Investigation Discovery, a network featuring the solving of horrible crimes, was in Wyoming this past week filming the story about how Virginia Uden and her two sons were murdered in Fremont County 37 years ago.
Their bodies have never been recovered but law enforcement folks think they know where the bodies are located; the murderer has confessed and is serving time for the crime.
I was interviewed by the TV crew sent to Lander for the story. We shall see if I get any air time.
After 37 years of a cold case like this one, it has always been easy to believe that some unsolved disappearances will just never be explained.
In Lander, we long pondered how Virginia and her sons Reagan, 11, and Richard, 10, vanished. Their horrible fate is now known.
Coincidentally, Virginia worked at our Wyoming State Journal in Lander. It seemed odd to be writing these horrible stories about a person I knew. We often pondered how a person could disappear into thin air during these modern times when everybody seems to know everything about everybody.
But this mystery seemed destined to be perpetually unsolved. Then, just like that, it was solved.
And the answers to all of those one-third of a century-old questions were as horrific and grisly as anyone could have possibly imagined.
Gerald Uden was a worker at the U. S. Steel iron ore mine at Atlantic City, some 25 miles south of Lander in the Wind River Mountains. Co-worker Kim Curtis remembered him as being “scary.”
Virginia must have seen something in the guy as she was married to him for six years. Uden even adopted her two sons.
If you were watching TV or reading the newspaper three years ago, you knew what happened next. The story was on CNN, ABC and the New York Times, as well as all the other state and national media outlets. The story was impossible to ignore; if you proposed to write about the Uden crimes as fiction, the story would not sell because it is so unbelievable.
My wife Nancy and I have positive memories of Virginia.
Virginia did some surveying and telemarketing for our newspaper. She had recently divorced Gerald and was desperate for money. She was working as many jobs as she could to make ends meet.
Gerald Uden and his new wife, Alice, both worked at the iron ore mine on South Pass. As it turned out, Alice had earlier murdered her 25-year-old husband and dumped his body down a mineshaft in Albany County.
Then they conspired to rid Gerald of his obligations.
An acquaintance of Alice’s, who worked with her at the mine, reported that Alice was always complaining about Gerald never having any money because he had to support Virginia and the kids. Thus, money appears to be the motive for the taking of these three lives.
On a fall day in September 1980, Gerald Uden convinced Virginia and her two boys to meet him in Pavillion, Wyoming, for some target practice. He waited until Virginia and Reagan had their backs turned to him and shot them both in the back of the head.
He had to chase down Richard before shooting him in the head, too. He stashed her car down a deep canyon off the Dickinson Park Road in the mountains west of Fort Washakie.
The photos of the Uden boys may still be appearing on milk cartons. There were millions of images of the Udens spread across the country.
Officers finally found Alice’s husband’s body three years ago and that led them to her and Gerald, then living in Missouri. He was a long-haul truck driver. Once confronted, Gerald confessed to the murders.
Meanwhile, Fremont County officers never gave up trying to connect the dots. Credit also goes to a UW archeologist who, with eight students, spent some awful summer days in 2008 digging around in Uden’s old pigsty in Pavillion, looking for evidence of the Uden bodies. They were unsuccessful.
At this point, Gerald Uden, 74, has confessed as has his wife Alice, 77. Both are serving the rest of their lives in Wyoming prisons.
What happened to the bodies, which was a mystery for more than three decades, is now known. Gerald claims he put Virginia, Reagan and Richard in barrels and sunk the bodies to the bottom of the deepest lake in Wyoming, Fremont Lake east of Pinedale.
Fremont County deputies have tried to find those barrels, but to no avail.
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books, which are available at fine stores. His latest is Wyoming at 125. His books are also available at wyomingwonders.com.