Deadly Proposal

A College Professor's Disappearance Turns Into A Case Of Murder

This story originally aired on April 29, 2006.

Stephanie Pepper Sims was a college professor in the prime of her life when she suddenly vanished without a trace in early 2003. Estranged from her husband, Stephanie had moved in with a lover. Eventually, a hand-drawn map would lead investigators to the young woman's body.

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.