Few crimes have permanently stained Laramie's psyche more than that of University of Wyoming student Shelli R. Wiley. The 1985 murder of Ms. Wiley is a convoluted tale of multiple suspects spanning across a geographic nightmare spanning from Laramie to Utah and Nevada. Yet, for nearly four decades, investigators have examined the case to no avail.

Shelli R. Wiley is the coldest case in Laramie, Wyoming. And, as of February 2023, her story is now a New York Times feature on its Serial Productions Podcast: The Coldest Case in Laramie. The podcast is not the product of some New Yorker googling the dark corners of Laramie's past. No, the content was investigated, written, and recorded by a former Laramie resident and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Kim Barker.

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The New York Times is not the only national media agency to cover Wiley's murder. In recent years, Wiley's case has seen an uptick in media exposure as investigators pointed fingers at multiple suspects - each of which resulted in zero progress on closing the Wiley case.

But the story Kim Barker presents about Ms. Wiley is unique. Barker lived in Laramie at the time of the murder, and through the podcast, she dives deeper into the murky trail of the search for Shelli Wiley's killer than anyone, except perhaps the Laramie Police Department, had before her.

On the Trail of Shelli R. Wiley's Murder

The Coldest Case in Laramie follows the twisted and, at times, wholly shocking journey to hunt down the murderer in the 38-year-old case. Since 1985, three suspects have been interrogated, and three exonerated of Wiley's death.

A Confession in Arizona

The first suspect admitted to murdering Shelli Wiley from his jail cell in Flagstaff, Arizona. The admission was shocking - Jake Wideman was a mere 16 years old at the time of his confession. Moreover, he was not serving jail time for Wiley's murder. Wideman was incarcerated for another murder ten months after Wiley's death. At the time, the Tribune Business News reported that Wiley's mother, Vicki, said Wideman had known her daughter, but Wideman later recanted, and the charges came to nothing.

A Suspect Interrogated in Utah

Following Wideman's recanting, the investigation into Wiley's death continued. A man named Blaine Hogge Nelson became the next suspect. Nelson was already incarcerated in Utah, serving time for rape charges when he was named a suspect in Wiley's case. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the search warrant named "chilling similarities" between Nelson's modus operandi (MO) and the methods used to murder Wiley. Nelson had previously admitted to several rapes in Laramie and two Utah cities. But once again, the charges came to nothing.

An Officer Arrested in Laramie

In 2016, former Laramie Police Department officer Frederick Lamb was arrested on suspicion of murdering Shelli R. Wiley. Lamb denied the allegations at the time but gave a statement that seemingly contradicted his denial, saying, "Bottom line is, I killed a girl," and "I'm probably in such deep denial I might not ever get out of it."

However, Lamb's case came to nothing. In 2017, Lamb's record was expunged after the prosecution dismissed the charges with intent to refile upon further examination of the evidence. Charges have yet to be refiled as of April 10, 2023.

The New York Times Sheds Light on the Wiley Case

After living in Laramie after the Wiley murder, Kim Barker was haunted by the memories stemming from the event. In an article published in the New York Times, Barker described Laramie as "the meanest place ever," a notion arising from her exposure to the Wiley murder drama and the news of Matthew Shepherd's murder in 1998. The description of Laramie should come as a shock, considering Barker had reported in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and similarly violent war zones.

But Barker acknowledges that her memories are not facts. Instead, she noted that they are "unbothered by analysis or reporting; they can harden into what seems like fact." It is these memories and those of fellow individuals who remember the terrible aftermath of Shelli's murder that Barker explores in the New York Times podcast.

Throughout eight episodes, Barker sheds light not just on the criminal investigation of Wiley's murder but also on the emotional turmoil and ragged wound it left behind in Laramie. It is a turbulent journey, which leaves listeners desperate to know what's next for Shelli Wiley's case. Barker's investigation evokes a powerful question, when, if ever, will the case of Shelli R. Wiley close? When, if ever, will Kim Barker and Laramie find closure?

Where to Listen to 'The Coldest Case in Laramie'

You can find The Coldest Case in Laramie wherever you listen to podcasts:

Citations:

Barker, K., & Shah, J. (2023, February 28). Murder and memory in Laramie, Wyoming. The New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/28/podcasts/laramie-wyoming-murder.html

Kalson, S. (2011, May 15). What's next remains in question for man who committed murder as a teenager. McClatchy - Tribune Business News Retrieved from https://wsl.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/wire-feeds/whats-next-remains-question-man-who-committed/docview/866466737/se-2

Kalson, S. (2011, May 18). Wideman was denied parole for 1986 killing. McClatchy - Tribune Business News Retrieved from https://wsl.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/wire-feeds/wideman-denied-parole-1986-killing/docview/867333562/se-2

Neary, B. (2016, Aug 24). Ex-officer suspect in 1985 wyo. slaying. Great Falls Tribune Retrieved from https://wsl.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/ex-officer-suspect-1985-wyo-slaying/docview/2191937710/se-2

TRIBUNE,Joshua B.Good THE SALT LAKE. (1994, Jul 22). WYOMING POLICE SAY UTAH INMATE MAY HAVE RAPED, KILLED WOMAN. The Salt Lake Tribune Retrieved from https://wsl.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/wyoming-police-say-utah-inmate-may-have-raped/docview/288588296/se-2

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