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NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Keith Morrison Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 11/9/2009 11:56:39 AM ET 2009-11-09T16:56:39
transcript

This aired on Dateline NBC on Friday, Oct. 30, 2009. Watch web-exclusive clips related to this story here.

From every direction, you can see them: jagged cliffs, rising up out of the desert landscape. The wind has carved their names: Kissing Rock, Castle Rock, Giant's Thumb. Tall, rugged, and, sometimes, in the light of a late afternoon sun, ominous.

They, the majestic backdrop to the scrabbling little mining town laid out at their base: Green River, Wyoming.

Roger Brauburger: Green River is small. 

Keith Morrison: Kinda a one horse town?

Roger Brauburger: Yeah, people have referred to it like that. It's pretty simple life.

Simple?  Well, in some ways, perhaps. But the story Roger Brauburger is about to tell is not the least bit simple; tears the man apart, sitting here, wondering how even he can absorb what happened on and under the cliffs of Green River, Wyoming.

Before all that, it was just fine to grow up here. Roger Brauburger and his pal Bob Duke. Funny how kids can be so different and yet get so close. They hung out at a mutual friend's house - a cop's kid named Mecham - whose dad watched Roger fall into bad behavior, while Bob stayed squeaky clean.

Mont Mecham: Pretty straight kid. I mean, I knew where he wanted to go.  He was one of those kids who have a direction.

Bob's parents were school teachers, and he was ambitious, focused, talked endlessly about going off to college after high school graduation. But Roger?  Ah, Roger.

Roger Brauburger: I quit school my-- my junior year. Everyone said, "Oh, you're not gonna go back.  You're not gonna go back."  And I don't like people telling me I'm not gonna do something.  So I went back.

But he seemed to take trouble with him.  Drinking, public brawls, marijuana, LSD, eventually cocaine.

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Roger Brauburger: it makes you feel ten feet tall and bulletproof. Usually someone would show me I wasn't ten foot tall and bulletproof.

Keith Morrison: Got a few bruises along the way.

Roger Brauburger: Yeah, quite a few.

The good kid and troubled one spent weekends together off-roading in Bob’s Jeep, chasing girls, watching murder for hire movies.

Roger Brauburger: We would watch movies about hit men. There was easy money involved in-- in just a few seconds of work.

Keith Morrison: Hit men? But that’s killing someone. Was it a joke?

Roger Brauburger: It’s shooting the breeze. It's you know-- wow, you know, $50,000 for pulling a trigger. 

They imagined becoming hit men themselves. Just a joke, of course. And then, quite suddenly, life got serious for Bob. His girlfriend got pregnant.

Roger Brauburger: He didn't know what to do.  She wanted to keep it.

Her name was Liana Davidson, a high school junior, only 17.

Roger Brauburger: Long brown hair, really pretty.  She wasn't really showy.  You know, she didn't--

Keith Morrison: She was shy.

Roger Brauburger: She was shy. 

Yes, but she was intelligent, a straight A student. She was going somewhere, just like Bob. But now there were issues.

Roger Brauburger: Her parents were Mormon LDS.  And his parents were school teachers.  And there was pressure from both sides, you know, to do the right thing.

Liana, according to her sister, was scared- didn’t know how to tell her parents. Bob, however, talked to Roger.

Roger Brauburger: I think part of him wanted to--  do the responsible thing. Responsible thing for him was to marry her and support her. 

And so their high school graduation was an event with a double significance.

Roger Brauburger: We graduated at ten-- May 25th, 1991.  And he was married at two that same day. 

Keith Morrison: Happy day?

Roger Brauburger: We just graduated.  You know, what could-- what could be happier than that?

Liana, now carrying their child, had apparently adjusted to the new circumstances rather well.

Keith Morrison: Was she a radiant bride?

Roger Brauburger: Oh, yeah.  She was-- that was probably the happiest day of her life.

She was a doting wife from the beginning, says Roger, filled up the house with craft-y things: needlepoint, stenciling.

Roger Brauburger: She was all about Bob. He told me one time.  He goes, "Man, I've got it perfect.  I got-- my wife loves me.  I come home, dinner's ready.  House is clean." 

And it wasn't long before Liana and Bob were joined by baby Erik.

Roger Brauburger: Eric was cute as a bug.  Spittin' image of Bob. A gentle kid.

Keith Morrison: Who seemed to love his daddy.

Roger Brauburger: Yup.

Neighbor Karen Yoak remembers how young Erik looked up to his dad.

