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Emilie Morris was a happy, accomplished, athletic teenager with a bright future ahead of her.
But when the high school junior caught the eye of her track coach and was allegedly sexually abused by the 29-year-old “golden boy” coach, the promising life before her began to crumble.
In the years that followed the alleged crime, Emilie struggled with self-loathing, bulimia, alcoholism, and depression, according to a 2018 BuzzFeed News article.
She did graduate from college, get married, and have two children — but the demons from her past continued to haunt her. As the marriage fell apart, her struggle with alcohol cost her custody of her children and she continued to flounder.
But in the summer of 2013, Emilie summoned courage and went to police with her allegations against her former coach, Jim Wilder. In a daring move, Emilie arranged to meet Wilder in a St. Louis-area shopping mall parking lot, and with a digital recorder wedged into her sports bra, she recorded an 87-minute conversation where the pair discussed their past relationship.
“We did something that wasn’t right according to our laws these days,” Wilder allegedly admitted in the recordings, according to BuzzFeed. “You know I’m not a creeper. I didn’t creep.”
Armed with the recording, the St. Louis County Police Department arrested Wilder and charged him with six counts of statutory sodomy.
But just as the case was nearing a critical juncture in the legal system, Emilie was found dead in her apartment under unexplained circumstances, putting an end to the case against the once-popular coach.
Oxygen re-examines the mysterious death and the allegations of abuse against Wilder — including claims made against him by another student in 2008 — in the two-hour special “The Case Died With Her,” premiering Sunday, Dec. 6 at 7/6c.
A Star Athlete
Those who knew Emilie have described her as a smart and accomplished teen with comedic wit and natural athletic abilities.
She exceled at diving and decided to pursue cross-country running once she became a student at Lindbergh High School in St. Louis, Missouri.
“She was just very dedicated, very disciplined. She ended up being my number one runner,” former coach Nancy Sachtleben told producers of the special.
After two years under Sachtleben’s direction, the coach left the school to take another position and 29-year-old Jim Wilder took over as coach of the boy’s and girl’s cross-country teams.
“Wilder had a reputation of being, you know, kind of the golden boy. He was young, he was a successful coach. He really motivated the kids,” Emilie’s friend Tony Catalano told producers.
Crossing the Line
Emilie gravitated toward Wilder — who seemed to take a personal interest in his athletes. She began confiding in him about boys and her social life and he served as a mentor of sorts to the teen, according to a 2018 BuzzFeed News article.
But Wilder would allegedly cross a line with the young teen during a cross-country team practice at a park not far from the high school, Emilie later told authorities, according to “The Case Died With Her.” While the rest of the team played capture the flag, Emilie approached Wilder and began to tell him about a game a high school boy had wanted to play with her called “Chicken.”
As part of the game, the boy had wanted to run his hand up her leg and see how far she would let him go before she called out, “Chicken.”
Emilie told police Wilder asked if she wanted to pay the game with him and began to put his hand on her leg — sliding it all the way up to her crotch where he allegedly held it, over her jeans, until he quickly removed it when a boy from the team ran by.
That same day, Emilie’s parents had asked Wilder to drive her home. After they arrived at the empty home, Emilie invited her coach in.
She’d later tell police that once inside, he laid her on a blue ottoman in the living room, pulled down her pants and underwear, and performed oral sex on her, according to the special.
He allegedly asked if she wanted to stop a few minutes later, and the teen said that she did, but she claimed the abuse would continue in the months to come with one performing oral sex on the other about once a week.
Emilie claimed that despite the secretive nature of the relationship, the pair embarked on brazen encounters, once allegedly getting caught by a passerby in the men’s bathroom at a park. Another time Emilie masturbated Wilder over his track pants while he sat next to another coach at a movie, she alleged.
Emilie also told police that the pair would meet in the high school wrestling room, where she’d jump into a box of uniforms to hide any time they heard anyone approaching, her mother said in the special.
The Cost Of Dark Secrets
In the spring of 1996, someone reported the alleged relationship to administrators and Principal David Skillman called Emilie’s parents, telling them “Emilie has been accused of having an affair with a teacher,” her mother, Joan Morris, told BuzzFeed.
But Emilie and Wilder both adamantly denied the relationship and administrators never reported the allegations to the proper authorities.
However, rumors about the alleged relationship also began to swirl among Emilie’s peers.
“Everybody in high school knew what was going on […] Parents and other cross-country people had seen them in the woods,” friend Christine Lieber told the news outlet. But many classmates at the time also felt there wasn’t anything wrong with the relationship, Lieber said.
By her senior year of high school, Emilie began to visibly struggle, withdrawing from friends and family and becoming increasingly concerned about her weight.
