Jim Wilder was once a successful cross-country coach at a Missouri high school — but multiple allegations of sexual abuse derailed the coach’s career and cost him his job.
Wilder was arrested not once, but twice on child sexual abuse allegations while working as a track and cross-country coach at Lindbergh High School. The accusations against the coach once thought of as a “golden boy” were re-examined in Oxygen’s “The Case Died With Her,” by former prosecutor Loni Coombs.
Wilder’s first arrest came in 2008 after a 15-year-old female student told police that he had inappropriate sexual contact with her. She claimed the abuse began when she was in the eighth grade and Wilder, who also taught at Sperreng Middle School, would massage her knee after school.
“This 15-year-old girl was able to give quite a few specific details about Coach Wilder,” Coombs said, referencing the police report. “She talked about conversations they had where he talked about his marriage and his relationship with his wife and his penis size.”
The teen alleged that the abuse continued in high school, including one occasion when they both touched each other in the wrestling office after Wilder had locked the door and placed a box in front of it, according to the special.
She told police that Wilder had touched her vagina and she had touched his penis “several times,” Coombs said.
Wilder was arrested in 2008, but months later, St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch decided not to prosecute the case, citing a “lack of credible evidence that any sexual contact had taken place,” The South County Times reported in 2009.
Within months, Wilder had returned to the classroom and told the news outlet — although he was identified only as a “Sperreng Middle School teacher” — that the experience had been “an absolute nightmare.”
Throughout it all, though, he claimed his wife and children had remained supportive.
"I have kids, and they were dragged through this — wondering why I was at the police station, why I wasn't at school,” he told The South County Times then. “My wife and I talked to our kids and said 'Here's what's going on.' There was never a waver on the part of my family. We all came out of it fine."
Years later, in 2013, Wilder was arrested a second time after his former student Emilie Morris told St. Louis County Police that Wilder had sexually abused her when she was just 16 years old in the 1990s.
Morris alleged that she and Wilder had an inappropriate sexual relationship — often performing oral sex on one another — while she was on the cross-country team beginning in 1996. The relationship sparked whispers among her peers and even resulted in a meeting with Wilder, Morris, and her parents in the principal’s office to discuss the rumors. But at the time, both Morris and Wilder denied having any inappropriate relationship with one another.
Morris supported her claims with an 87-minute recording of a conversation she had about the relationship with Wilder in 2013, according to the special.
Morris secretly recorded their talk after arranging to meet Wilder in a St. Louis-area shopping mall parking lot with the recorder tucked into her sports bra.
Wilder was arrested and charged with six counts of sodomy, but the case against him was dropped the following year after Morris was found dead in her home under what her family believes was mysterious circumstances.
Although Wilder never faced the abuse allegations in court, Jessica Testa, who authored a 2018 BuzzFeed News article about the case, said in “The Case Died With Her” that the Morris family was able to get a copy of the 87-minute recording to the school board in 2015 — two years after he had been placed on paid administrative leave following his 2013 arrest.
In May 2015, the Lindbergh School District’s board of education voted to uphold the termination of his contract with the district.
Under the terms of the settlement, Wilder denied the allegations against him but agreed to resign, reported local outlet Call Newspapers.
He received “severance pay representing salary” from May 5, 2015 — when the contract was terminated — to June 30, 2015 along with an additional $5,000 severance package, according to the outlet.
Wilder retained his teaching license but was prohibited from ever applying to work in the school district again.
“Our responsibility is to keep students safe at all times,” the district said in a statement to Testa. “As soon as Lindbergh Schools received new evidence in 2015 from St. Louis County Police regarding Mr. Wilder’s conduct, the Board of Education and administration took immediate action to terminate his contract. The agreement, signed in 2015, ensures that Mr. Wilder never step foot on a Lindbergh campus again.”
Emilie Morris’ mom, Joan Morris, told producers she found little comfort in how Wilder left the district.
“Wilder being able to withdraw the way he was, I am furious,” she told producers. “He kept his teaching license. He was not a registered sex offender.”
Testa said if Wilder had been convicted of the sodomy charges against him, he would have lost his teaching license, but because the case was dropped with Emilie Morris’ death and the charges were never adjudicated, the license was never taken away.
Little is known about what happened to Wilder after leaving the district. A LinkedIn profile in his name appears to be outdated and continues to list him as a “track & cross country coach” and “health & fitness” teacher at Lindbergh High School.
Although Wilder was allowed to keep his teaching license and never had to face the allegations against him in court, Joan Morris said bringing public attention to the case — first in the BuzzFeed News article and again in the Oxygen investigation — gave their family an opportunity to honor Emilie’s memory.
“It had an unexpected effect of exonerating Emilie. People realize now that they’re adults, that wasn’t right. That shouldn’t have been going on,” Joan said. “It made me feel a lot better for her memory.”
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