Karen Yoak: Bob had a trick bike and there were a lot of kids in the complex and he would go out in the parking lot and do tricks for the kids and his son Erik would love to watch his dad.

Bob had given up on college; he had a family to support. But he was smart, people liked him. And he soon built a solid business as one of Green River's premiere carpet installers.

Roger Brauburger: He always had money.  He had a nice car.  Nice Jeep, nice home.  You know?  He-- he took pretty good care of his family, financially.

Roger, meanwhile, spiraled into drug addiction, and all of its attendant failures, disappointments, and remorse.

Roger Brauburger: I did envy the fact that he had-- that he was successful. Looked like he had no worries, you know?

But the friendship survived, Bob and Roger - and now little Erik. By the time Erik turned five, liana was pushing for another baby; but Bob?

Roger Brauburger: I think he had given up on her long before that and felt trapped.

Still, no one could have prepared Bob - or Roger - for what happened then: August, 1996. It was a blustery summer afternoon.   Bob, Liana and Erik piled into Bob's Jeep and set out for a family outing. It was later when Bob recounted what happened. They'd stopped on a ridge overlooking the Flaming Gorge Reservoir; they all got out of the Jeep.  Five-year-old Erik threw rocks, chased lizards, Liana by his side. Bob went to the car to get a soda. His back was turned. And then he heard his wife scream his name.  He turned around. They were gone.

Roger's mother called him with the news.

Roger Brauburger: She told me something terrible has happened. And I said what, what’s happened? She goes, Bob’s wife and kid have fallen off a cliff and died.

By then, a sheriff's department lieutenant named Kevin Alvesteffer had arrived at the top of the cliff.  Had talked to Bob. And felt quite deeply ...puzzled.

Kevin Alvesteffer: I couldn't tell you that it was an accident.  And I certainly couldn't tell you it was a homicide.  It's just that it would be a good way to commit a homicide and have a reasonable chance of getting away with it.

Idle speculation, really. But, as we say, it's Roger Brauburger's story.  And he felt, at that moment, somehow guilty... And, terrified.

Kevin Alvesteffer: I was advised by dispatch that a subject had called up, a male subject stating that his wife and child had fallen off a cliff.

They call it Lost Dog Road, this dusty trail that winds up through the open desert, up here to the head of the cliff. The road Lieutenant Kevin Alvesteffer sped up in response to the 911 call.

Kevin Alvesteffer: I didn’t realize that there was a cliff in that area of such magnitude. I thought the wife and child had fallen off perhaps a 15 to 20 foot cliff and were injured.

But no.  It was a towering ridge. Liana and Erik had plunged all the way down - 200 feet to the rocks below. Here at the top, Alvesteffer encountered the young husband and father of the victims:  23-year-old Bob Duke.

Kevin Alvesteffer: He told me that-- they were out on the cliff, his wife and his child.  He heard his wife call his name-- he had went back to his Jeep to get a soda.  And-- when he turned around to look-- they were both gone.                                               

Keith Morrison: What was his demeanor?

Kevin Alvesteffer: He was quiet.  Very-- reserved.  Didn't say anything. 

Keith Morrison: Did he look like he was in shock?

Kevin Alvesteffer: No.  No.

Avlesteffer worked his way gingerly across the ragged loose shale, braced himself against the wind, and approached the precipice.

Kevin Alvesteffer:  When I got to the edge of the cliff face and looked down, you could see the two bodies. You don't want anybody around you when you're standing that close to the—edge. On three sides of it, it’s a sheer cliff. And it’s, I mean, certain death.

Bob Duke told Alvesteffer he had not been able to get down there to see if his wife and child were alive or dead; the terrain was too steep, he said. Odd, thought the lieutenant. The first responders had made it down quite easily.  Force of habit: The cop watched Bob as the lifeless bodies of his wife and child were hoisted up the cliff.

Keith Morrison: Did he go over and try to hold them, or--

Kevin Alvesteffer: No.                 

Why, the lieutenant wondered, had Bob Duke parked his Jeep on this particular cliff, such a dangerous place?

Kevin Alvesteffer: He said they went out for a drive, and had stopped at several locations before coming to this one.  I'd asked him if he'd been in that location before, and he told me, "No."

But even if he'd never been here before, couldn't he see the risk?

Kevin Alvesteffer: To-- to think that anybody would let-- their five-year-old son run around on this cliff-- it was beyond comprehension.

Still, they were so young. And if they were foolish enough to let their child play on the cliff top, surely it was reasonable that she would have reached out to save him, and then slipped off herself.

