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“A Jealous Rage”: Man Killed Teens, Dumped Bodies In Utah Mine Because Girlfriend Had Male Friends
Before killing Breezy Otteson, Jerrod Baum forced her to watch as he repeatedly stabbed her boyfriend Riley Powell.
The victims had been stabbed and their hands were tied behind their back. “These two just didn’t just stumble into an open mine shaft,” Det. Steve Pratt of the Utah County Sheriff's Office told Buried in the Backyard, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
The bodies were identified as Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, 17, and Riley Powell, 18, a couple who’d gone missing from the small town of Eureka three months earlier.
The Search for Breezy Otteson and Riley Powell
In December 2017, Riley and Breezy were visiting friends and relatives in Eureka for Christmas. On December 27, Breezy visited with family in Tooele and then departed for Eureka.
But New Year’s Day came and went and no one had heard from either Riley or Breezy, whose families contacted the Juab County Sheriff's Department to file a missing persons report. Family members feared the couple had gone off-roading and had an accident.
"It's definitely plausible that, if he was doing any sort of extreme driving and he crashed, he would be out of sight of main roads," said Det. Tyler Johnson of the Utah Major Crimes Task Force.
The freezing temperatures made finding them urgent, so a multi-agency search was organized in which family, friends, and community members participated. But on January 9, 2018, there was still no sign of the couple or their Jeep, according to Det. Jeff Hansen of the Juab County Sheriff.
The missing couple’s families pulled together resources and offered a reward for information — first $2,000, then $5,000. But still, nothing.
“The police had just reached a standstill,” said Utah County prosecutor Christine Scott. “They were following up every single rumor no matter how outlandish it was.”
Breezy Otteson and Riley Powell's Jeep is found
On January 11, Riley’s jeep was found parked 50 yards off the road near Cherry Creek Reservoir, a remote hilly area of Juab County. The Jeep had two flat tires, and their warm clothes and IDs were in the vehicle. Investigators assumed that if they left the Jeep to look for help, they would have taken those things with them.
Investigators found out that the car ran, which raised red flags for investigators. More alarming was a tie-down strap on the driver’s side rear axle, suggesting the vehicle had been tied down to a trailer. Did someone drive it out and drop it off?
Closer inspection of the tires showed they’d been punctured, possibly by a knife or screwdriver. It became clear to officials that foul play was involved.
The vehicle and surroundings yielded “no footprints, no tire prints, nothing to indicate where the kids are,” said Scott.
As investigators followed up on every possible lead, one led them to focus on the possibility that Breezy and Riley were in a mine.
“We're not finding them on the surface,” said Bill Powell, Riley’s father. “So they've got to be underground.”
It was a viable theory but it was difficult to confirm as the there were more than 800 hundred mines in Juab County alone.
As the search by law enforcement, the community, and spelunkers continued, a tip came in. A local resident said that she’d seen a green truck driven by Lee Shepherd towing a vehicle like Riley’s on New Year’s Day.
Shepherd was dating Riley’s mother, Mistie Powell, who did not appear concerned by the ongoing search efforts for her biological son. And when police showed up at Shepherd's home in Vernon, Utah, they noticed tie-down straps that matched the ones on Riley's car, further raising suspicions.
But after a thorough investigation and running down every lead, detectives ruled out the couple as suspects.
Investigators then focused on Riley’s financial and phone activity, which helped to determine that his last purchase was at a 7-Eleven on December 29.
Jerrod Baum and Morgan Lewis emerge as suspects
The couple’s last communication was with a young woman, Morgan Lewis, whom they had made plans to meet on the night of December 29.
Morgan Lewis lived with her boyfriend Jerrod Baum. When investigators questioned Lewis, as well as Baum, she initially said she didn’t know Riley nor Breezy, but Facebook records showed that they exchanged a number of messages. When confronted with this information by detectives, Lewis admitted that she had known Riley for a short while.
Baum told law enforcement that he’d heard rumors that cartel members had killed Breezy and Riley, a story that struck investigators as highly unlikely.
Detectives suspected that Lewis and Baum weren’t telling them the truth, but didn’t have hard evidence to make arrests. So, they kept tabs on Morgan and Jerrod following their initial interviews with them. Their diligence paid off, because, three months later, Lewis was pulled over for a traffic stop in a nearby county. The traffic officer observed spear-like weapons in the vehicle.
Lewis was brought in for questioning, as the investigators suspected she knew more than she was letting on. “The strategy was to keep her talking,” said Det. Johnson.
On March 25, 2018, Lewis told investigators that Baum killed Breezy and Riley. When they sought Baum to question him, they found him in jail on an unrelated charge. During the questioning of Baum, he mentioned that Riley and Lewis had dated in the past.
Lewis told officials that they would find cell phones that belonged to Breezy and Riley in a sludge barrel on Baum's property. She accompanied officials to the location of the barrel, where a number of broken phones were recovered, along with knives.
Following the discovery, Lewis refused to talk with law enforcement, so they began driving back to the jail. But as she passed the Tintic Standard Mine, Lewis began to behave oddly, investigators observed.
"She's emotional. She's shaking, like physically, visibly shaking," Hanson said.
On March 27, investigators went to the mine with city sewer workers who hooked a camera to a cable and lowered 100 feet down into the mine. As they lowered the camera, they saw an image of two bodies.
The Fire Department arrived on the scene to recover the bodies, which were identified through an autopsy as Breezy and Riley.
Morgan Lewis Details Timeline of Murders
Investigators showed Lewis a picture of Riley’s body in the mine. She told investigators everything that happened, alleging that Baum was furious when he found out that she disobeyed him and had Riley and Breezy over on December 29. Baum reacted by binding the couple and putting them in the back of Riley’s Jeep, before driving them to the mine. Baum allegedly forced Breezy to watch as he stabbed Riley in the head, chest, stomach, and crotch. Then he slashed Breezy’s throat and tossed their bodies into the mine.
Baum threatened Lewis and forced her to drive Riley’s Jeep to Cherry Creek. On the way there, Baum’s truck got stuck in the snow, which explained the tie-down straps. Baum slashed Riley’s tires to throw off investigators.
The motive for the vicious murder? Lewis wasn’t supposed to have male friends. “It was a jealous rage,” said Scott.
Baum was charged with kidnapping and murdering Breezy and Riley. Lewis initially faced numerous second-degree charges and 30 years behind bars. Because she testified against Lewis, she was sentenced to three years as part of a plea deal.
Delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the trial finally resolved in February 2022. On April 15, Baum was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.
To learn more about the case, watch Buried in the Backyard, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.