The Justice Files: The murder of Jocelyn Hickenlooper

Justice Files

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – It had the making of a love story but it ended in murder.

In 1956, Jocelyn Hickenlooper disappeared from her Salt Lake City home.  The 23-year-old suffered from a mental disability and recently left the Utah Training School in American Fork.  

Her mother notified police and a search began.  According to news accounts from 1955, Hickenlooper was seen walking with two strangers from her home on Denver Street in Salt Lake City.

Her mother, Lottie Hickenlooper told reporters she was, “Distraught, I can’t stand it. I’m sure Jo has met with foul play.”

It’s a moment never forgotten by her family, even today.

“She was mildly handicapped,” said her nephew Jeffrey Jessup. “She was a thoughtful person.  [She] didn’t leave the house unless dressed up. Grandma says she had never been in trouble.”

Despite being fastidious of her appearance, she was last seen wearing an old red housecoat with no glasses.  The leads went nowhere. Police questioned Wally Hickenlooper, her brother.

“He couldn’t comprehend that he was being accused of his sister’s murder,” recalled Amber Jessup, a grandniece. “I believe it was killing him inside or something, but it broke him in so many ways. He didn’t know how to comprehend it.”

Wally Hickenlooper was cleared. The family offered a $100 reward in hopes it would lead to Jocelyn’s whereabouts. While searching her room, police found something odd. It was a stack of wedding invitations.  She was supposed to be married to Jerry Brown of Ogden.  It took the both family and Brown by surprise.

Brown told police he “didn’t know her” and as for marrying her, he said it was “preposterous.”  He provided an alibi for the day she went missing

“I don’t know if it was a teenage fantasy or what,” said Jessup. “I was really surprised. In my mind I thought Jocelyn had made it up as a wish, things you do at that age.”

Two weeks, later, a man accidentally discovered in a body in a shallow grave in Parleys Canyon. Police later confirmed the body belonged to Jocelyn. She died from blunt force trauma to the head. Despite her death, her mother was grateful to have her back.

“She was really relieved,” said Jessup. “She was wondering because they had a big search, so she was relieved.”

But 1955 ended without a suspect. 1956 also didn’t produce any arrests.  It appeared the killer got away with Hickenlooper’s murder. In 1957, a nineteen-year-old confessed to molesting a four-year-old girl in Salt Lake City.  But Bernt Murphy also had something surprising to tell the police. 

On Monday, in Part 2 of “Forbidden Love,” Murphy who was illiterate and had spent nearly half of his life at a special needs school becomes a suspect.

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