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Crime News Buried in the Backyard

3 Family Members Behind the Brutal Double Murder of Elderly Missouri Farm Couple

A burned out truck, a stolen VCR, and a botched cattle robbery helped lead to the buried bodies Charles and Grace Lewis.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

Bonne Terre, Missouri is known for its tranquil rural vibe. But violence and tragedy can strike anywhere.

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In September 1993, Charles and Grace Lewis, a couple in their 60s who’d raised eight children, went missing from their 400-acre farm in the peaceful community.

They’d vanished after record-setting rains described as the “storm of the century.” Their disappearance was discovered by their son Mike Lewis and his sister, Mary Schmaltz.

Local authorities used tracking dogs and full resources to search for the couple. 

“We pulled out the stops,” Captain Greg Armstrong, chief deputy, St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department, told Buried in the Backyard, Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.

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No leads were found outside the home. An alert was issued about the couple’s missing pickup truck. 

Investigators focused on the inside of the farmhouse. The kitchen was in disarray, with groceries not yet unpacked and a VCR was missing, suggesting a robbery had taken place. But Grace’s pocketbook filled with cash was still in the home.

Police learned that Mary was the last person to speak to Grace. They were on the phone when Grace cut the conversation short after hearing nearby gunshots. At first, investigators considered that Charles had seen a snake while he was working in the yard. But after the disappearance, the gunshots became more ominous.

Authorities also considered the possibility that Charles and Grace may have been outside in the storm and swept away but searches turned up no leads. 

Then, in October, a local deer hunter reported that he had stumbled upon a truck in a remote wooded area. The pickup, which had been burned, belonged to the missing couple. 

“When investigators saw the burned-condition, it was very obvious this was foul play,” said Armstrong.

As the investigation shifted from a missing persons case to a homicide, whispers emerged about conflicts within the Lewis family, according to Buried in the Backyard

The purported conflicts revolved around who would inherit the farm and tensions surrounding the sale of a data storage business launched by the couple’s son Charles Jr. a.k.a. “Chuck.”

Mike Lewis and Mary Schmaltz had stock in the business. Their father, who’d worked as an accountant before retired to run the farm, kept the books for the firm.

Had family tensions escalated to murder? Chuck, Mike, and Mary agreed to take polygraph tests. 

Mike and Mary’s test results were truthful. Chuck’s were inconclusive, which, investigators said, may have been due to side effects of Lyme disease.

A photo of Charles and Grace Lewis, featured in Buried in the Backyard 501

As investigators dug deeper into the family dynamics, they found that there was a longstanding rift between Charles and Chuck tied to the death of Chuck’s brother, John, that involved drugs.

Detectives obtained a search warrant for Chuck’s financial records. Nothing suspicious turned up. Chuck looked much less like a suspect and was essentially cleared.

Police turned to the media to try to stir up leads. In May 1994, a man from St. Louis called and expressed concerns about his daughter’s boyfriend, 16-year-old Brent Rousan.

Brent had told his girlfriend that his father was involved in the disappearance. But Brent was not a reliable witness, so investigators took those statements with a grain of salt.

In June 1994, nine months into the Lewis case, an investigation into a series of burglaries by a nearby law enforcement agency turned out to be a break.

Elderly residents of Missouri had had their homes burglarized. Thieves had targeted jewelry, food, and electronics items. Because the Lewis’ VCR had been taken, Bonne Terre investigators focused on this tip.

In July 1994, detectives learned that authorities in Cape Girardeau, Missouri had made an arrest. Investigators determined that electronics had been disposed of at pawn shops and flea markets.

“Maybe our VCR was in the possession of an innocent purchaser,” said William Conway, criminal investigator with the Missouri State Patrol.

Authorities decided to release information about the model number of the Lewis VCR. In September 1994 an anonymous caller reached out to police with information about the appliance.

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Authorities traced the call to the home of Bonne Terre residents Bruce and Barbara Williams. After initially denying that he’d made the call, Bruce told investigators that he had reached out.

He explained that he had been given the VCR by his brother-in-law, who’d given him instructions not to pawn or sell it. But when he ran short of cash, Bruce pawned it.

The individual who gave Bruce the VCR was Robert Rousan. When he was interviewed by police he said he bought the VCR at a flea market. 

But then he changed his story. He brought up the name of Brent Rousan, who’d already come under scrutiny in the case. Robert said that a plan to steal cattle from the Lewis farm had gone wrong. 

William Rousan, Robert's brother and Brent's father, had orchestrated the scheme. When investigators went to question William, they learned that he’d gone on the lam but they were able to locate Brent.

Brent claimed that he was at his prom when Charles and Grace vanished. Investigators learned that the prom was days after the disappearance and poked a hole in his alibi.

Robert Rousan confessed to his role in the crime. He drew a map to show authorities where the bodies of Charles and Grace had been buried in rural Washington County. The property belonged to Williams’ girlfriend.

Robert said that Charles and Grace had been wrapped in a tarp and dropped into a grave that had been dug in advance by William.

In September 1994, the bodies of Charles and Grace Lewis were recovered and identified by their dentures and eyeglasses. The autopsies showed that Grace had been shot four times, while Charles was shot five times.

Son of Charles and Grace Lewis Recalls Night of Parents' Disappearance

As the search for William continued, Bruce Williams told police that he had been contacted by him and that he was hiding out on an abandoned farm property. William was taken into custody.

William told investigators that Chuck Lewis paid him $7,500 to kill his parents. He claimed that the meeting had been set up by a drug dealer from Texas.

Investigators thoroughly checked out William’s story, but could find no evidence to back it up. William then changed his story, saying that Chuck paid him $100 and promised to pay more when Charles and Grace were dead. 

William’s credibility evaporated. The three men were arrested for the double homicides. Investigators theorized that William, Brent, and Robert went to the Lewis farm “to steal cattle and it just went bad from there,” they said.

Robert Rousan pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree and received 15 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections. He served seven years and was released in 2001

Both William and Brent Rousan went to trial. They were convicted on two counts of first degree murder. Brent was given a life sentence. 

William Rousan received the death penalty. On April 23, 2014, he died at age 57 by lethal injection in Bonne Terre, Missouri. 

To find out more about the case, watch Buried in the Backyard, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story included a photo of Texas man Gary Patterson, instead of Charles Lewis. The story has been updated.