December 4, 1939: Carol Jean Fillion is born to Raymond Joseph Fillion and Pauline Elnora Knapp. As a child, Carol was of above average intelligence. She played clarinet in the high school band, and graduated on June 12, 1957.
Even before graduation, Carol married Danny Dean Aungst on January 4, 1957 shortly after she turned 18. The marriage lasted for about a year, when Danny filed for divorce on June 18, 1958 . He claimed she did not respect her marriage vows and subjected him to “extreme and repeated cruelty.” He said that “on numerous occasions” she would say she no longer loved him and was openly going on dates with other men. Carol subjected him to “constant bickering and nagging” that he was not able to alleviate. A judge signed off on the divorce on September 26.
March 19, 1960: Carol married a second time to Jock Dee Clark. The couple had one son, Mark Clark. The marriage lasted around four years, when Jock Clark filed for divorce. He said Carol had shown him “extreme cruelty.” She “had a dominating disposition, constantly insisted upon having her own way, and if interfered with becomes abusive.” Carol allegedly showed him no love and “constantly nags and criticizes without just cause.” Carol called her husband “vile, obscene and vulgar names without cause.” She would leave for long periods of time without explanation and “did not regularly get his meals.”
Carol contested the divorce. She said the meals were not regular because Clark came home at irregular intervals. She denied being gone for long periods, denied associating with other men and denied hanging out at a local tavern besides one occasion when she had to work until 2:30am. The judge found in favor of Clark – the divorce was granted April 10, 1964. Clark was given complete custody of their son, and Carol was denied alimony. She was given the house in Battle Creek, an automobile, a television and the stereo.
Shortly after the divorce, Carol ran into Ronald Clark – her ex-husband’s brother. Carol had a bruised and swollen face and arm. She said Jock had done that to her during a custody dispute. Ronald believed his brother had likely beat Carol during their marriage.
Carol was married a third time on September 3, 1966 to Richard Gale Pierce, a career member of the Coast Guard. Because of his job, the couple moved frequently. In the early 1970s, they were stationed in Sicklerville, New Jersey. While in Sicklerville, neighbors in the trailer park thought Richard was beating Carol. One neighbor, an X-ray technician, said the bruises on Carol did not look like an accident based on her medical training. Carol did tell one neighbor that she thought Richard was going to kill her, and she considered hiding someplace no one would ever find her.
In July 1973, Richard was assigned to the USCG Cutter Mesquite, which was based out of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The couple moved again, taking up residence at Sunrise Shores trailer park on Elm Street.
Rene and Kris Zimmer, another Coast Guard couple, thought the Pierces bickered more than most couples and were often “volatile” and throwing verbal barbs at each other. Friend Richard Hueftle once visited their home and they were in a “heated argument” that lasted until 4:00am. When the couple went to bed, Richard snuck out. Former shipmate Stefen Venckus thought Carol was “the suspicious type” and did not trust her husband. Douglas Lundberg, an executive officer on the ship, said Carol was the kind of woman who would drive some guys “nuts.” David Reed, another shipmate, found Carol to be aggressive and Richard acted “wimpy” around her.
Brian Fillion, Carol’s brother, went to visit her for Christmas 1973. He had not seen her for a few years. When Richard’s hip came in, Brian picked him up and they went last minute Christmas shopping. Back at the house, Carol “interrogated” Richard about where his ship went, not believing him of its schedule. Brian was impressed with how calm Richard remained during the questioning even though he had not slept well in days.
In late 1974, ship captain Allen Rosebrook lost his wife after she fell down the basement steps. Other people on the ship found it suspicious. Richard said engineering officer Kent Kramer, “That was a pretty good deal, Rosebrook got rid of his wife. He got away with it, so could I.”
