tv Dateline MSNBC July 24, 2021 11:00pm-12:00am PDT
perfect perfect punishment to my father would be to write a sentence about my mother every week so he would have to think about her and i can remember her again. >> that's all for this edition of dateline i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching with. with. i'm craig melvin, >> and i'm natalie morales >> and this is deadline. >> i'm here. asking for help. >> it was like hearing a ghost, a voice from beyond the grave. >> there is no way i can go back. >> can she help solve her own murder? who >> so surreal. this is something that happens to other people, not to you. >> she was a dancer who married a dashing photographer. they seemed a perfect family
until the bone chilling night she went missing. >> you could see the body underneath the snow. >> where was her husband that night? >> my attorney said you don't know the -- >> it seems like it's always the husband, right? isn't that what police usually say? except this time, they were not so sure. >> it's a who done it? i had three viable suspects. >> three possible suspects. the victim also had a boyfriend and he had a wife. >> everyone starts getting question. >> husband, boyfriend, jealous spouse. >> i said something like, i hope she rocks in hell. >> so what did happen that snowy white knight? see what you think. because the most important clue of all may be the victim's own voice. >> i knew there was a line to draw. hello and welcome to dateline.
stephanie and her husband appeared to have the picture perfect family, they fell in love in the colorado rockies where they settled with their three kids and ran successful photography business. then one frigid night, yale said his wife walked out of their house and never returned. investigators quickly discovered the grieving husband was not the only man in her life. there were three potential suspects. police needed to focus on stephanie's life to figure out who may have caused her death. here's keith morrison with secrets in the snow. we >> it was cold the night it happened so very cold. a night to be inside by a fireplace, tucked under a quilt. not outside in the frigid dark. not way up here, 9000 feet up in the colorado mountains, thick all snow ready thick
about november night. 24 below. >> i don't know enough to know exactly what happened, i'm still trying to figure it out. >> what in god's name was his wife doing, walking out in the brutal cold, and what's happened to her? this middle class married mother of three, where did she go? without a word to him, or her friends. >> i can't imagine that this is happening to you and to your friend. >> she was just playing missing. >> yes she was. and it was terrifying, dreadful in the end. and those events were about to prove a shocking lesson about what can remain hidden under a person's skin. >> everybody has secrets of course. stephanie's secrets lived as she did in the skiers paradise. they met at the top of a mountain.
bill bill bruner lee was taking photographs of skiing skiers. people have to make a living, and for bill, skiers were. it >> i love to take photos, of buffaloes. but buffaloes don't carry credit cards. >> anyway, it was up there in the mountain -- seem to be conducting some forestry service survey. >> i skied up to her and i said what are you doing, writing parking tickets? >> and she looked up at me and smiled. >> and then she took off her big ski goggles. >> i was stunned and i thought wow she is beautiful. >> they moved in together right away and when they got married, a few years later, they eloped. they get it off to fiji. it was so, stephanie, said her friend. >> yes that went off and did it. >> they made their home wear dave's foot a brusqueness grew and grew. >> i had several operations in several states across the
country. around 25 photographers working. >> stephanie got a job in environmental planning department for the government. they raised their three young children. >> awesome children, the best. >> smile. >> we and life, for the bruner family was -- >> fantastic. we traveled, vacationed. we >> but it was in her spare moments that stephanie was truly transformed. a ballroom dancer. >> dancing was probably to her wet photography is to me. >> our guest star, bill, -- >> it was her passions, that her old friend bill. >> he knows flamingo. >> stephanie loved to dance. dance was her life. she was alive when she danced. >> hardly surprising then that stephanie and jennifer were close to. >> we started a ballroom dance program together. pretty soon she would be doing back flips. we >> but it was dance that led off the whole cascade of
trouble. in the fall of 2010, there is an annual fund raiser here in silver throat thorn called dancing with -- locals paired with ballroom pros. >> did you go? >> absolutely. i went to three years of them. the last one i did not go to. >> at a wedding to shoot. >> so he missed the chance to watch stephanie will teach those left footed businessmen the foxtrot, the tango, and so on. which means he also must wet happened that night. >> she coached a number of couples, and in the process she met with a man may name drawn. >> with ron holthaus, a local man, married physical therapist. >> she started working with him and getting to know him and she really did call it a true love moment. >> did he feel the same way about her? >> they really clicked together. >> stephanie was dancing on air.
