‘The body will be on the side of the road’ | Jury hears recording of Rothwell telling police where to find his pregnant wife

“One would believe no one could survive the loss of that amount of blood.”
Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 10:17 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A St. Louis County jury heard Beau Rothwell’s voice for the first time Wednesday afternoon as the court played a six-minute recording of a meeting that changed the course of the investigation into his wife’s killing.

“From my house, you get on 70 … to Hannibal … 30 minutes … southbound on 61 … the body will be on the side of the road in the brush.”

A middle-aged juror put her pen down and paused as Beau Rothwell’s distant voice filled the courtroom. The jury has been hearing evidence in the case of Jennifer Rothwell since Monday. They’ve been listening to evidence and testimony but hadn’t yet heard the voice of the suspect across from them.

The recording was from November 18, 2019, when Beau Rothwell’s attorney told police his client was ready to cooperate. Prosecuting Attorney Thomas Smith played the recording to the jury while St. Louis County Homicide Detective Jason Whiteside was on the stand. In the recording, Whiteside asks Beau Rothwell if the body was concealed or clothed.

“Some brush .. twigs,” Beau says. “A plastic bag over the head … no clothing.”

The last thing Smith mentioned to Whiteside before he concluded was Beau Rothwell’s choice of words. Smith asked Whiteside to confirm Beau Rothwell only referred to Jennifer as “it,” ”the body,” and “the head.” The lead detective concurred.

Lead Defense Attorney Charles Barberio made clear his client wasn’t promised anything in exchange for his statement and reminded the prosecuting attorney the statement was “helpful in recovering” the victim.

“Pale, lifeless ... female body.”

Beau Rothwell gave this statement six days after he reported his wife missing. About 50 investigators and K-9 officers followed Beau Rothwell’s directions and drove over 40 miles to the wooded area along Highway 61 near Troy.

Officers lined up parallel to the highway and walked through the treacherous terrain, searching for five hours until officer Matthew Zufall saw a “pale, lifeless ... female body with a black bag around her head.”

Officer Zufall was the second witness the prosecuting attorney called to the stand Wednesday afternoon. He was just over 10 feet away from the body when he first noticed her and called “I got her.” He said she laid in a fetal position under brush, twigs and branches, some five feet or longer, like “someone had put them there.”

Jennifer Rothwell was six weeks pregnant. Whiteside said police took fetal tissue and a paternity test confirmed the baby was Beau Rothwell’s. Earlier in the afternoon the defense showed a series of text messages between the couple discussing pregnancy dating back to March 2019. They considered baby names in June and mentioned ovulation in September and October. The couple mentioned a pregnancy test on October 26 and Beau Rothwell allegedly broke up with his girlfriend the next day. A couple of days later, Jennifer Rothwell told him her eight-week appointment was on November 26.

Barberio broke the tension in the room and asked for a sidebar. A few minutes later, Smith approached the projector with caution and firmly held exhibit 45-L. He paused as though he needed the room to take a breath with him before the next photo. The projector screen showed what Zufall saw that cold night, a depressed skull and a chewed face as animals tore through the bag around her head and consumed the right hemisphere of her brain.

One juror looked down and another wiped her cheek as a court officer walked toward her from the other side with a box of tissues.

“It takes a significant amount of force to cause this kind of injury.”

The court went into recess before the final witness of the day took the stand. Dr. Gershom Norfleet with the county’s medical examiner said Jennifer Rothwell’s skull was crushed on the right side and confirmed “postmortem animal scavenging activity” had occurred.

When Smith asked Norfleet if the animal activity could’ve broken her skull, Dr. Gershom Norfleet said: “absolutely not.”

Norfleet said Jennifer Rothwell was killed by blunt craniocerebral trauma - the impact fractured her skull and reached the brain. Norfleet said that kind of blunt trauma renders someone unconscious immediately.

“Could it be a hammer?” Smith asked.

“The wound is too big for a traditional hammer,” Norfleet said, adding he has only seen this kind of injury in high-speed car crashes and if someone “falls from a 30-story building.”

Norfleet was unable to say how long Jennifer Rothwell was alive after the head trauma.

“It takes a significant amount of force to cause this kind of injury,” Norfleet said.

Norfleet told the jury his professional conclusion is homicidal violence, explaining to them a homicide is when a person dies by the hands of another person, regardless of the intention and circumstances - and the point was reiterated again in cross-examination.

The autopsy showed two other lacerations on the left side of her head. Norfleet said she sustained them while still alive. In questioning, Norfleet told Smith a punch or a fall down the stairs couldn’t have caused these two lacerations but he didn’t rule out the possibility of being hit by an object or hitting a wall corner.

“One would believe no one could survive the loss of that amount of blood.”

The prosecuting attorney showed the jury dozens of photos from the Rothwell residence but the air in the room changed when Smith pulled the blood-stained carpet out of a box and laid it in front of the jury. Beau Rothwell lowered his head and rested his chin on his hand as the jury stood to look at the piece of evidence with “large amounts of brownish-reddish stains on the front and back.”

Whiteside said a fan was set up next to the damp carpet when he went to the basement the night of November 13 and was met with an “overwhelming cleaning product odor.” The basement’s windows were open despite the freezing temperatures.

Smith grabbed a cutout of the beige carpet with the victim’s dry blood and held it just feet from the jury’s eyes. Whiteside said the stain had soaked through the carpet, onto the padding and saturated the concrete floor. On-site testing confirmed the stains had blood proteins in them and with that volume, Beau Rothwell became a suspect.

“One would believe no one could survive the loss of that amount of blood,” Whiteside said.

Beau Rothwell exhaled as Smith opened another box and held one of the “numerous” towels detectives found damp in the laundry room.

Barberio showed the jury photos of the Bluestar system police used to presumptively test for traces of blood. In cross-examination with Whiteside, the defense established police didn’t test all areas of the house, just the places with large stains, raising doubt that blood could have been in areas they didn’t test, like the bottom steps where the carpet was.

The drywall by the big stains had several indentions at the top and the bottom. Smith showed the jury a piece of unknown hair/fiber removed from one of the concaves.

Reminding the court police didn’t test the stairs for any blood traces, the defense asked Whiteside if it’s possible for someone to have fallen down the steps, hit their head on the wall and bled.

“Possible or probable?” Whiteside asked.

“Possible,” Barberio said.

“Yes,” Whiteside said, but noting a fall wouldn’t cause multiple dents in the wall.

When Norfleet was on the stand later he said it would’ve taken up to three blows to the head to crush the right side of Jennifer Rothwell’s skull and the two other lacerations on the left side.

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The extramarital relationship didn’t make the stenograph Wednesday afternoon except when Smith asked Whiteside why he thinks Beau Rothwell would commit such a crime.

“His girlfriend meant more to him than his wife,” Whiteside said.