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Chubbuck man arrested after remains of woman missing for 4 years found in Wyoming

Crime Watch

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Joann Hakes | Courtesy Laura Lee Jones

ETNA, Wyo. (SVI Media) — The remains of a Wyoming woman missing since January 2015 have been found on a property near Etna.

“Upon investigation by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, Wyoming State Crime Lab, and the Lincoln County Coroner’s Office, those remains have been positively identified as the remains of missing person Joann Hakes,” Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred said. “Ms. Hakes was last seen on Jan. 3, 2015, near Thayne.”

After the find, authorities from Idaho and Wyoming executed a search warrant for an apartment in Chubbuck and an arrest warrant for Ronald Todd Weerheim for first-degree felony murder, second-degree murder and kidnapping, according to a sheriff’s office news release.

Weerheim is being held in the Bannock County Detention Center awaiting extradition to Lincoln County. An extradition hearing was held Tuesday.

“We anticipate that transfer occurring in the next few days,” Allred said.

The Star Valley Independent first ran a story about the disappearance of Hakes on Jan. 19, 2015.

Hakes was 43 years old when she disappeared. Her last known location was Thayne.

By March 2015, there had been no significant developments in the case. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office continued to investigate and asked for the Star Valley community to share any information they might have on the whereabouts of Hakes.

“With this case, it was several days before the sheriff’s office got involved,” said Lincoln County Sheriff Shane Johnson. “A couple of individuals who work for us and spent some time on Facebook saw some postings about a mom that had gone missing, and we started asking if this was maybe something that we should be involved in, and so we pursued it.”

“Of course there are the questions you have to ask about the missing person,” Johnson said. “In this country, an adult female has every right to go off and disappear if they want to. So we had to look at that as well.”

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office searched for evidence, conducted interviews and completed the necessary paperwork to get Hakes into the computer system so that she would be flagged as a missing person if she showed up anywhere in the United States or Canada.

The case remained open and under investigation. Eventually, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office contacted the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigations to see if that would lead to any additional information in the case.

“Two years ago we asked DCI to get involved and utilize their resources and expertise and equipment, which are some things that we don’t have here locally,” said Johnson. “We have been working on this nationwide. We have contacted groups of people and organizations that focus on missing persons. There was a podcast done about Joann. And with that comes calls from all over the country from people reporting that they have something to share.”

The tips included everything from psychics to sightings in various cities around the country. Still, no answers turned up that would lead to solving the mystery and closing the case.

Then, in the spring of 2019, weather patterns and a little luck came into play.

“Without going into too much detail, Joann’s remains were found in a shallow grave,” said Johnson. “There was some luck as well as circumstances created by the weather and some earth movement that lead to the discovery of those remains.”

Work to identify the remains began.

“We thought we knew what we had, and I want to emphasize that throughout this investigation, both before and after the remains were located, that we stayed in contact with the family,” said Johnson. “We didn’t want to blindside them with the events that were taking place.”

DNA analysis confirmed the suspicions that Joann Hakes had been found at last. With that confirmation came a rush to secure search and arrest warrants for Weerheim.

“He was Joann’s boyfriend at the time of her disappearance,” said Allred. “She was living with him at that time. Connecting him with her disappearance was really the result of four years of investigation by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. They have really worked hard on this, and so once we had her remains and confirmation that it was indeed Joann Hakes, we were able to get those warrants and make the arrest.”

“The charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and kidnapping are allegations at this point and still have to be proven in the court,” Allred said. “That will happen in the coming months.”

For the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and the family and friends of Joann Hakes, the discovery of her remains closes a difficult chapter.

“This case has just been hanging out there,” said Johnson. “We thought we knew kind of what had happened this whole time. But knowing it and proving it are two different things. Hopefully, this discovery will bring some closure to the family. There is always a sigh of relief even though maybe things didn’t turn out the way you hoped that they would.”