Kevin Alvesteffer: Nothing else in the autopsy would support anything else other than death by falling.

And so, before long, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Department ruled the fall a tragic accident- a family outing gone wrong. Still, the lieutenant brooded.

Kevin Alvesteffer: I thought he got away with it.

Keith Morrison: And that remained your thought?

Kevin Alvesteffer: Yes.

Local broadcaster Steve Core included the story in his newscast.

Steve Core: I reported it as an accident. That’s what I was told by authorities- that Liana and Erik had gotten too close to the cliff. I had talked to some of the authorities and they had indicated that it was kinda suspicious but, ya know, they- at that juncture, it was an accident.

Which brings us back to Bob's friend Roger Brauburger, who heard the same news everyone did.

Roger Brauburger: I was torn up too cause I knew Liana and Erik. I really truly hurt for the wife and kid.

There was something else, too, that only he and Bob knew. So right away he arranged to see his grieving friend.

Roger Brauburger: And I went through about a box and a half of tissues before he showed up.  But it was two and a half hours later.  And, you know, he'd been planning the funeral already.  And he says, "I need to talk to you outside."

They stepped outside.

Roger Brauburger: And he says, "I need to know that you believe I didn't do this."It was, I need to know whether I have to cover my *ss on this.” I told him, "No, there's no way you could possibly have done that."

Now, why would Bob have said a thing like that? Roger began to get a sickening feeling. He found himself brooding over memories of Bob and the lack of warmth he showed towards his son.

Roger Brauburger: And I remember one time, his son ran up to him.  And he, you know, had-- you gotta take care of your son.  Like he didn't have time for him.

Keith Morrison: Pushed him away?

Roger Brauburger: Just kinda stiff-armed.

Keith Morrison: Did he behave toward his wife that way also?

Roger Brauburger: I never seen 'em really lovey dovey.

Liana and Erik Duke were buried side-by-side on a hill overlooking the town. Bob took great care in choosing the headstones. Roger was a pallbearer, and he carried Erik's small coffin with a heavy heart...and a worried mind.

Roger Brauburger: It was brutal, it was emotionally brutal.

Reporter Steve Core also attended the funeral in support of his old acquaintance, Bob Duke.

Steve Core: I’d known him for a couple of years. I felt bad. I was saddened by this whole thing and I just felt the need to support him and loss of his wife and child. I just really deep down felt it was an accident.

But even as grief swept through the small desert town, support for Bob was accompanied by whispered questions: Why had he taken his little family up to that remote, forbidding place? Why did he let Erik play up there on the lip of a deadly cliff?

Roger Brauburger: She was an overprotective mother, okay. He was afraid of bugs.  The kid was timid.  Anyone who knew Liana knew she wouldn't let her kid play on cliffs. They knew it was just a little too weird. And they couldn't put their finger on it.

But Roger could. Roger had a reason to be very suspicious indeed. The same reason - must have been - for Bob's urgent request during that strange post-accident conversation.

Roger Brauburger: "I need to know that you believe I didn't do this."

But could Roger go to the police with the wild story of what happened a month before the accident? After all, who would believe such a tale from a known drug addict like him?

Roger Brauburger: I'm the last person that would have went to the police.  You know, not only was I doing drugs, I was selling drugs.

Keith Morrison: Besides your reputation as a believable person is mud.

Roger Brauburger: Exactly. How believable is that gonna be coming from me?

Roger Brauburger: A lot of the town was mourning, you know, the death of two beautiful people that died on a tragic cliff.

Everyone in Green River, Wyoming, seemed to take it hard, the death of Liana Duke and her little boy Erik. So young. And the way they were killed, falling from that cliff...awful.

Roger Brauburger: You know, small news is big news in a town like that.

There was a brief investigation.  And then the ruling: It was an accident. And all over town people offered their sympathy to the young husband and father, Bob Duke, just 23 years old and already a widower.

Mont Mecham: They were really "poor---" you know "poor Bob" you know. "Poor Bob lost his wife, lost his child.

Mont Mecham was that cop who watched Bob and Roger grow up.. A narcotics detective with the Green River Police Department.

Mont Mecham: I'm just like, I'm not buying this, this stinks.

Keith Morrison: Too many red flags?

Mont Mecham: Way too many for me. Okay?

The case was out of his jurisdiction, though, not much he could do. Except plead with the sheriffs’ department to take another look at the case.

Mont Mecham: They said, "No we've closed the case."  I said, "Man, that's sad.”

