, that hole in the woods where Stephanie’s body
"So, ultimately, as the jurors go to deliberate, it all
comes down to that hole in the ground?" Van Sant asked
"That’s a very fair assessment of the case," Clark
"I don’t care how much explaining or talking a defense
lawyer does, there’s no way around it. Wayne Guidry was
fascinated with that hole in the middle of the woods.
Eric Dufrene knew about it. And more importantly,
Wayne’s daddy knew about it," prosecutor Holland said.
The trial lasted for seven days. The jury came back in
just two hours with their verdict: guilty.
Guidry told Van Sant he would accept the verdict but
denied he is a guilty man. "I can’t let this destroy my
life. I have a life to live and I can still be a success
as a man, as a Christian man, still even if I’m in
prison however long that will be," he says.
When sentencing time came, Guidry, 31, was sentenced to
life in prison without possibility of parole.
"The most important piece of evidence, the most
important testimony, the most important thing in this
whole case was Wayne Guidry Sr. But for the honesty and
the integrity of that man we may never have found
Stephanie’s body," says Holland.
For Howard and Barbara Pepper, the nightmare was also
over. "She lived a full life, and she made many
contributions, we’re still proud of her," Howard Pepper
Asked if justice had been served, Pepper said, "I
believe that with all my heart."
"Every now and then for a few seconds I experience the
full impact of what’s happened, and that’s truly
horrifying," says David Sims, who still misses her a
lot. "Just having a pal. She was my best friend. She
always came across sweet, bubbly, and those are the
things that/you remember."
But one question remains: motive. Holland says Wayne
Guidry may have answered that early on.
Wayne Guidry said in one of his statements to police "I
wanted to have what her and David had.”
"Wayne Guidry coveted what David Sims had. He wanted
David’s money. He wanted David’s wife," says Holland.
Just last month, at the First Baptist Church in
Jonesboro, a piano was dedicated in Stephanie’s memory…
"I just miss her so much. Just seein' her and hearin'
her voice. If I could just hear her voice," her mother
"No parent is ever supposed to bury a child. That's
never supposed to happen," says Holland. "I'm really big
on retributive justice. What would be fair is if the
state of Louisiana to be able to take Wayne’s life like
he took Stephanie's. That can't happen. The best I can
hope for is that he has to think about what he's done
everyday for the rest of his life."