SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The consequences of Bernt Murphy’s infatuation with Jocelyn Hickenlooper followed him for the rest of his life.
The couple suffered from mental disabilities and developed a friendship at a school that treats this type of disorder.
But Hickenlooper’s 1955 murder changed the course of Murphy’s life.
“What I am mostly looking for is to be able to show people that I can make it on the outside,” said Murphy during a 1988 interview with ABC4.
He had spent more than 30-years at the state hospital and his public defender was attempting to get him released.
It was a controversial move because Murphy who was illiterate and mentally disabled was believed to have murdered Hickenlooper.
“I think it was mostly my problem because the way I acted and the things I did,” said Murphy.
In 1957, the 19-year-old confessed to murdering Hickenlooper in Salt Lake County.
Two years earlier, the 23-year old’s body was found in a shallow grave in Parley’s Canyon. It took nearly three weeks to find her after she was last seen leaving her home.
But murder charges were dropped after a judge determined he was mentally disabled, not insane.
He was ordered to the state hospital and for the next three decades, it was Murphy’s home.
In 1988, the state supreme court ordered his release. The court admonished the state for warehousing Murphy. The court claimed the lack of services led to Murphy’s slow improvement over the time he spent there.
“He can learn, he can be taught,” said his public defender Brooke Wells in 1988. “He needs help in learning to become an independent adult rather than a patient at a psychiatric ward.”
Back then, Wells also argued that Murphy spent more time as a patient than had he been in prison for Hickenlooper’s murder.
The news of Murphy’s release didn’t sit well with the Hickenlooper family.
“They weren’t happy with it,” said Jeffrey Jessup, Hickenlooper’s nephew. “The judge who put him there in the first place back in the 1950s told my grandmother that he would probably be there for the rest of his life.”
Hickenlooper’s younger sister, Suzanne was now a married woman and followed Murphy’s court hearings in the 1980s.
She was a mother of two boys. The oldest is Jeffrey who recalled watching her own mental condition deteriorate.
“We always believed that became the catalyst,” he said about his mother. “She became schizophrenic.”
In April 1991, there was another hearing for Murphy at the state capital. At the time, it was where the supreme court was housed.
Suzanne Hickenlooper Jessup was there too and suddenly fell from the third floor to her death.
Authorities said there was no sign of foul play. She was by herself when she fell.
“It was ruled a suicide,” said her son. “But nobody knows if she jumped from the second floor or fell.”
Over the years, Murphy lived in four different group homes. He never lived in a home by himself. For the most part, he stayed out of trouble except for stealing a dog and assaulting a caretaker.
In 2001, he died at the age of 63, alone.
But his presence was felt by the Hickenlooper family for the rest of their lives.
“I kind of have forgiven in my mind because he may have had a sad life,” said Jessup. “I don’t think he was loved in his life.”
In the end, the question of who killed Hickenlooper remained unanswered. Murphy recanted and staff at this training school said Murphy was known to “make up stories.” On the day Hickenlooper was murdered, records showed Murphy was not missing.
Jeffrey Jessup wants to believe he committed the crime but there’s some hesitancy in his response. But in police reports from 1958, investigators claimed Murphy offered details about the murder that only the killer would know.