From 1973 to 1975, Carol was in regular contact with her mother through letters and phone calls. The letters would be signed from both her and Richard. Carol was proud of the progress being made on their house in Cheboygan, Michigan, where they were going to live when Richard was discharged. Carol even sold her car to build a garage there. On May 7, 1975, Carol wrote that she was anxious to move into her new home – the moving day was set at September 22. A May 25 letter spoke of Carol’s saving up to buy a $100 Coast Guard ring for Richard and how she had been so sneaky because it couldn’t show up on their banking statements.
Around July 1975, Richard moved the couple’s valuables to a safety deposit box in Michigan. Birth certificates, military papers, and even a $1,200 ring Carol got from Jock Clark. A letter on August 12 invited Carol’s mother to the new house, but warned her the plumbing wasn’t quite ready yet. She noted they were not financially well-off and would have to drive the long way to Michigan because the ferry was too expensive. The letter said they had also adopted a kitten.
On September 2, the Mesquite left Sturgeon Bay to assist a barge in Detroit. Soon after leaving, the orders were changed to Chicago. While ashore at Chicago, Richard called Carol and said he was in Detroit. His shipmate asked why he lied and was told “she wouldn’t believe me anyway.” The ship returned to Sturgeon Bay on September 5 at 6:15pm and the crew were given “liberty.”
September 6, 1975: Richard went to the ship and told his crewmates that Carol had run off and emptied their savings account of $20,000. A few days later, a mutual friend visited the Pierce home to see how Richard was doing. Carol’s things were still in the house: her makeup, her record collection, her cat, and even her purse. There was no sign that she had gone anywhere.
Richard had his retirement party aboard the Mesquite on September 19. Both his mother and Carol’s mother were there. On September 22, he moved to 8856 Raspberry Lane in Cheboygan as planned.
October 14: Carol’s mother called Sturgeon Bay police. She had not heard from her daughter in months. She believed Richard had reported her missing, but this was the first they heard about it.
On October 18, Richard Pierce reported that his wife ran away from their trailer on September 8 and had taken $1,000 that had been set aside for the purpose of moving back to Michigan after he was discharged from the Coast Guard. Why it took him a month to file a missing persons report is unclear. Larson felt Richard was more upset about the $1,000 than his missing wife. Police brought out cadaver dogs and searched the Sturgeon Bay property, finding nothing.
Police spoke to neighbors and members of the Mesquite crew – every single one of them said Richard did not seem upset by his wife’s disappearance and continued on as if nothing happened.
January 20, 1976: Brian Fillion went to Richard’s house and asked him point blank if he knew where Carol was. Richard looked “sheepish” but said he did not know.
November 22, 1977: Richard was granted a divorce from Carol. In exchange for giving her $1 if she ever showed to claim it, he was given sole ownership of their property.
June 24, 1978: Richard was married (his third time) to Rose Marlene Box, who he had met a month after Carol’s disappearance. Following the marriage, Rose moved in – Richard still had several of Carol’s undergarments in his possession. He told Rose that Carol had run off with a boyfriend she met in Sturgeon Bay and would not be coming back.
December 9, 1982: Richard was brought to Sturgeon Bay and interviewed by Chief Nordin. Richard said Carol and him had coffee on September 8, 1975 and then he went to work. When he returned, she was gone and had taken her summer clothes and undergarments, as well as $1,000 that he kept in an envelope. The bills in the envelope were ones, fives, and tens, but nothing larger. The chief noted this would require 150 bills to equal $1,000, which would be a lot of money to fit in a normal-sized envelope. Richard found Carol’s wedding ring in a drawer and later gave it to his daughter from his first marriage. Richard claimed to call the Door County and Green Bay hospitals looking for Carol, using a local phone book. Police determined the Green Bay hospital was not listed in the Sturgeon Bay phone book. Richard said he was never violent with Carol at any point, which the police doubted based on talking to others. The police repeatedly referred to Carol as dead, and each time Richard said he did not believe she was dead.
1989: Carol Jean’s mother died.
Around 1995, Richard was in Sturgeon Bay for a Coast Guard reunion. When a former shipmate asked about Carol, Richard said nothing but just stared at him with a “shit-eating grin.”
