Brooke Wilberger was a 19-year-old college student when she disappeared on May 25, 2004. She was last seen in the parking lot of an apartment complex which her brother and sister-in-law managed near the campus of Oregon State University. Wilberger, a devout Mormon, was home in Oregon after finishing her freshman year at Brigham Young University. Detectives on the case knew Wilberger didn’t walk away or run away. “Something bad had happened,” they said. They were right.
It took five years to find her murderer and her remains. Police were able to link Joel Patrick Courtney, a native of Beaverton, Oregon, to Wilberger’s death after he was accused of beating and raping another college student near the University of New Mexico, six months after Wilberger’s disappearance. The University of New Mexico student was able to escape and identify Courtney as her abuser. To avoid the death penalty, Courtney pleaded guilty to the murder of Wilberger and, as part of the deal, revealed the location of Wilberger’s remains. Courtney was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for Wilberger’s death. Dateline NBC will recount the cold case on August 20 at 9pm.