>> she didn't realize there could be love like that. >> a secret from her family, of course. but she told her friends she found her soulmate. >> it was almost odd how she told a number of us that, i just want you to know that i'm very happy. >> but joy and missouri come in pairs, sometimes. as thanksgiving approached, chaos took over what had been a well ordered life. it was a wednesday middle of october when things started piling up. >> horrendous day for her, the. >> he? cause >> she went to work that day and the county laid off 25 people. >> including stephanie. stephanie's troubles and her secrets seem to pile up like the snow. >> she was behaving a little strangely. >> a little unpredictable? >> yes. >> it was thanksgiving week, that cold, dark night. we are not far away from peaceful silver thrown, we someone robbed a bank. a very rare thing here.
bill wasn't bed, he said, when stephanie announced that she was going out to clear head. and then didn't come back. the morning, gayle called the silver thorn police. >> i want made a report that -- we >> it was a records that veronica we nicholas took the call. >> he said i got ready ready for school, we've got him ready on the bus, and then i thought i should call you guys. >> stephanie's car was in the driveway and when he called her phone it went straight to voice mail. britannica called stephanie's best friend, jennifer. >> i panicked, this is something that happens to other people, not to you. >> oh but it had happened. as the silver thorn police checked local hospitals, they scan the neighborhood. >> it seems unbelievable that stephanie had not checked. in we >> the day became two, and three. and some private secrets were about to become very public
indeed. >> where was stephanie? police had a lot of questions for her husband dale, they also wanted to talk to that other man in her life. her boyfriend, ron. coming up. >> i just want to ask straight-up again, not accusing you, do you know where stephanie is right now? >> when dateline continues. hen dateline continues people!!! less with the puns. more about the moms. they want healthy, affordable options. moms want to save that dough. hold onto that green. enough with the puns! land o'frost premium. fresh look. same great taste.
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cried out the windows and looked under the door frames here at the bruner house and silver thorn colorado. certainly not a night to take a nightly walk. and had she heard or suffer did someone else heard her? it was not like stephanie bruner to disappear. >> it seemed more likely that it would be a stranger involved or stephanie herself might have just runoff and despair and maybe herself. >> stephanie's friends and
family poured over those last few weeks full of change, secrecy, in turmoil. where they're clues? of course, some knew about stephanie's relationship with a new man and how upset she was about losing her job. still, she seemed to be holding the trouble at bay. six weeks before she disappeared, as dale recalled, she suggested a family holiday. >> she said let's go to glen wood springs for the weekend. a classical, wonderful place. >> and it was almost romantic, said dale. just like the old days. but when they came back, she gave him the news. >> she goes, i want to divorce. >> i said, you don't love me anymore? and she said i met this other person. it's not that i don't love you, but i think i have met my soulmate again. >> and just like that, dale's world came crashing down. >> i called her brother, i called her sister's, i called her mom. i said, do you know what's going on? do you know what's happening? >> he talked to her sister,
ramona. >> i remember during the phone call feeling really annoyed, like why are you trying to swim me to your side. and then when the phone call and, it i thought, what is staff doing? >> he begged jennifer to say, with something. >> you have to talk some sense into her, you have to make or stay with me. >> did you know this was coming? >> no not until she told me she was in the somebody. >> hopelessly in love, she told him. that night she met -- >> i asked stephanie if i should've met with -- >> it was a curiously old-fashioned affair, apparently. stephanie told her friends her feelings were not so much physical as pure. and emotional. but she made it clear to dale that, even though she still
loved him, she had no choice but to follow these powerful feelings. and make a life with that new man. >> i said if this is what you want, this is what you want. >> they would share the children, of course. dale the family house, stephanie in a rented condo. the weekend before she disappeared, he helped to move out. >> she asked me to help. isn't that what you do? i didn't follow out of love with her, i still loved her. >> and then, middle of the night, her very first night away. dale says he woke up to a commotion downstairs. it was stephanie. she crawled back into bed with him. >> she had come. oh >> wow. >> she said this was all a horrible mistake and that she wanted to move back in. >> and i say, are you sure? she said don't worry everything is fine. >> but now, just two days later, things were not fine. not at all. stephanie was missing. and dale was down at the police department telling officers where he thought his wife might
have gone. >> i thought she would go somewhere with her wi-fi, to be on the computer, and my other guest was to maybe she went to ron's house. i didn't know. >> the police interviewed the other man, of course. ron holthaus. >> i just want to ask straight-up again, not accusing you, do you know where stephanie is right now? >> i have no idea. >> ron admitted, he and stephanie had a romantic relationship but he denied the other slept together. >> we never ended up having sex. >> and ron told them something very interesting. that he had ended the affair. it was the night she moved into the condo, she took he told them. he said to stephanie, it was over. >> and i said i'm going to move to florida with my wife. we are going to try to go back to naples and make this work. >> do you have any reason to believe that anything bad may have happened to her? >> that would be my worst fear.
