BOURBON, Mo. ( -- A man accused of murder in Bourbon, Missouri pleaded guilty to the crime Tuesday. It's a case News 4 Investigates' Lauren Trager has looked into extensively.

Edward Hillhouse

Edward Hillhouse, right, was first reported missing early in 2016. On Tuesday, Deacon Zelch pleaded guilty to shooting Hillhouse in the head on April 16, 2016.

Many members of the victim's family attended the court proceeding in Crawford County in tears.

"I am speechless. We will always love him," said Tim Hillhouse, the father of Edward Hillhouse.

Hillhouse was first reported missing early in 2016. Only in 2017, after a special task force took on the case, was a killer charged in the crime.

Tuesday, Deacon Zelch pleaded guilty to shooting Hillhouse in the head on April 16, 2016. The prosecutor said Zelch also buried Hillhouse on Zelch's property in an attempt to cover up the crime. The murder weapon was cut into pieces and scattered around multiple counties, according to the prosecutor.

Hillhouse's sister, Kayla Tolliver, delivered a tear-filled speech in court, calling Zelch a "monster."

She said she wanted to communicate "just how much I hate him for what he's taken from us and that we can't ever get that back."

Last year, News 4 Investigates raised questions about the official investigation into Hillhouse's disappearance. Deacon Zelch's father, Vernon Zelch, was a deputy at the Crawford County Sheriff's Office originally tasked to investigate.

Tolliver believes Vernon Zelch interfered in the case.

Vernon Zelch declined to answer questions outside court Tuesday.

He has since been fired from the Crawford County Sheriff's Office for breaching office policy, according to Sheriff Darrin Layman. Layman was not available for an on-camera interview, but told us over the phone that there was no evidence Vernon Zelch interfered criminally in the case.

Sheriff Layman told News 4 it was possible they could have acted sooner in the case, but said they "feel they did enough" following up leads when they received them.

Tolliver still disagrees and said Vernon Zelch should have been held accountable.

"You can't smack him on the hand and expect everything to be better and us all to be quiet, what was done there was wrong," Tolliver said.

Tolliver says she will continue to seek outcomes on that aspect of the case.

Tolliver and her family are glad though that people like Franklin County Detective Kody Lucas got involved and took the case seriously. Lucas ended up cracking the case and saw to Deacon Zelch's arrest.

"We are happy as much as we can be that it's over," Tolliver said.

Zelch showed no emotion in court as he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action. He will serve about 30 years in prison and will be eligible for parole when he is approximately 70 years old.

His defense attorney, Christopher Piatt, declined to comment after court Tuesday.

Copyright 2018 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved


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