Thing is, as we said, it’s a small town.  Bob, with Roger and the cop's own son, once spent long happy hours in Mecham's rec room. So, of course, Mecham knew Bob's parents, too.  Larry and Roberta Duke, respected school teachers, with impeccable reputations. Which, thought Mecham, might have been part of the problem. 

Mont Mecham: there was the fact that mom and dad because of who they were you know, little bit of politics was in play also.

Keith Morrison: Maybe this is a family you have to be a little careful about?

Mont Mecham: You just don’t jump up and say your sons involved in a double homicide. In a small town, when you start tickin' off the school teacher's kids-- you know, the bishop's kids, the small town comes in to play, and that politics shows up. It's just-- "You don't go over and mess up this kid's life," you know.

The one person Mecham did not talk to just then, though, was Roger Brauburger, the well-known local druggie. Too bad. Because Roger was sitting on a dreadful secret which put things in a very different light indeed. 

It was July, a month before the accident; Bob  approached his friend Roger with a rather odd request.

Roger Brauburger: He goes, Well, we talked about the easy money for making a hit, and I’m like, Yeah, well, I was wondering, you know, would you like to kill my wife and kid for money?

Kill his wife and kid for money?

Roger Brauburger: I thought, well, he's just blowing off steam...

Until, a few weeks later, when Bob laid out a detailed plan.

Roger Brauburger: He goes, Have you given any thought to that? I said yeah. He goes, Well, how about $20,000? I’ll be barbecuing this Wednesday. I will leave the rifle behind the shed. And you can shoot me in the arm. Shoot my wife and kid in the head and chest, and then take out as many neighborhood kids as you need to make it not look so obvious. And I was like, "You know, this is crazy dude."

Keith Morrison: Straight face when he was saying all this?

Roger Brauburger: Oh yeah, straight as the day is long.

Keith Morrison: Why would he pick you, of all people?

Roger Brauburger: He knew that I was into drugs. And he knew that I was probably the last person that would go to the police.                  

Roger wondered what had happened to that family-- they seemed so happy.

Roger Brauburger: I asked him one time, why didn’t he get a divorce? He said his parents would hate him.

Weeks later, Liana and Erik were dead.

Roger Brauburger: he figured out a way to do it himself to make it look like an accident.

Keith Morrison: You really thought he did it at that point?

Roger Brauburger: I knew he did it at that point.

Roger knew he had a moral obligation to speak up, to say something, but it was his word against Bob's.

Roger Brauburger: He was a good guy, he was a pillar of the community. You know, I mean, the guy taught tae kwon doe to children for Christ's sake. My parents absolutely loved him. When I told my dad Bob offered me money to kill his wife and kid before he did it, my dad didn't believe me.

Roger's father: I didn’t listen to everything roger had told me because i didmt wamt o hear him, i thought there is no way Bob would kill his wife and son, his own son.

And if his own dad wasn't buying it, the police surely wouldn;t, especially given Roger’s reputation as a drug user and peddler.

Roger Brauburger: I wasn't a very upstanding community citizen you know. I was, you know, I wasn't a boy scout.

What’s more, Roger didn't have any real proof that Bob had killed his wife and child.

Roger Brauburger: I had nothing. And it woulda looked like I was attacking someone that had been through a personal tragedy. I had to-- bow my head and keep my mouth shut.  And I had to live with that.  I'd been a pallbearer for his son, knowing that he killed him.  And that tore me up.  That ate the hell outta me for a long time.

Keith Morrison: What was it like standin' there with that coffin on your shoulder?

Roger Brauburger: It was-- brutal.  It was emotionally brutal.  What if I had said sumpin', you know?

Keith Morrison: Gosh, and there you are, carrying the casket.

And now it was too late. Liana and Erik were dead, Bob collected the insurance, $60,000.  And Roger kept his mouth shut.

Roger Brauburger: I was afraid of him. I was appalled at him and myself for not having said something.  I wanted-- I never wanted to hear from him again.

Weeks turned into months, months into a year, then two. Bob moved away.  And roger tried to forget.

Roger Brauburger: By then I really wanted to believe that maybe it had been an accident. Maybe I was tryin' to talk myself into it. I mean, maybe it could've been an accident.

But not after that night when he picked up his phone, and it was Bob. And then, as Roger discovered, he had a very big problem indeed.

Roger Brauburger: It all came back, it all came back with a vengeance.

Two years had passed since Liana Duke and her little boy Erik fell off the cliff at the end of Lost Dog Road. And by now Roger Brauburger had suppressed his suspicion that what happened that warm summer day was anything but an accident.

