LOGAN (News4Utah) – Police are crediting a woman’s dog with helping to solve her homicide.
37 year old Merrilee Cox-Lafferty struggled with severe epilepsy and relied on her service dog Coco. Little did she know that service would continue even after she was murdered.
Shawnee Wiseman says Merrilee was like a sister to her.
“Spunky and a vibrant soul and had a heart of gold,” Wiseman said Monday. “Just a beautiful person inside and out.”
Shawnee told me Merrilee lived in Santa Barbara, California but came to Utah last month to help her old boyfriend Stacy Robert Willis move.
“When Merrilee was 16 her and Stacy Robert Willis dated and Merrilee would tell you that he was her first love,” Wiseman said. “They had a kind of off and on love-hate relationship for over 20 years.”
Merrilee seemingly disappeared on August 18th and animal control officers found her 2 year old Queensland Heeler named Coco wandering in Logan later that day.
Chief Gary Jensen of the Logan Police Department says that was a key piece of evidence.
“We found a dog and this dog was later identified as Merrilee Cox-Lafferty’s dog and that piece of information turned us in a direction that ultimately solved this case,” Chief Jensen said. “So it’s an interesting turn of events there that the dog was a pivotal piece of information for us.”
Wiseman says in one final act of devotion, Coco led officers to Willis’s house 7 miles south in Hyrum.
“I believe that Coco would have been able to take them to where Merrilee was,” Wiseman said. “I think Coco was dropped off as a deterrent but Coco ended up being our saving grace.”
Willis was arrested Friday and Merrilee’s body was recovered from a shallow grave in Blacksmith Fork Canyon that evening. Willis now faces 9 charges including aggravated murder and obstruction of justice.
Willis is also charged with drug and weapons violations. He previously served time in the Utah State Prison for firing a gun in the parking lot of a North Logan Wal-Mart in 2014.
“I think Coco, she’s beautiful and it hurts me to think of what she may have seen,” Wiseman said.
Shawnee Wiseman tells News4Utah that both Coco and Merilee’s 13 year old daughter are now living with her in Mountain Home, Idaho.