On Monday May 12, 2003 Daniel Stewart and his wife, Kathy got into an argument at their Ava Missouri home. Their son Alex would later say that he saw his mother's van leave sometime in the middle of the night with the headlights off. He was unsure what time that was but it was estimated to be sometime between 10:30 pm and 3:00 am. The following morning Alex and his two brothers, Chris and Devon got up but neither parent was home to take them to school. They called their dad who would come home and take them to school.
Later on the afternoon of May 13th Daniel would file a missing persons report on Kathy but even that seemed a little odd. At the time that he filed the report Daniel would tell the police that it was not unusual for Kathy to take off for days at a time without telling him so it seemed a bit suspicious that he would file a report so soon. Later that evening one of Kathy's co-workers, Angela Ewing at the school where she was a guidance counselor, would see her van abandoned at a park. She went to the Stewart home and told Daniel but said he refused to go with her to look at the vehicle.
Over the next few days several massive searches were conducted and flier were distributed in the area but it was said that Daniel participated in none of these. On Saturday May 17th Kathy's body would be found. She would be naked except for a pair of underwear that was only around one leg. A shirt would be found nearby. It was said that decomposition had prevented being able to obtain any nail scrapings. An autopsy revealed her cause of death as “asphyxiation due to suffocation.”
Investigators looked into Daniel's story and the lives of the couple. Daniel apparently openly admitted that their marriage was not a good one. While Kathy worked for the school, Daniel owned a floral business that also did landscaping and lawn services. The couple had a small shared bank account but for the most part they kept their money separated and each paid portions of the bills. It was discovered that Daniel's business was failing and he had borrowed several thousands of dollars from Kathy. It was also determined that much of the property was in Kathy's name only. Daniel would describe his marriage as “very bad” and describe his wife to people as “cold, indifferent and cruel.” He apparently told several people that he wanted to end the marriage but everything was in her name and he would lose everything.
Investigators would find that sometime between six and eight on May 13th Daniel had gone into a gas station. He had a black smudge on his face and told attendant that he had gotten it from mowing. It was soon after this that the kids called him for a ride to school. On the way to the school he stopped at a store with them and the clerk saw this same “smudge” and again he stated it was from mowing. Over the next several days several people saw a large scratch on his face. One has to wonder if this was the smudge that was described by the two clerks. An appeal described his reasons for the scratch as being different to different people but in my opinion they all still centered around mowing. It was said that he volunteered this information often before it was asked of him. He would later tell people that the scratch occurred later in that day but his son would state he had seen it before he had gone to school. It was also said that Daniel had several scratches along his neck. On either the 13th or 14th he would go to a tire shop where employees stated they noted his hand was very swollen. Daniel would say that the injury had happened there while helping unload a mower but the employees would stand by the fact that it was injury when Daniel arrived. An injury to his forearm was visible that he would say came from the fight he and Kathy had had the night before she disappeared.
Daniel would tell authorities that they had fought on the night of the 12th and that when it was over she had gone to take a shower. He claims that he then went and took a bath and slept in one of the kids' rooms because they were sick. He stated he got up the next morning for work and her van was gone. The last time he had seen her she was wearing a t-shirt and underwear.
Daniel would be arrested and charged with the second degree murder of his wife. He was to go on trial in Douglas County in March of 2005 but the trial ended before a jury could be sat because the judge felt that an impartial jury panel could not be found. The second attempt was made the following week in Wright County but again the judge felt there was a lack of potential jurors. He would eventually face trial July of 2005.
In my opinion there was not a lot of evidence, which is likely why the charge was second degree murder. The prosecution had the injuries to his body and the different stories that he told. They had that Kathy was basically found in or near the only clothing that Daniel had claimed to last see her in. Theoretically it was reasonable to believe that Kathy would not have left on her own accord wearing only a t-shirt and underwear. Forensically there was very little. As I stated earlier, it was claimed that the body was too decomposed to obtain fingernail scrapings. It was claimed that three of his hairs were found in the rug of her van. For me this is not a huge thing considering not only were they married, but they lived in the same home. There would be no way of telling when those hairs had gotten there or even how they got there. The home had been searched at some point soon after her body was found. Investigators would claim the home smelled highly of bleach. Two small drops of blood were found, one on a towel and one on the floor of the utility room. The DNA results said they belonged to Daniel.
Prosecutors would argue that Daniel was highly in debt with his company and unhappy in his marriage and that proceeds he would receive from her death would have helped him. It seems that Kathy had two insurance policies that totaled about $30,000. He was also set to receive $1,700 a month from her retirement benefits. It appears to me that much of the “evidence” used against him came from his behavior. Prosecutors would be quick to point out that it seemed unusual that Daniel would report Kathy missing so quickly when he himself stated she took off often. He reminded jurors that he had not participated in searches or helped with distributing fliers and that within just a few short days of her missing, but before her body was found, he often referred to her in the past tense.
After a one week trial and sixteen hours of deliberation, the jury would return with a guilty verdict. The judge would sentence him to twenty-five years. The Missouri Department of Correction website does not give a lot of information on things other than to say he is currently incarcerated so I have no idea when he may be eligible for parole.
In 2008 his appeal was denied and his verdict and sentence were affirmed.