Roger Brauburger: I didn’t want to associate the Bob Duke that I knew with the Bob Duke that wanted his wife and kid killed. So I tried to separate it, in the back of my mind.

Anyway, Roger the drug addict was busy hitting bottom.

Roger Brauburger: I was stuck, I was a slave to that. I was using intravenously. I’d do anything for my next fix.

And then one January night Roger answered the phone and it was Bob, calling from Houston, where he'd gone to live with his older brother.

Roger Brauburger: He'd called me and wanted to know if I’d get him automatic weapon. He was working in a security high-rise and there were people that wanted certain people dead. And he could make money at this.

Keith Morrison: What was it like to hear that voice again for the first time?

Roger Brauburger: It was like the nightmare all over again.

Bob knew that Roger's drug-dealing friends had connections; he knew if anyone could help him out, Roger could.

Keith Morrison: Why didn't you just say “No, I’m not gonna do it”?

Roger Brauburger: I don't know why. Maybe I’m a coward in that way.

So Roger played along --for awhile-- until Bob called a few weeks later with an even more bizarre request.

Roger Brauburger: He said Look, I've done family before, I didn't enjoy it. You know, I would like you to kill my parents. I’m like, What? He goes "They're gonna die whether you do it or not." He goes, "But I know that you need the money, so I'm giving you first shot at it." He offered me $20,000 to kill his mom and dad.

Roger got off the phone, shaken.  And, once again, afraid.

Roger Brauburger: All of a sudden, I know too much again. I know way too much...

What was he to do? He called his father.

Roger’s father: I was just flabbergasted. I said, why? Why would he do that? He said for the money. I said, Roger, tomorrow morning, you go right to the police. You tell them everything you know. He said, Well, Dad, it’s gonna cause a lot of problems for him, and I said Roger, it don’t make a difference.

And it was right then that Roger decided that for once in his life, he was going to do the right thing.

Roger Brauburger: Well, I went to school with a kid named Mark Mecham. And his dad was Detective Mont Mecham, head of narcotics detective. He was someone I could trust.

Mont Mecham: I received a call from Roger. He was in total panic. He is rambling, he's frightened, they'll kill me, they'll kill me, I sad who's gonna kill you?

Mecham tried to talk Roger down.

Mont Mecham: You know, he wanted to swim the river or meet by the cover of darkness, you know, no moon and all that stuff.

They met the following morning.

Keith Morrison: What was the first thing out of Roger’s mouth?

Mont Mecham: Basically that he knew that Bob had killed his wife and kid. 

And then there was more -- this new plot to kill Bob’s parents.

Keith Morrison: That was the shocker.

Mont Mecham: That was the shocker.

Only one thing to do now, said Detective Mecham. Roger would have to do the one thing he thought he'd never do: Cooperate with the police. He would have to catch his old friend in the act of plotting to kill. The FBI was called in; they put a tap on Roger's phone. Agent Todd Scott gave him directions..

Todd Scott: We needed them to discuss the plot because up until that point, we only had Roger, whose credibility was undetermined by the FBI.

Agent: This is expected to be a call from Roger Brauburger to Bob Duke, reference: conspiracy to commit murder.

A visibly nervous Roger Brauburger dialed his friend’s number.

Roger Brauburger: Hey, uh, remember when we talked before about the twenty-thousand for killing your parents?

Bob: Yeah.

Roger Brauburger: Hey, uh, I’m thinking I might want that.

Roger Brauburger: They had to see if there was any, you know, validity, behind what I was saying.

Keith Morrison: Because that was a pretty wild thing you had told them

Roger Brauburger: Yeah, especially coming from me, you know.

It was like a conversation out of the hit man movies Roger and Bob had so often watched together. This time it was Bob and his brother who wanted to turn Roger into a real life hit man. They discussed how they'd carry out the hits, and set a timeline for the murder.

Roger Brauburger: Did you have any ideas about maybe how I could do it or…

Bob Duke: A twenty-two is quiet enough.

Roger Brauburger: Right.

Bob Duke: No one can think it's anything more than a door slammin'.

Roger Brauburger: Okay.  So you would think it would be on like a Friday night?

Bob Duke: We thought they might be going to Salt Lake or something for a day.

Roger Brauburger: Oh.

Bob Duke: And our whole thing relies upon us being able to say we are where we are. You know what I'm saying?

Roger Brauburger: Right. For an alibi.

Bob Duke: Yeah.

