By Sarah Hale
Star Valley Independent
Via Wyoming News Exchange
AFTON — The remains of a Star Valley woman missing since January 2015 have been located.
According to information provided by the Lincoln County Attorney’s Office, on Saturday, May 18, “human remains were found on a property located 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,” said Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred. “Ms. Hakes was last seen on January 3, 2015 near Thayne.”
According to a press release from the Lincoln County Attorney’s Office, Tuesday, June 4, “agents from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, along with authorities from the Idaho State Patrol and the Chubbuck Police Department, executed a search warrant for an apartment in Chubbuck, Idaho and an arrest warrant for Ronald Todd Weerheim for the alleged crimes of First Degree Felony Murder, Second Degree Murder, and Kidnapping.”
Weerheim is currently being held in the Bannock County, Idaho Detention Center awaiting extradition to Lincoln County.
“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 January 19, 2015.
Hakes was 43-years-old, five feet, three inches tall and weighed approximately 140 pounds when she vanished. She had bleach blond hair and hazel eyes and was last seen wearing a black fleece jacket, white t-shirt and blue jeans. Her last known location was Thayne.
By March 2015 there had been no significant developments in the case, according to a follow-up story in the Star Valley Independent. 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,” Sheriff Johnson continued. “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 contact 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 Sheriff 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 messages from the other side 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 Sheriff 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.”
The scene was secured and the 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 Sheriff 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 complete the necessary paperworks to secure search and arrest warrants for Ronald Weerheim.
“He was Joann’s boyfriend at the time of her disappearance,” said Attorney 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 continued. “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 Sheriff 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.”