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‘Cold’: Communication breakdown between law enforcement failed Joyce Yost

Joyce Yost poses for a photograph outside a home in this undated photo.
Family photo

Spools of magnetic tape captured the voice of Joyce Yost on the morning of April 4, 1985. An audio cassette rolled as Yost offered a step-by-step account of her sexual assault at the hands of a man she’d never met.

“He grabbed me by the throat and he was forceful and told me if I screamed or said anything that he would tear my throat open,” Yost can be heard saying through the tape’s analog hiss.

Joyce Yost’s police report

Yost had spent the evening prior to her report having dinner with a friend at a supper club called Pier 3. She’d parted ways with that friend in the parking lot outside of the club a bit after 10 p.m.

“I went on home, not realizing anybody was following me, not really paying any attention to see if anybody was following me,” Yost said.

The man who’d attacked Yost that night had seen her leaving the club and had tailed her to her apartment. He’d confronted and sexually assaulted Yost once she’d parked her car. Then, he’d dragged her to his own car, taken her by force to his home and assaulted her again.

This April 4, 1985, photo taken by Clearfield police detective William “Bill” Holthaus shows the position of Joyce Yost’s car, center, at the time she was raped by a man she had never met.
William Holthaus

Yost’s words, though frank in their depiction of those violent acts, came out measured and composed in her police interview. She had by that point recited the story multiple times: to her sister, to a pair of police officers and to hospital staff.

“He did threaten to kill me,” Yost said in the recorded interview. “My children, my grandkids, everybody was flashing through my mind and I felt like my life was on the line.”

‘A rape situation’

Yost, at age 39, was the mother of two children and three grandchildren. She was twice divorced and, because her kids were both grown, lived alone in an apartment in South Ogden. She had at first physically resisted her attacker, then cooperated with him for fear continuing to fight might lead to her death.

“I realized I was in a rape situation. I wasn’t just with somebody that was being a little bit forceful that I was going to be able to get rid of,” Yost had said.

She had ultimately managed to gain the rapist’s trust, telling him she was both married and pregnant, though neither was true. She had promised not to report him to police, but had done so once he had returned her home and released her.

The Clearfield police detective who interviewed Yost later that morning was named William Holthaus.

“I did feel an empathy for her,” Holthaus told “Cold.” “I thought that she was wronged.”

Holthaus found Yost’s account credible, thanks in part to the detailed descriptions she provided of the man, his car and his home. He observed bruises and broken fingernails Yost had sustained from her fight.

Start by believing

A volunteer YWCA rape victim advocate named Jan Schiller was also present during Yost’s interview. Schiller recalled listening as Yost walked Holthaus through everything she’d done to try to escape the situation alive.

“All the ways she attempted to get out of it. First by fighting, then by being cooperative, then by trying to be understanding,” Schiller told “Cold.” “It was this really horrible situation but I was so impressed with her.”

Schiller also praised Holthaus for his sensitive approach. The audio recording showed the detective treated Yost’s account as credible, worded questions to avoid casting blame and gave her choices about how best to share her narrative.

“He was always just trying to give her that control,” Schiller said.

Detective William Holthaus took these handwritten notes after speaking to Joyce Yost on April 4, 1985. They include basic biographical information as well as approximate values for her clothing and fingernails that were damaged by the man who assaulted her.
William Holthaus

Yost’s assault was one of the minority of rape or sexual assault cases where the attacker was unknown to the victim. Statistics compiled by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network show fewer than 20% of rapes are committed by a person who is unknown to the victim.

“How safe am I,” Yost can be heard asking at one point, “if (police officers) come after him?”

‘How safe am I?’

Holthaus identified and arrested a suspect, Douglas Anderson Lovell, within hours of completing his interview with Yost. Prosecutors filed charges against Lovell, but Yost disappeared 10 days before she was scheduled to testify at his trial. Her body has never been located.

Multiple cassette tape copies of Yost’s interview were made during the summer of 1985, as the Davis County Attorney’s Office prepared to prosecute Lovell for rape. The recording itself was never introduced as evidence in court and in the decades since, all but one of the copies were either lost or destroyed.

An audio cassette containing a recording of Joyce Yost’s initial report to South Ogden, police on April 4, 1985. A separate recording of her interview with Clearfield detective William Holthaus went undiscovered for nearly three decades.
Dave Cawley, Deseret News

That lone remaining copy ended up in a box at the Weber County Attorney’s Office, after prosecutors there filed a capital murder case against Lovell in 1992. Lovell admitted to killing Yost a year later. Once again though, the recording was not presented as evidence in Lovell’s sentencing hearing. The tape was forgotten and went unheard, even by Yost’s own children.

Lovell has in the decades since repeatedly appealed his death sentence. His latest appeal is currently awaiting a hearing before the Utah Supreme Court.

Free resources are available for survivors of sexual abuse and violence through the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673).

The podcast “Cold” is an Amazon Music exclusive. Listeners can find and follow “Cold” on the free Amazon Music app or by visiting www.thecoldpodcast.com.