CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – The case of the Missouri man who killed his wife has been the subject of several televised true-crime series for years. The admitted killer would land a book deal to share his story about the crime. Ultimately, he would not be able to cash in on the crime but an unlikely character would.
Jacque Sue Waller was reported missing on June 1, 2011, after family members grew concerned over her whereabouts.
Earlier that day, Jacque and her estranged husband, Clay Waller, met at an attorney’s office in Cape Girardeau to finalize the paperwork for divorce proceedings. The couple had separated months prior and Jacque maintained primary custody over their three children. The attorney later told investigators that Clay became agitated while discussing child custody and financial matters.
After the meeting, Jacque went with Clay to his home in Jackson, Missouri. It would be the last time anyone would see Jacque alive.
The following day, Jacque’s Honda Pilot was found abandoned along Interstate 55 just north of Jackson, but her body could not be located. Investigators believed Waller, a former deputy with the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Department, was responsible for Jacque’s disappearance.
In September, Waller was arrested and charged for making an online threat over the summer to kill Jacque’s sister, Cheryl Brenneke, who had custody of Waller and Jacque’s children. Waller pleaded guilty in October and was sentenced to five years in federal prison in Louisiana.
The Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office charged Waller in April 2012 with first-degree murder in Jacque’s disappearance and presumed death. Waller initially pleaded not guilty, but by October, he’d reconsidered.
Waller and his defense attorneys worked out a plea deal with prosecutors – he’d show authorities where he buried Jacque and admit to killing her, but only if they reduced the charge to second-degree murder.
Jacque’s family wanted closure for her children and so prosecutors agreed to the deal.
Her final hours
Waller told police he dug a grave for his wife on May 31, 2011, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River at Devil’s Island. The thickly-wooded island is located northeast of Cape Girardeau along the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. It’s only accessible by boat.
The next day, he beat and strangled Jacque at his home in Jackson, Missouri, after the two had met with their divorce attorney. Waller then took Jacque’s body back across the river and buried her in the grave he’d dug the day prior.
At the time, Jacque’s parents were not surprised about where her body was found, because it was an area where search parties had recently concentrated.
Waller led police to Jacque’s body on Wednesday, May 29, 2013, nearly two years to the day of her murder.
On June 6, Clay Waller was sentenced to 20 years, the maximum penalty allowable for the reduced charge. Missouri law would require Waller to serve at least 85% of his sentence, meaning he’d be eligible for parole in 2030. Prior to sentencing, Jacque’s family read victim impact statements in front of Clay. Waller’s own 8-year-old son, Maddox, gave a recorded statement that was played in court.
Meanwhile, Jacque’s sister and her husband adopted the triplets—Avery, Maddox, and Addison—on Nov. 12, 2013.
In the spring of 2013, Waller wound up sharing a cell block in Louisiana with Cedric Dean, who would play an important role in adding time to Waller’s sentence.
Dean was in the midst of serving more than a century on federal drug-trafficking charges. Though he never finished high school, Dean taught himself how to write books. He turned his life around, helping other inmates get their GEDs, and established a foundation for at-risk youth.
Waller told Dean he had a book deal worth several hundred thousand dollars, he just needed somebody to help pen the manuscript. According to Dean, Waller promised not only to give $10,000 to Dean’s foundation, but he’d use the book’s proceeds to establish a trust fund for him and Jacque’s kids.
They worked on the book—titled “If You Take My Kids, I’ll Kill You: The Public Confession of Missouri’s Most Notorious Wife Killer”—that summer. During that time, Dean realized Waller had manipulated him and was not contrite about his wife’s murder.
When the book was completed, Dean, unbeknownst to Waller, had the manuscript smuggled out of prison and given to a fellow inmate’s mother. Waller was furious and made up a story that Dean tried to extort him.
Eventually, both men were transferred to separate penitentiaries. Waller was relocated to a Florida prison but, in Dec. 2015, was transferred back to Missouri to a maximum-security state prison in Fulton.
In May 2016, investigators in Illinois and Missouri became aware of Dean’s manuscript and tracked him down to a prison in Ohio. Inmates at the Louisiana prison had told authorities about Waller and Dean’s failed book collaboration.
Dean knew details about Jacque Waller’s murder that were not public. Federal investigators took Dean seriously and offered him a chance to testify against Clay. Dean agreed, saying he knew Clay Waller would kill again if he ever got out of prison.
An additional 35 years
Thanks to Dean’s cooperation, in Oct. 2017, Waller pleaded guilty to a federal charge of interstate domestic violence, and he received an additional 35 years in prison that December. The charge stemmed from Waller’s own prior admission that he crossed state lines to kill Jacque in Missouri and then buried her in Illinois.
During his plea, Waller admitted to threatening Jacque on numerous occasions, going as far as to say that if she divorced him, she would be signing her own death warrant.
Aside from the prison term, Waller was barred from profiting in any way from his book.
And while they claimed publicly that the discovery of the book was not the reason for the new charge, federal authorities filed paperwork in Nov. 2017 thanking Dean for his help. That Thanksgiving, Cedric Dean was released from prison. He continues his mission to help at-risk children before they get sucked into the prison system.