>> thanksgiving day came, went, no stephanie. and overstretched local police force called the colorado bureau of investigations. greg saidar was the one who answered the call. he was soon at the river and start at what looked like a lump of snow and rocks. >> you could see the body underneath the snow. >> it was stephanie, hole right. but how did she end up here? the >> dateline returns after the break. the break.
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found stephanie nude but for a tie-dye shirt clumped to her body. >> it was just a little bit further beyond that where the water gets calm that we located her. >> just around that second band? there >> yes sir. >> she hadn't gone far. agent greg saidar -- >> how far from her house? >> off the top of my head, 350 yards. >> the new spread fast. >> today investigators say they have found a body -- >> it was a pretty bad day. >> your heart drops. let's find out what happened to her along with humongous sadness. >> the county corner brook out the news. >> basically we need to tell you something, and i'm like, what? and i just ended up in convulsions. >> but how did she get here? was it suicide, accident, or murder? there is a bridge just upstream from the place they found
stephanie's body. dale told police she had often like to walk their. >> she could've been attacked on this bridge and shoved over. >> that was one of our early fears. >> or did she simply commit suicide, jumped in the water, head or head, and that was that. >> that was also another legitimate consideration. >> so that's the puzzle? >> it is. >> until, four days after thanksgiving when the autopsy revealed and curious detail. one that seemed to rule out suicide. >> there was no wounds at all to the souls of her feet. >> what did that mean? >> that certainly means that she did not walk to where we had found her without shoes. >> and just in case there was any lingering doubt, the autopsy also revealed she had taken a blow to the head, and then she had been strangled, but was still alive when she was thrown into the freezing water. the ultimate cause of death was hypothermia and drowning. >> we knew at that point she
had been murdered. >> first murder and silver thorn and decades. but who would do such a thing? and why? it was just hours before stephanie took her walk in this virtually crime free community that somebody robbed that nearby bank. so did the robber, later encounter stephanie and then assault and kill her? >> this is where predator could've been hiding out. any number of opportunities at that point. >> still, it was so cold, perhaps too cold, for a lurking predator. >> it is one of those few cases where it's a who done it, if you will. and you have at least three viable suspects. >> anyone of whom had potential motives? >> absolutely. >> it was fronds holthaus the other man who had suddenly dumped stephanie. there was stephanie, ron's wife, who, if she knew about the affair, could've wanted revenge.
and then there was dale, dale bruner, the husband. and any one of them, felt the detective, was physically capable of committing the crime. >> her husband, six foot, 200 pound, very athletic guy. and mr. holthaus, a big strong guy. and his wife was a very physically fit woman. >> so she would be outgunned by any one of them? >> i would believe so, yes sir. >> they took ron in for questioning several times. and, again and again, he insisted it wasn't him. >> i screwed up my marriage. i made a mess of my life. >> he admitted that in the last hours of stephanie's life he met her here in this clothing store parking lot, around dinnertime. and it wasn't a happy meeting. >> i was actually telling trying to tell or that it was over. >> he earlier sent her a brief break up email, he said. she insisted on seeing him in person. she was not taking it well at
all. >> and then she said, ask me again one more time, but we can make it work. i said, no, we cannot make this work. >> she was still interested in having a relationship with him. >> and didn't want to let him go? >> correct. and i'm sure that he was motivated to not let his wife find out about that. >> which speck the question, where was drawn holthaus later that evening when stephanie went for her walk? >> you're saying to me you are at home. you never went out on monday night. >> correct. >> the detective scolded in ron's wife, cindy. >> it would not be unheard of for a woman to be very upset that her -- to find that her husband had been seeing another woman. and want to go to significantly it's by eliminating that temptation. >> her alibi? she was home, sleeping right next to iran. >> okay did you know -- do you know for sure if ron was in the house. did he leave at anytime that night on monday night?