She would struggle with bulimia for years. Her family believes she developed the eating disorder after Wilder had been critical about her body. On the back of a picture of herself wearing a cross-country uniform, she had written that he had once told her she should get liposuction.
After high school, Emilie went on to college but struggled with depression and bulimia. After graduating in 2007 with a degree in English, she got married to an older man and had two children.
In 2008, when another one of Wilder’s students accused him of inappropriate sexual contact, Emilie remained silent — now immersed in her own life and anxious to put the chapter behind her.
Wilder was arrested but never charged in that particular case — the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office found no “credible evidence that any sexual contact had taken place,” BuzzFeed reports.
Confessions on Tape
In the years that followed, Emilie continued to be plagued by alcoholism and her ongoing eating disorder.
She got divorced and lost custody of her children, but by 2013, she decided to reclaim her life and saw the pivotal relationship between herself and Wilder in a new light.
She wanted to expose her former coach for the alleged sexual abuse and sought out the police.
“The first time that I talked to Emilie, she was distraught, she was obviously very affected by the events that she was trying to relay to me,” Detective Dennis Cook said in “The Case Died With Her.”
Emilie set out to secretly record a conversation between her and her former mentor and arranged to meet Wilder at a St. Louis shopping mall parking lot.
With the tape recorder securely wedged into her sports bra, Emilie began the recording as she was approaching the meeting spot.
“Let’s hope this goes well,” she can be heard saying, according to BuzzFeed.
What transpired next was a nearly 90-minute conversation between Wilder and Emilie where he allegedly admitted to the sexual relationship and weighed in on how the alleged acts could be construed in other countries.
“(In) 90 percent of the world, 15’s legal,” he said in the tape, according to the outlet. “So, if I go over and boff a 15-year-old in Spain, I can do it all day in the streets — whatever — and nothing would happen. You touch a 16-year-old and you go to jail here.”
Emilie handed over the secret recording to police and Wilder was charged with six counts of statutory sodomy. If convicted, each count could have carried a sentence of up to seven years behind bars.
As the case progressed, those who knew Emilie said she was energized by her quest for justice and seemed better than she had been in years.
But 16 months after the recording was made, as Emilie told her family she believed the case was approaching either trial or a plea deal, the case would come to an abrupt end. Emilie’s father discovered the 35-year-old dead inside her apartment on November 4, 2014, according to a Ballwin Police Department report obtained by Oxygen.com.
She was found in her pajamas laying face down on her bedroom floor with a trash can pulled over her head all the way down to her shoulders. Emilie was wrapped in a comforter and had snacks laying near the body.
Investigators would find vomit in the plastic lining of the trash can and determined that she had died from asphyxiation from the plastic bag lining the trash can. An empty bottle of vodka sat nearby.
But her family found the death suspicious, noting that a door of the apartment had been unlocked and her blood alcohol concentration at the time of her death had been less than 0.05 percent — lower than the legal limit to drive of 0.08 percent, according to the special. Alcohol concentration levels taken from her eye fluid was higher, suggesting that her blood alcohol had been higher at an earlier point in the evening.
The body had seemed unusually wedged into the trash can, causing her family to wonder why she hadn’t simply pulled her head out if her breathing had been impaired. But Emilie’s father removed the trash can before police arrived and started to clean up the apartment, making it difficult to determine how the trash can had been placed, according to the report.
The manner of death in the case was ruled undetermined due to the questions that remained about her final moments. Police closed the investigation and never identified any suspects. There is no evidence Wilder was involved in her death. Ballwin police would later tell Emilie's family there was "just nothing suspicious in nature" about her death.
Without Emilie to testify against Wilder, the criminal case against him was dropped after her death.
The Lindbergh School District’s board of education voted to uphold the termination of Wilder’s contract in a negotiated settelment in May 2015, two years after he had been put on paid administrative leave, The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported at the time. Wilder had worked within the district for 20 years.Wilder retained his teaching license but was barred from applying for work within the district.
But her family remains committed to finding justice for the daughter they still grieve for.
“Emilie was an artist and a musician, as well as a comedian. She took great pride in everything to which she set her mind, from competing in races to devoting herself to her family. She could light up a room with her charisma, and bring laughter and joy to friends and strangers alike,” her obituary read.
Oxygen’s “The Case Died With Her” takes an in-depth look at the circumstances surrounding the unusual death — including talking with a former chief medical examiner about the unique details of the case — as former prosecutor Loni Combs talks with the family, witnesses, and investigators to delve deeper for answers.
“I think there are enough things suspicious about her death that I have never felt comfortable with the answers I’ve been given,” her sister Andrea Morris said in the upcoming special.
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