The five-year anniversary of Darlene Wilcock’s murder passed with a whisper.
There were no rallies or memorials. Family members and friends simply did what they do so many other days – they mourned deeply and made it through the day.
On April 17, 2003, Wilcock was found strangled to death in a Motel 6 room in Kalispell and there are still no named suspects. For Holly Wilcock, Darlene’s sister, desperate hope and grieving are daily realities.
“If I was a millionaire, I would spend all my time and my money finding out who killed my sister,” Holly said. “I think everybody deserves to have answers no matter what those answers are. Not knowing is torment.”
Kalispell Chief of Police Roger Nasset may not be a millionaire either, but he has spent countless hours trying to figure out this perplexing homicide. Nasset has been part of the Wilcock investigation since the beginning, first as a detective and now as the department’s boss.
The case is Kalispell’s only unsolved murder. According to the Montana Board of Crime Control, since 2005 there have been 66 homicides in Montana and in 21 of them arrests have not yet been made.
Nasset keeps a photograph of Wilcock on his bookstand and frequently dwells on her case, which he says disturbs him profoundly. Most troubling, he feels investigators have been so close for so long.
“I think we’ve done everything humanly possible and I think we’ve talked to the killer,” Nasset said. “But we just have to have that last piece of evidence to make it stick.”
Nasset is still a believer and though police haven’t named suspects, he said there are two primary persons of interest, or “peripheral suspects,” and a third who must be considered too.
Wilcock’s former fiancé makes sense for a few reasons, Nasset said. First, he had convinced Wilcock to list him as the primary beneficiary of her life insurance plan before her death. He has not received any money, however, as the family is currently engaged in a legal battle over the policy, mother Marla Friske said. Also, it turned out he was already married, further diminishing his credibility in statements. Lastly, he had arrived in town unexpectedly before Wilcock was murdered, Nasset said.
An ex-roommate of Wilcock’s is the other foremost person of interest, Nasset said. According to family members, Wilcock despised the roommate, so when his semen was found on her dead body, red flags were raised. He has repeatedly claimed the sex was consensual. Family members say no way.
The roommate was the last person seen with Wilcock on the night of April 16, as far as investigators know, Nasset said.
“She wanted nothing to do with him,” said sister Diane. “She couldn’t stand him. They weren’t ever together that I know of, no matter what he says.”
The third person of interest, though to a far lesser extent, Nasset said, is Richard Dasen Sr., the prominent Kalispell businessmen who was charged and imprisoned for paying over $1 million to women and, in some cases, girls for sex. Nasset said Dasen’s DNA was found on the bedspread of room 233 where Wilcock was murdered. But bedspreads are infrequently washed and Dasen was known for having sex at motels, including Motel 6.
Holly doesn’t think Dasen has anything to do with her sister’s murder.
“I don’t think she was ever involved with Dasen,” Holly said. “My sister was not that type of person.”
After following hundreds of leads over the course of several years, Nasset said the last major push forward in the case, until recently, was almost two years ago when investigators traveled to Utah for an interview. After giving a polygraph, it appeared they had reached another dead end.
“At that point we felt we had exhausted all the viable leads we had,” Nasset said.
But Nasset sees Wilcock’s photograph everyday and has no intentions of letting the case fade away. So recently he assigned new detectives to the case to provide a fresh perspective and see if fresher evidence would be the result. Within the last months the detectives have revived the cold case, conducting interviews and dredging up new information.
It was shortly after midnight on April 17, 2003, when Kalispell police responded to a call at the Motel 6 in south Kalispell. There, officers found the body of 26-year-old Darlene Wilcock lying on a bed, with signs of foul play and strangulation. Nasset, a detective at the time, was assigned to the investigation, which immediately proved to be complicated with multiple men’s DNA samples in the area and on her body; a fiancé with a convincing motive in the insurance policy; indication of sexual contact from a man Wilcock supposedly loathed; and other compelling, yet occasionally confusing, evidence.
With so much pointing to each of the two main persons of interest, Nasset said the case is a delicate balance of choosing the appropriate timing to pursue one without spoiling the chances to pursue the other.
“The problem therein lies if you charge the fiancée, guess who his perfect alibi is?” Nasset said. “If you charge the other guy, guess who’s his perfect alibi?”
Nasset said he attended an FBI academy and presented investigators there with the complicated details of Wilcock’s murder.
“They said this is one of the most convoluted and strangest circumstances in any homicide they’ve ever seen,” Nasset said. “They scratch their heads and say that one puzzles me.”
Darlene Jean Wilcock was born in Biloxi, Mississippi on Jan. 5, 1977, the oldest of five siblings. Family members describe her as caring and loving, with an innate gift for helping people when they most needed it. She loved the outdoors and traveling, which eventually compelled her to hit the road as a truck driver.
But she tired of the restless trucking lifestyle and returned to Kalispell, drawn back to the blue waters of Flathead Lake, the quiet life of small-town Montana and, mostly, her family – both her current family and the prospect of starting her own. She got a job at Stream, a technology company, with Holly. Marla said she loved the job and being back home.
“She loved the country up here,” Marla said. “She loved Montana. She had very good friends here in the Flathead, a lot of good friends, and she loved her family.”
The Wilcock case has been largely out of the public eye over the past couple of years, but this summer the family plans to revive their efforts to expose Darlene’s case. They will hold rallies, hand out fliers and do whatever they can to get the word out.
“I wish I just had one day to go back and tell her how much she was loved by me and everybody else and tell her how much she was admired because she was extraordinary,” Holly said. “It’s no less painful now than it was five years ago and I don’t think it ever will be.”
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