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Deadly Proposal

Snitch, Lover & Husband Talk 05:26

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.


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 vanished.

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 sounded concerned.

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 explains.

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 out.

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 recalls.

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 killed Stephanie.

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 golf course.

"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," Guidry replied.

"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 her computer.

"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 explains.

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 town.

"I'm heading home to get my vehicle outta repair," he explains.

"How do you leave and head for southern Louisiana on a day in which the woman you love has gone missing?" Van Sant asked.

"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 sounds terrible.

"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 remembers.

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 hole.

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 jury.

"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 asked.

"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 Stephanie Sims."

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 was found.

"So, ultimately, as the jurors go to deliberate, it all comes down to that hole in the ground?" Van Sant asked Clark.

"That's a very fair assessment of the case," Clark replied.

"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 said.

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.

Last Spring, 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 said.

"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."



Louisiana Tech University has dedicated a computer lab in honor of Stephanie Pepper Sims.

Wayne Guidry, Jr. is appealing his conviction.

Hugo Jolland has prosecuted more than 60 murder cases. He has never lost or been reversed on appeal.
Produced By Mead Stone/Peter Henderson

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