Todd Scott, FBI: A good time would be over the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend. If they could kill them on Friday they would have three days to-- to be totally out of there, alibi themselves, and no one would even begin to look for their parents until Tuesday.

Bob Duke: I can get you in, too.

Roger Brauburger: You can get me in? So it's just walk in and uh, do it and walk out just like it was, like I lived there basically, then?

Bob Duke: Yeah, the best thing to do would be when - be there when no one's there.

Roger Brauburger: Right.

Bob Duke: You know, when they come in…

Roger Brauburger: And then catch them off guard?

Bob Duke: They've got to be together.

Roger Brauburger: Okay.

Bob Duke: Because my dad does have a gun in the house.

Roger Brauburger: I couldn't just bust him and give him a chance to get the gun and shoot me. I had to be there to surprise him.

Roger Brauburger: Hey, uh, as far as like afterwards, like getting paid? Like is there insurance on them or something?

Bob Duke: There are...many things going on there.

Bob had collected $60,000 in life insurance money after Liana and Erik's deaths. And now, it seemed, he was planning to collect money on his parents.

Roger Brauburger: Okay, well, let me kick around the twenty thousand for a couple days and I'll get back to you.

Bob Duke: I've had it with this whole thing. I'm tired of hearing about it.

Roger Brauburger: Right.

Bob Duke: If you did it we could probably up it another five.

Roger Brauburger: Okay.

Bob Duke: But the key is ASAP.

Todd Scott, FBI: They were in a hurry; they just wanted to be done with this. So they solicited Roger to actually conduct the murders.

Bob Duke: Now, you're not talking about this, are you?

Roger Brauburger: No. No, I haven't said a word to no one.

Keith Morrison: Were you nervous that he would realize somebody was overhearing this thing?

Roger Brauburger: Oh god yes. I don't know how he didn't figure it out. I was damn near hyperventilating.

The FBI was nervous too. They assigned extra cops around Bob Duke's parents home, around Roger's home. And they surrounded Bob’s apartment in Houston, ready at a moment’s notice.

Agent: Today is January 8, 1999 at 11:59 a.m. This is in reference to conspiracy to commit murder.

Still, they needed more from Roger. Though he'd extracted evidence of the murder plot against Bob's parents, Roger hadn't asked Bob to admit he killed his wife and son. He'd have to make one more phone call.

Roger Brauburger: You were going to send me the key?

Bob Duke: You know, I was thinking about that. I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Roger Brauburger: Why’s that?

Bob Duke: ‘Cause it won’t look like an accident. It's gonna look planned.

Roger Brauburger: Okay. Hey, uh, is there any way we can make it look like an accident like, like you did with your wife and kid?

Bob Duke: Dude, I did not do that.

Roger Brauburger: You didn't?

Bob Duke: No. I f-ing didn't do that.

Roger Brauburger: I thought you said you did that.

Bob Duke: No.

Roger Brauburger: Huh?

Bob Duke: No, f-k no. No, not with that, no.

Roger Brauburger: Huh.

Bob Duke: We talked about it and I didn't want nothing to do with it.

Roger Brauburger: He vehemently denied it and, you know, he got upset.

Duke wasn’t confessing up to the murder of his wife and son, but the FBI felt they had enough on the plot to kill his parents. And there was danger involved. They'd take what they could get.

Todd Scott: The decision was made that we would arrest him while he's on the phone. 

Local reporter: Twenty five year old Robert Duke was arrested in his home in southwest Houston, his brother 31-year-old Patrick Duke was arrested at a business office near downtown.

Bob Duke was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, his brother with failure to report the plot.

Finally, it looked like Bob Duke was going to prison; Roger had done the right thing.  It was finally over.

Roger Brauburger: It felt like a weight off my shoulders.  I went out and got drunk that night.

Only, the law is not always so predictable.  And Roger's nightmare was far from over.

Roger Brauburger: The only way I can guarantee the protection of my family is to meet Bob when he gets off that bus and kill him.

Roger Brauburger: They all thought I made it up. So half the town hated me, and the other half patted me on the back and bought me a beer.

Roger Brauburger, drug addict, had accomplished something quite remarkable: He'd foiled a murder plot. Imagine: His own childhood friend, Bob Duke, wanted to kill his own parents. Both of them well-known and respected Wyoming school teachers.

Roger Brauburger: He came to me. He put me in this position. And he has turned my life upside down with this.

And yet those very parents, who refused to listen to the telephone recordings, also refused to believe their son wanted them dead. And more than a few people made it clear to Roger they agreed with Bob's parents.

