Emilie Morris was just 35 years old when she was found dead in her Ballwin, Missouri apartment.
It was a tragic end for the mom of two whose life had once been filled with promise, but it also signaled the end of a sexual abuse case against Emilie’s former cross-country coach, which is explored in the Oxygen special "The Case Died With Her," airing on Oxygen on Sunday, Dec 6 at 7/6c.
Emilie’s family believes the circumstances around her death were suspicious — yet the evidence found at the scene also suggests it could have been a tragic accident, and police never found any clues that would connect someone to the apartment that day. Still, questions remain about Emilie’s final moments.
Approaching Sexual Abuse Case
Emilie died shortly before an impending court proceeding in the case against Jim Wilder, a man who had been accused of sexually abusing the former sports star when she was just 16 years old.
Wilder allegedly confessed to the relationship in an 87-minute conversation with Emilie after the two agreed to meet in the parking lot of a St. Louis-area shopping mall 18 years after the alleged abuse occurred, according to a 2018 BuzzFeed article.
Emilie secretly recorded the conversation on a voice recorder tucked into her sports bra, capturing damaging evidence against her one-time mentor who allegedly insisted she had been the “persuasive” one and referred to their sexual encounters as “electric.”
“We did something that wasn’t right according to our laws these days,” Wilder allegedly said on the recording, before adding, “You know I’m not a creeper. I didn’t creep.”
Emilie turned the recording over to the police and provided a taped interview — but without her testimony to accompany the recording, the six counts of statutory sodomy against Wilder were dismissed soon after her death.
“As soon as she passed away they dropped the case," Emilie’s sister, Andrea Morris, told local station KSDK. "Which was stunning to me because the evidence they were able to use to charge him we still have."
The case is the focus of the upcoming Oxygen special “The Case Died With Her,” which takes a new look at the allegations against Wilder through interviews with key witnesses, Emilie’s family, police, and prosecutors.
Emilie’s family believes the timing of her death is just one of the troubling aspects surrounding her passing.
Emilie was discovered dead inside her apartment on November 4, 2014 by her father, just 16 months after she had made the damaging recording.
“I checked on her all the time, if she needed something, food, or anything, whatever the need was, I was there,” her father, Richard Morris, recalled in “The Case Died With Her.”
Richard said he “knew something was wrong” the moment he went through the door around 9:15 a.m.
Richard found his oldest daughter laying in the master bedroom of her apartment, with her head shoved into a large plastic trash can pulled all the way down to her shoulders. She was wearing her pajamas and had a phone and snacks nearby.
“I said, ‘Emilie, what are you doing on the floor? Did you hurt yourself? I reached down and she was cold. I don’t know how long it took for me to realize she wasn’t there anymore,” he said in the upcoming special.
Emilie’s lower body had been wrapped in a comforter, but Richard said her head was found deep in a plastic trash can that had come from the apartment.
In shock, Richard recalled pulling the trash can off of his daughter’s upper body as he started to clean up the apartment before police arrived.
Police later said they found a 1.75 L plastic bottle of Papov Vodka in the trash can that Richard told them he had found on the floor of the bedroom, according to the Ballwin police report obtained by Oxygen.com. Another 750 mL glass bottle of Svedka Vodka was also found in a basket near the bed, the report said.
Richard told police he did not move or disturb anything else in the room and that at the time he had removed the trashcan from his daughter’s head it only had “a rag and small amount of vomit” inside, according to the report.
Emilie’s mother, Joan, arrived at the scene a short time later and remembers stroking her daughter’s hair.
“I sat down next to her, crying and playing with her hair because Emilie loved having you play with her hair. That was her favorite thing of all,” she told BuzzFeed.
Police found no signs of forced entry, but the backdoor of the first-floor apartment was found unlocked and slightly ajar, according to the special.
Authorities later determined that Emilie died from asphyxiation from the plastic bag lining the trash can — but it wasn’t clear how her head had gotten into the trash can.