In the second half of 2001, Richard and Chad Box (his wife’s grandson) were moving furniture and Chad said his grandmother wanted it a certain way. Richard said the furniture would go where he wanted it, and “that’s why I got rid of my wife.” Investigators searched Pierce’s Michigan home in 2008. They believed Carol’s body was hidden in the Michigan home for years until Richard Pierce removed it.
On September 21, 2018, the Wisconsin Cold Case Review Team looked at the cold case and concluded there was enough to show Richard Pierce was set to gain from Carol’s disappearance.
On October 11, 2018 agents from the Wisconsin DOJ and the Sturgeon Bay Police made an arrest for the alleged murder of Carol Jean Pierce, who was reported missing in September 1975 – 43 years earlier. Law enforcement arrested Richard in his hometown of Cheboygan, Michigan.
“Three generations of law enforcement have worked to close this case,” said AG Brad Schimel. “Today, we were able to make major progress in finding the answer to Carol’s disappearance. Though many of Carol’s family and friends are no longer alive, justice must still be provided for the late Carol and those loved ones who still wonder what happened so many years ago.”
“After over four decades of investigation, Sturgeon Bay recognizes the Fillion family has endured 43 years of anguish for the loss of their sister,” said Police Chief Arleigh Porter. “While the pursuit of justice is often difficult, and in this case long overdue, investigators never gave up and hope to bring to light answers to family members on Carol’s behalf.”
Prosecutors presented six days of evidence. Wisconsin DOJ Special Agent Jay Yerges testified about searches of records that show no trace of Carol. “In checking all of those records, Carol Jean Pierce does not exist in society,” Yerges said. “She’s dead. She’s gone. She does not exist.”
Deputy Ronald Fenlon with the Cheboygan County Sheriff’s Office talked about a search of Pierce’s Michigan home. Investigators searched a crawlspace in 2018 and 10 years later in 2018. There was a cut in the concrete in 2008 filled with dirt and rock and earth. During the search in 2018, the cut was there, but was no longer filled in. “While videotaping, I was able to observe a void that went back underneath the cement floor of the crawl space,” Fenlon testified.
Dog handler Alyssa Palmer testified about the search of Richard’s Michigan home in 2018. K9 Hela, a human remains detection dog, was used in the search. Assistant District Attorney Nick Grode: “And on October 12, 2018, did Hela indicate to the presence of human remains in the defendant’s residence?” Palmer: “Yes.” Grode: “In how many locations?” Palmer: “I believe there were six.” The defense declined to call any witnesses. Pierce did not take the stand.
In their closing argument, the prosecution told the jury Carol Jean is dead and denied the theory she took off and started a new life without telling anyone. Grode said there’s no record of Carol Jean existing anywhere in nearly 47 years. Communication ended abruptly 17,000 days ago.
“It’s beyond a reasonable doubt, given everything we’ve already discussed at this point. We know Carol Jean’s dead. We know there was violence in the Pierce home. She disappeared suddenly. She left all kinds of personal things that can’t explain why she wouldn’t take them,” Grode said. “The defendant was the last person to see her alive, and he gave multiple stories about what happened to her.”
Defense attorney Kate Zuidmulder argued that without a body, the jury could not convict her client. “You cannot find my client guilty of these crimes,” Zuidmulder said. “There literally is no body. And there literally is no proof of human remains.”
After about 9.5 hours of deliberation, a jury returned a verdict of guilty of 1st Degree Murder. Pierce was remanded into custody awaiting sentencing, scheduled for August 5, 2022 at 2:30pm.
As the judge read the verdict before announcing it to the courtroom, Pierce showed no emotion. Even hearing the words “Guilty,” he showed little expression.
August 5: In addition to a life sentence, Judge David Weber gave Pierce, 86, another 3 years in prison for disinterment, which he would begin serving if he was paroled on the murder charge.