Roger Brauburger: "Why did you do this?  You know, why did you make this up?"

And then it got worse. Bob Duke was charged with conspiracy to commit the murder of his parents, but not the murder of his wife and son. He took a plea bargain. The sentence: ten years in federal prison. By 2009, Bob Duke would be a free man. Roger was now married, with a baby, and another on the way. And he was certain bob would seek revenge, just as soon as he could.

Roger Brauburger: For every day he is sitting in prison he is gonna be thinking of 100 different ways to kill me.

He asked the FBI for protection of his family. They told him he wasn't a candidate.

Roger Brauburger: My life was turned upside down and I've been through hell for this. For what? To do the right thing?

Around Green River, the sense of something unfinished festered. Bob Duke’s parents still went to class every day, held their heads high, professed their son's innocence.  Still, people wondered. If Bob Duke was capable of plotting to kill his own parents, was he capable of killing his wife and child?

Reporter Steve Core: I think the majority of people in town were thinking they need to reopen that case.

And then finally prosecutor Harold Moneyhun and investigator Mike Dayton agreed to take a fresh look at that accident on the cliff.

Harold Moneyhun: I thought about it often over the course of several years. And the idea of him getting away with it simply didn’t sit very well.

Mike Dayton: What I told Harold was, "I am, pretty sure he did it but we're gonna have a hard time proving it.”

Investigator Mike Dayton went out to the cliff at the end of Lost Dog Road. He was taken aback by the harsh wind, the pigmy rattlesnakes, the severe drop-- no place for adults, let alone a child.

Mike Dayton: This is a scary place. And it is  gravel-- and it-- it-- it's gravel on top.  But its layers of thin rock laid on layers of thin rock.

Keith Morrison: So it's shale kind of thing.

Mike Dayton: Yeah, and you-- and you step on it, and every step shifts a little bit.  It is far steeper than it appears in pictures. 

But they needed forensic evidence, physical evidence. They examined the autopsy photos.

HaroldMoneyhun: There was a linear-- mark, a-- bluish, reddish bruise on-- Liana's throat, and there was a suspicion that there may be evidence of-- strangulation-- prior to her being pushed off the cliff.

If Bob had strangled her, they were sure the hyoid bone, a small U-shaped bone of the neck, would be fractured. They were granted a court order to exhume the bodies.

HaroldMoneyhun: If that bone's broken, we thought-- you know, we had him.

They waited, hoping this was the evidence they needed. And? The injuries were horrific, but the hyoid was intact. She had not been strangled.

HaroldMoneyhun: It was very—disheartening. Everything that they saw would be consistent with an accidental fall.

So they brought in an expert in the way things - and people - fall.   The expert built dummies the same size and weight as Liana and Erik. And threw them off the cliff.

HaroldMoneyhun: We were trying to determine whether there was a difference-- as to the-- resting place or point of impact if someone were pushed with some lateral force or whether someone just slipped off. 

But in the end, it didn't matter if the dummies were hurled off or gently dropped off the face of the cliff, because they were funneled to the same landing place each time.

Keith Morrison: You guys were really…

HaroldMoneyhun: Desperate? (chuckle) I think at that point we knew that we weren't gonna get a-- a lot to-- of additional forensic or physical evidence.  And so we knew our case hinged on the credibility of-- of Roger Brauburger.

Roger Brauburger-- who was certain that Bob Duke had murdered his wife and child, but whose reputation as a drug addict and peddler was terrible. Would a jury believe him? 

HaroldMoneyhun: Roger-- wasn't a choir boy. You know, he had-- he had some past.

Still, Moneyhun decided to take the chance. Five years after Liana and Erik plunged off a cliff to their deaths, bob duke, father and husband, was charged with two counts of first degree murder. 

Steve Core: I think the general feeling among people in Green River was, "It's about time."

At the trial, here at the Sweetwater County courthouse, rescue workers testified that Duke’s demeanor was odd for someone who’d suffered such an unexpected tragedy; Liana's family said she was an overprotective mother, wouldn't have let young Erik play on the cliff. Others said Bob was unhappy in his marriage, was verbally abusive to Liana. And then there was the most important witness, Roger Brauburger. He would testify in a case that could put his old friend away for life.

Roger Brauburger: I thought, "You know, he's probably gonna glare me down."  And then I started thinking, "Well, the reason I'm here is because of him."  And I started getting' angry.

Roger told the jury specific details of how Bob had offered him $20,000 to kill his wife and child and how three years later, offered him a similar amount to kill his own parents. But had it been enough?