>> i can't tell sitting up looking at him all night. >> if he was gonna get up and leave would you have told? >> i would've. yes. >> they're alibis where each other. detectives kept -- >> how much do you love your husband? >> i'm committed. >> would you do anything for him? >> look within reason. would i lie for him? no. look because you know what? he made his bed, he's got a lane it. >> for almost a month, detectives went back and forth between ron and cindy and stephanie's husband dale. who, by that time, had been advised by a friend, better get a lawyer. >> so i called and my attorney said you don't know the onslaught, the tidal wave that's coming towards, you do you? you have no idea? >> apparently not i said. >> and what a tidal wave it was. >> dateline returns after the break. after th break.
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her ron's wife, cindy. and stephanie's husband, dale bruner. and as detectives dug deeper into the bruner marriage, a grill-y secrets emerged that would put dale at the very top of the suspect list. here again is keith morrison with "secrets in the snow". >> it's horrible. i don't even know how to explain having a microscope go into your world. it's surreal. >> there are few secrets in a person's life that can escape the attention of a determined homicide effective. >> everything comes out. absolutely everything. >> and dale and stephanie it turned out had their share of secrets. but the weird thing, one chilly morning, six weeks before stephanie was murdered. as stephanie told her friend, jennifer. >> she heard spanking. she told me she counted at least eight spanx before she got up the stairs and down the hall to the kitchen.
>> my boy was acting out far beyond the norm. i said, come on. >> that was a wednesday morning. stephanie was furious about the spanking and stormed off to work and that very day was laid off from her county job. and then, still upset with dale, stephanie went to see a judge and filed a restraining order against him. saw advice from her friend bill. >> honestly, i was a little bit surprised. i had never detected any major problems in the relationship. >> but, and this was distinctly odd, she asked the court to delay implementing the order until the following monday. then she went home and said dale suggested that family holiday. >> we had a wonderful weekend at the hotel colorado. in the hot springs, swimming with the kids. >> but then, back in town, is when stephanie revealed one, that she was in love with a another man. and to, a restraining order was about to be served. >> she told me that the
sheriff's department was going to come to the house and i'm going to have to leave. >> so, he did. after which said dale, they calmed down and days later went back and asked the judge to rescind his order. the court recorded the session. >> i'm never going to speak again. this potentially could crush my entire world. and i'm so sorry to you. and i will make it up in any and every we possibly can. >> she wanted to leave, but she felt like the restraining order was too much. that dale didn't deserve that and maybe she had overreacted. >> and so, they talked about it like adults. and eventually they signed divorce papers and dale, even helped stephanie move into her condo. where, as you know, the very night she moved in, her new love ron told her the affair was over. they weren't going to be together not then. not ever. he was staying with his wife. two days later, she was dead. and ron and his wife and dale
were all under suspicion. >> they said i was a person of interest. i didn't think i had any worries. >> an agent but agent sadar was a social. as his investigation continued, he became convinced that ron holthaus and his wife, cindy, had been telling him the truth. >> i feel awful. i really feel awful. >> but he kept encountering suspicious things about dale. why had dale waited until morning to report his wife missing? and why while dale's friends and family scour the town looking for her, why didn't he take part at all? >> there was this mounting series of things that started to be concerned about. >> and it was dale says, sadar, who had motive and opportunity. the one thing where they found her body, dale could've certainly carried her that far. >> we were struck by how close it is to the house. and how accessible it was, even in the snowy conditions.
