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Body of Evidence: Finding the story

by Charmaine Lewis, associate producer

I learned of Joy Risker's gruesome death at the hands of Sean Goff, her polygamous "husband" in the course of researching an unrelated murder case in the Superior Court of San Diego in April 2006.  That story involved an Internet "escort", a B- television actor, their May-December romance and his duct-taped body stuffed into a suitcase.

As the prosecutor discussed the horrible details of that suitcase murder, he asked me if I had heard of the "bigamy murder."  I had not, so he suggested that I meet with his fellow prosecutor, Mr. Matthew Greco, whose case it was.

Here I have to say that, in spite of my journalistic zeal, I had to fight the initial urge to beat a hasty retreat from San Diego. It was Friday, and almost noon. If I met with Mr. Greco, the prospect for an easy afternoon commute back to Los Angeles was out the window. As always, zeal trumped traffic, and as it turned out, it was time well spent.

Initially Mr. Greco, seemed wary about discussing the case.  This was his first murder case to go to trial (he'd settled other cases out of court). He didn't want to tell me too much for fear of jeopardizing his case.  But he said enough that I filled up several legal pad pages with furiously scrawled notes.  The details, as you have come to know by now were almost unreal. Who could have imagined: a pair of wives (and for a brief time a third wife), missing teeth and fingertips, and two sets of children.

And then he mentioned the book—technically, it was an essay—  a possible prologue to a self-help book in progress, written by the man who confessed to the crime, entitled "If I Can Keep Two Women Happy, How Come You Can't Please One?" 

The details were intriguing and irresistible.

And the best part? There hadn't been much local newspaper or television news coverage of the case. No other national network show had contacted him about the story.  It was a tale I knew would be very suitable for Dateline, but would my bosses agree?

I spent the weekend fine tuning my "pitches" (story idea summaries submitted for approval to Dateline's executive producers). 

By the following Tuesday I had my answers. The "suitcase murder" was not approved, but the story of the life and death of Joy Risker was.