HaroldMoneyhun: No witnesses-- no physical evidence-- three people went out to cliff, one survived, he claims it's an accident.  There's no phys-- physical evidence to disprove the accident.  This is classically--

Keith Morrison: A classically losa-- losable case.

HaroldMoneyhun: We weren't-- let's say we weren't overly confident

And then one day toward the end of the trial, Moneyhun went back to his office to have lunch and fret about his case.

HaroldMoneyhun: I was trying to eat my sandwich and i got a message that there was someone that needed to talk to me about this case.

It was with some reluctance that he relented and had his secretary bring in a young, attractive, woman.

HaroldMoneyhun: Just kind of-- danced in and-- and-- sat down and told me she had some stuff, some information that I really should hear.

Steve Core: It’s a small town. Ten or twelve thousand people in Green River, Wyoming. And when something like this happens, people talk. And it was talked about pretty much everywhere you went.

The Bob Duke murder trial was on everybody's mind in Green River, Wyo. that summer. Bob Duke was 29 by then.  Liana and Erik had been in their graves six years. And Prosecutor Moneyhun believed a conviction was a moral necessity.

HaroldMoneyhun: If you’re capable of killing your own son for insurance money, there’s not much beyond that.

But, inside the Sweetwater County courthouse, the prosecutor was preparing to rest an iffy case: No real forensic evidence, no real physical evidence, and his main witness was a known addict. And then, over lunch, there she was.

Crystal Robinson: It was just spur of the moment.

Her name was Crystal Robinson and she had a story to tell.

Crystal Robinson: I wrestled with it for a while.  Because-- I did, I looked horrible.  You know, I looked like a home-wrecker. 

Crystal told the prosecutor she met Bob Duke at the Green River mini-mart. Crystal was just 13 years old. And Bob, she said, came on to her.

Crystal Robinson: It was just so flattering that an older man- that he would have any kind of interest in, you know, a girl that was so young.

They started hanging out together, well, actually drinking and making out together, she says, even though Bob had already been married for 3 years. And she was just entering her teens. He took her for rides on his 4-wheeler. Lots of times, they went out to the country.

Crystal Robinson: I’d been out there since I’d been little. So I had a lot of experience on the roads and everything and knew where I was at.

So she knew exactly where they were when Bob drove up Lost Dog Road, to the very cliff he told police he'd never once been to before Liana and Erik fell to their deaths.

Crystal Robinson: He had taken me to that very cliff at least 20 times.

Harold Moneyhun: Bob had always claimed that he had arrived at this point on the cliff by accident. he'd taken a wrong turn.

But he lied. And while they were up there, said Crystal, he told her stories about his wife and son.

Crystal Robinson: He was very miserable. And that was the only part of the conversation that ever went bad. It was whenever he talked about his family. He felt like he was trapped. I asked him a few times, if you are that miserable, why stay? You know, "Get a divorce." He wanted to find a way out of getting a divorce without having to pay child support.

The prosecutor put Crystal on the stand, of course... And then he told the jury that Bob Duke's "way" out of his dissatisfaction was to shove his wife and child off that deadly cliff, claim it was an accident, and collect $60,000 on a life insurance policy. And then, when that money ran out, he and his brother concocted a new plan-- to kill their parents for more insurance money.

Bob Duke took the stand himself to deny the allegations against him. Denied, for example, Crystal’s story, except that they hung out together. Reporter Steve Core found his testimony flat, expressionless.

Steve Core: He came across as arrogant. He came across as not remorseful.

But the jury, apparently, had a lot to talk about. An hour went by, then five, then ten. It was late when Roger Brauburger got a call. He'd just put his children to bed. He rushed down to the courthouse to hear the verdict.

Keith Morrison: You musta been enormously nervous about this.

Roger Brauburger: I was a wreck. My future really hung-

Keith Morrison: On what they said.

Roger Brauburger: Exactly. You know, and whether or not I could sleep at night.

And? Roger Brauburger has been sleeping rather well lately. He's discovered the joy of fatherhood. And a new marriage. He's clean and sober too. And Bob Duke - thanks to Roger's courage  - is serving life in prison  for the murder of his wife and son.

Roger Brauburger: I did the only thing I could do. I still look myself in the mirror and say, "Look you know, I like this guy." You know.

Keith Morrison: That’s a big step for you.

Roger Brauburger: That is a big step. And it and it took a long time to get there.

But get there he finally did, because, perhaps for the first time in his life, Roger Brauburger stepped up to do the right thing.

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