>> and when dale was still talking, before he lord up, his demeanor seemed odd to the detective. one of their meetings at a local restaurant was recorded. >> well, what happened more than? >> well, that's what i'm talking to you about. >> very provocative. he wanted to know what we learned from the autopsy. where we were going with the investigation. >> i'm a little wicked out when you said there was no other clothes on her. >> i can't lie to you, i have some concerns. i'm being very open and honest with you. >> what happened to her? >> well, that's what i'd like to find out. >> he was nervous, but that outwardly said. >> and then, two weeks after the murder, when detective sadar got a search warrant, a house that have been cluttered at the time of the murder was now spotless. why did you find this time? >> nothing. there was nothing to find. >> there were no signs of blood. no evidence of any struggle. nor, in fact, was there any sign that stephanie had ever lived there.
>> there wasn't a single photograph of her. every trace of her had been scrubbed from the house. >> it also seems suspicious, said the detective, that dale changed his story a bit. the first time he called the police, he said they'd had an argument before she left to go out walking. later he said, there was no argument. >> okay, there was an argument. >> no, we never had an argument. no argument it was just the facts were on the table. >> what were you guys talking about? >> we were just talking about us. >> within a few weeks of stephanie's murder, the state ramped up the pressure on dale. social services sent the bruner children to live with stephanie's brother in california. >> i'm in a fight with mike tyson with no gloves. and then they're taking my kids away, to? >> dale wasn't completely alone, mind you. some family stayed around. reported back to stephanie sister ramona that dale was truly grieving. >> we kept asking what is dale acting like? what is he saying?
unless he some kind of actor that deserves some kind of oscar performance, this guy really seems distraught. >> stephanie's ryan, bill, even moved in for two months to help out. console dale. >> we were just trying to hold dale together. he was having a very difficult time. >> did dale ever confront and say come on, tell us what happen? >> looked every one of us in the eye and said i had nothing to do with it. i'm innocent. >> can you talk at all about why the investigators are fourth kissing on you? >> i hope they're investigating someone else. >> didn't look like it. it was summer, 2011. nine months after stephanie's murder when it happened. >> i was coming back from one of my photo shoots and a little unmarked car with a like on flashed and a siren went. and they have gone strong on me. >> dale bruner was charged with second degree murder in the murder of his wife. he pleaded not guilty. posted bond. and was offered a plea deal by
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plan the blame on stephanie's has been dale. and he fumed in silence about the allegations against him. >> the lights are really tough to take. your like, you just can't believe it. you're like really? >> waiting for a trial he continued to live here all alone now. in the family house by the blue river. working with his attorney in the effort to clear his name. robert bernhardt was the attorney. a man not at all impressed, he told us, with a police investigation. >> their position was, i think dale is the easy guy. the worst pieces of investigating that i have ever seen in my career. >> and dale his attorney told us that despite a show of interviewing other suspects, the police quite clearly had made up their minds the very day she disappeared. >> the police came to my house. i don't know the exact first thing they said but he goes, did you kill your wife? and i was just stunned. >> the police didn't seem to want to believe what he told them about how happy he was
that last evening. discussing new possibilities. a fresh start. when around 9 pm, their daughter came into the bedroom to ask for help with her homework. >> when she came into our room, we were laying on top of our bed, cuddling. >> nor, he said, did the cops seem to want to believe his explanation for not reporting stephanie missing until morning. more than nine hours after she walked out into that frigid night. >> why would he? if he was aware of the fact that she was having an affair, he probably assumed that she went to her boyfriend. >> the last thing i was going to do was make waves. just do what you got to do. >> it made such a big deal of the fact that dale didn't join the search for stephanie. even though -- i >> called the police and they told me stay home and casey comes up. >> so, by the time dale's trial began, he isn't his attorney were ready for evidence that was, they knew only circumstantial. questions like this. the way she was beaten on her head.