After finding the empty bottle of the vodka in the room, police believed it was possible that Emilie — who had struggled with alcoholism in the years after the alleged abuse — may have thrown up into the trash can and then passed out while her head was still in the trash can.
However, a toxicology report would later determine that her blood alcohol concentration had been 0.48 percent, according to the police report — lower than the legal limit to drive of 0.08 percent. Alcohol concentration levels taken from her eye fluid were higher, indicating that she likely had a higher blood alcohol level at an earlier time in the evening.
The manner of death in Emilie’s case could never be determined, the report stated. The case was closed two months after she died.
The upcoming court case against Wilder wasn’t the only conflict in her life at the time.
Joan also told police that at the time Emilie died she had been dating a married man and that his wife had been “harassing” Emilie about the relationship as recently as the week before she died, the police report stated.
“I think there was foul play in her death,” Joan said in the special. “There were people who would have loved to have seen Emilie dead.”
But while the family believes some of the circumstances around her death are suspicious, there were also signs that it may have been nothing more than a tragic accident.
Joan said in “The Case Died With Her” that it wasn’t uncommon for her daughter to camp out on the floor with her phone and snacks nearby while she was detoxing.
She also told police at the time Emilie had been “drinking heavily” around the time of her death and used alcohol as a way to “self-medicate” for depression and other issues, according to the police report.
“Frequently she would drink so much that she would pass out,” Joan said in the special. “She’d be close to death.”
Police also found no signs of forced entry other than the back door to the apartment being slightly ajar, according to the special.
Her purse was found in the kitchen, along with a wallet full of cash and a credit card visible nearby. The autopsy revealed no signs of struggle on her body.
Dr. Frank Sheridan, a former chief medical examiner in San Bernardino County, told producers of the special Morris also had a muscle relaxant in her system at the time of her death.
“That can act in conjunction with alcohol to cause some depression of the nervous system but the level of that drug was very low, so I really don’t think it’s significant,” he said.
Sheridan also said it’s difficult to know how the trash can had been positioned since it was moved by Emilie’s father before police arrived.
“It would be of great help to know and have a better understanding of this trash can in relation to her. In other words, how far down was it on her chest, for example — was it pinning her arms to her side, was it a tight fit or loose? These things could all be potentially important in trying to evaluate whether we’re dealing with an accidental death here or otherwise,” he said.
In a recording made by Andrea Morris discussing the case with the Ballwin Police, an officer told Andrea he believed there was nothing suspicious about the death.
“There’s just nothing that’s suspicious in nature,” he said on the recording which aired in the special.
No one was ever identified as a suspect in the death and police closed their investigation a few months after Emilie died.
Fighting For Justice
Although Emilie had been plagued by depression, bulimia, and alcoholism in the years after the alleged abuse — her issues even costing her custody of her two children — those closest to her insist that she had been in a better emotional place before she died and was invigorated by her fight for justice.
“Emilie did struggle tremendously with alcohol, but when the call came in that she had passed away, it was at a very unexpected time. She was in one of the best places that I had ever seen her,” her friend Christine Lieber told producers of “The Case Died With Her.” “The trial was getting ready to come up. She was ready to face it in court and ready for justice to be served.”
With Emily unable to testify, the case against Wilder was dismissed.
After nearly two years of being on paid administrative leave, the Lindbergh School District voted in May 2015 to uphold the termination of Wilder’s contract in a negotiated settlement, The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported at the time.
He retained his teaching license but was barred from applying for work within the district again.
Emilie was laid to rest during a private family service on Nov. 8, 2014.
“Emilie was an artist and a musician, as well as a comedian,” her obituary said. “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.”
Those who knew the former cross-country star are still left searching for answers about how she died.
“I think there are enough things suspicious about her death that I have never felt comfortable with the answers I have been given,” Andrea told producers.
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