the strangle the way she was strangle. it's a very intimate crime. it's the sort of crime husbands commit when their wives are about to leave. >> or should i say, boyfriends? >> well, there you go. >> that was the point his lawyers want to make in court. that police and prosecutors had unfairly brushed off the possibility that stephanie's new soulmate, or his wife, had anything to do with it. that would be ron holthaus. >> when everybody found out that stephanie was missing, did any police officers come and visit you at work or at your home that day? >> no, they did not. >> and didn't ron's wife, cindy, have a motive? >> i said something like, i don't know where she is by hope she rots in hill. and i'm very sorry i said that. >> of course, dale and his attorney knew the prosecution would make a big deal with that restraining order stephanie took out after dale spanx of their son. but her decision to ask for that order, said dale, sprang
from her own confusion. the affair, the chaos in her life. >> i believe she built a fake little world where i was the bad guy. >> but was stephanie ever worry that dale might get violent? hardly, said the defense. why else which he asked the judge to delay the order until after their little family holiday? >> the judge said, he'd never seen someone have a restraining order then have been say, well, don't enacted yet. not till next week. >> and why would she go away on a yoga retreat and decline this friends offer to babysit? >> can i take care of the kids? she said, no, they're fine with dale. >> and that's because she knew that dale was a threat to her. he wasn't a threat to those children. >> remember how the detective found the house unusually spotless two weeks after the murder? it was, it turned out, family and friends who cleaned up. apparently because dale was paralyzed by grief. >> dale walks into his walk-in closet and a half of the stuff
is stephanie's. he comes out and he's crying. he says, i got to get this stuff out of here. >> so, clearly arrested judgment. a sloppy investigation, said the defense. by detectives who took the holthaus's alibi to. easily failed to consider that the murder might have been committed by whoever robin or by bank just before stephanie disappeared. attorney bernhardt confronted cbi agent sadar. >> you have no evidence of mr. bruner assaulting his wife? >> correct, no direct evidence of mr. bruner murdering her. >> of course, had dale taken the stand, he would've had to answer to some stubbornly uncomfortable facts. and this question, that hung over the defense table like a cloud. you love your wife. you loved her a lot. but in that moment of extreme rage when she was leaving you, you killed her? strangled her and through her body in the river. >> that so not true.
>> the theme of the prosecution was that you were an abuser. and that it was -- >> it's beyond so not true. it's just not true. they painted quite a picture though. >> oh, yes. they certainly did. with the help of a woman whose message, in a way, came back from the grief. >> "dateline" returns after the break. horrible start. ...but we can overcome it. we're not gonna point out our houses, landmarks, or major highways during takeoff. don't buy anything. i packed so many delicious snacks. -they're -- -nope. would you say, ballpark, when group two is gonna get boarded? 2 hours and 58 minutes. progressive can't protect you from becoming your parents, but we can protect your home and auto when you bundle with us. someone should've left home earlier. icy hot. ice works fast. heat makes it last.
man who may be telling a true story. who may also be living with the knowledge that he hit his wife on the head and strangled her, and put her in the river. and that's where she died. and you have to live with that secret. >> well, fortunately i don't have to live with that. that i don't have to live with. >> what dale bruner would have to live with would depend on the outcome of his trial, of course. and whether or not the prosecutor, mark hurlbert, would persuade the jury without the benefit of physical evidence that dale killed the love of his life. in a fifth of blind. reach >> dale bruner, strangles her. believes that she's death. takes her to the river and dumps her. >> so, what did happen on the night of the murder? the prosecutor called a child to start the story. dale and stephanie's eldest daughter. the girl who walked into her parents bedroom around 9 pm. >> at ten years old, she can
see what happened with specifics. >> out of the view of the media, she told the court she heard her parents arguing, not cuddling, as dale claimed. after which, remember dale claimed stephanie went for a walk to clear her head. in temperatures well below freezing? you've got to be kidding, said the prosecutor. >> his wife goes for a walk and he wouldn't call anybody and tell until eight or nine hours later. ten hours later. that just doesn't make any sense. >> which by itself didn't mean dale was guilty. this was were some of those secrets began to spill out. the terrifying secrets of a fatally troubled marriage. like the one stephanie told this friend after that spanking incident, when she applied for a restraining order. >> did she express fair to you at the time? >> yes, she did. she looked at me and she said, he's just read. he gets so mad that he goes into a red zone. and he doesn't even know what
he does. >> so, said this friend -- >> she was afraid to get a restraining order against dale, because he had already threatened to harm or kill her. >> that threat from dale was years earlier. but stephanie had never forgotten how terrified she was. she told the story to her friend jennifer just before the murder. >> he strong-arm to her into a corner, choking her, threatening to hit her. he stopped short of hitting her, but he did. there was another time he threw her on the bed and put his knee on her pregnant by the belly. >> how often with this happen? >> you know, there may be three of those incidents. two or three. i don't know, of those incidents that she talked about. >> then there with leah achen, it lifelong friend of dale's. who told the court about dale's reaction when stephanie told him she was in love with another man. >> he just wanted her dad. maybe she would have a heart attack. get hit by a car. i kept telling him, to stop
talking like that. >> but did dale really mean that? could he be truly violent? consider this woman, said the prosecutor. an ex girlfriend who dale passed. and the woman name julie, who told the jury and us the strange tale of what happened one night when she lived with dale, 20 years ago. >> he hadn't come home for dinner one night and said he would be home. >> you called him on it. >> he came home. we argued about it. and he became very angry, yelling at me. he pushed me down onto the floor and put his hands around my neck and said, if you ever say or do that again, i'll kill you. he had a look on his face that i've never seen or recognize before. i was most scared i've ever been in my life. >> even though that was a long time ago, said the prosecutor, italy a terrible tale. which, sadly, is as old as time. dale, he said, was a man
sometimes overcome by rage. and his m.o. was to go for the throat. >> she was strangled so hard, with such force, that a broke a bone in her neck. >> and then the prosecutor introduced his bombshell. stephanie herself, on tape. six weeks before her murder, stephanie begged a judge for that restraining order. and now in court, her recorded plea was a voice from the grave. >> he has threatened my life, years ago. but, you know, play a hand on my throat. screaming in my face, i will kill you if you leave. that i've never forgotten. >> her sister was sitting in the courtroom, listening. and was overcome. >> and that was when we lost it, because it was feelings of oh, my gosh. and she is crying. >> it was as if stephanie was testifying in her own murder trial. >> i would so love to talk to
him about it and say, you need help. and i just think that would go really bad. so, i'm here asking for health. >> and i'm going to end up getting a divorce because there is no way i can go back. >> only, she did. finally, this domestic violence expert waited. >> when a victim is attempting to leave a relationship, or has left a relationship, it is by far the most dangerous time for a victim. >> but what was the trigger that according to the prosecution, set dale off? the answer, he said, may lie in an unfinished email stephanie was writing to the other man, ron, just before she was murdered. and though dale denied he knew what she was doing -- >> i honestly didn't know. i had no idea. >> the prosecutor said dale must have seen her writing it. and email begging ron for another meeting, because she
could accept the idea that her new love was leaving her. >> i think dale bruner got angry at that and hit her with something. then he strangles her. leaves believes that she is dead. she's probably unconscious at that point. but she's not dead. takes her to the river and dumps her in the river. >> the georgia jury stayed out for hours. >> the court has reviewed the verdicts -- >> it was kind of early, which is always worry. >> dale bruner, stood, awaited his fate. >> you're just trying to maintain and not just melt. so, you prepare yourself to just breathe. just breathe. >> and then, there it was. >> we the jury find the defendant, dale bruner, guilty of murder in the second degree. >> dale bruner was also convicted of two counts of sexual assault and sentenced to a total 112 years in prison. an appeals court vacated the
sexual assault convictions. and in 2018, bruner's sentence was reduced to 48 years. >> it is a perfect storm. i'm going down with the ship. >> stephanie's friend jennifer was driving when the verdict came in. >> i was in my car, yeah. parked on the side of the road. crying like a baby. >> and like others who knew stephanie, she wishes now she'd taken her friends secrets more seriously. >> i beat myself over it every day. about how i should've done this or should have done that. >> and almost good marriage, with one deadly flaw. >> a lot of stephanie's close friends and families didn't even know what was going on. maybe a couple of events over the years. it only two, three and she's dead. >> and so, said her friends, take some advice in warning. don't hide the secret.
>> that's why i'm talking about it now. and hopefully just one woman will have the courage to stand up and say, i'm being abused. i'm living in fear. i'm living with secrets. and i need to stand up and be bold. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline". i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. >> i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline". >> horrible. knowing the person that you love is dead. and then your being looked at for it. >> imagine, your shaken in the dead of night. >> my ears were ringing. i thought i was dreaming. >> in bed, right next to you. your husband, murdered. >> hearty wrap around your head, is it? >> yes. >> and here's the twist.