Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Disappearance & Presumed Murder of Tyler Marie Thomas



Tyler Marie Thomas vanished at the age of 19 on December 3rd, 2010. 

At the time of her disappearance, Tyler was a student at Peru State College in Peru, Nebraska. She vanished while walking back to campus after attending an off-campus party. Tyler was reportedly intoxicated at the party, and she was asked to leave after getting into a fight with a friend. She sent a text shortly before 1:30am to say that she was lost--despite the fact that someone had spotted her just a few hundred feet away from her dorm building around the same time. Tyler never made it back into the building. Her friends were immediately concerned when she did not return--not only because she was intoxicated, but also because it was frigidly cold outside and Tyler was not wearing a coat. She was reported missing by 3am--just an hour and a half after she was last seen. 

Searches for Tyler along the route where she was last seen ended unsuccessfully. Investigators began to question her friends/dorm mates, and it did not take long before the name Joshua Keadle appeared on their radar. Joshua was also a student at Peru State. He had taken Tyler on a date at some point before her disappearance, but afterwards Tyler said that she was not interested in him. In fact, she had told many of her friends that she was trying to avoid him. Joshua was questioned about Tyler's disappearance, but he denied any knowledge of her whereabouts. Just days later, though, Joshua was arrested for providing false information to the police. 

After his arrest, another student came forward and said that Joshua had sexually assaulted her three times on Halloween--which was roughly a month before Tyler disappeared. Joshua was then additionally charged with false imprisonment and felony rape. Then, yet another young girl came forward and said that Joshua had sexually assaulted her in 2008--when she was just 15 years old. He was charged with rape for that case as well. 

Meanwhile, Joshua continued to deny involvement in Tyler's disappearance. However, his story had dramatically changed. Joshua initially told investigators that he saw Tyler walking on campus before her disappearance, but he did not talk with her at that time. He later admitted that Tyler actually got into his car with him, and he drove them to the Peru boat dock. By Joshua's account, the two smoked marijuana at the dock before Tyler offered to perform a sexual act on him in exchange for a ride to Omaha. Joshua explained to investigators that, after the sexual act, Tyler accused him of rape and the two got into an argument that turned physical. He then claimed that he left Tyler at the dock around 2am before returning to his dorm to shower.

The dock where Joshua claimed to have left Tyler happens to be the same place where the other Peru student said that Joshua raped her on Halloween. Based on this information, and all of the other accusations against Joshua, it became clear that many people did not believe his version of events regarding Tyler's disappearance. In fact, many believed that Joshua killed Tyler and dumped her body in the Missouri River.  Joshua continuously denied this, and the search for Tyler seemingly went stagnant. It would take years before Tyler's family would receive justice. 

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In March 2012, Joshua pleaded guilty to the 2008 rape charges. He was sentenced to 15-20 years in prison, but would be eligible for parole after serving 8 years.

Joshua Keadle

That same year, Tyler's mother filed a wrongful death suit against both Joshua and Peru State College. After Joshua's initial arrest, Tyler's family learned that Joshua had been in trouble with the school before Tyler disappeared. The week prior, the school's director of campus security recommended expulsion for Joshua. He had caused property damage after kicking the door of his dorm room, he was failing his classes, and he had been accused by two other students of sexual harassment. Despite all of this, the school administration opted to allowed Joshua to finish the semester before expulsion. The lawsuit filed by Tyler's mother claimed that Joshua should have been expelled before Tyler's disappearance--but because the school allowed him to stay, Tyler became the next victim of Joshua's predatory behavior. 

Although Tyler remained missing, a judge officially declared Tyler dead in 2013.  In 2015, the judge dismissed the lawsuit against the school, citing that "there was no way the institution could have foreseen that he was a risk for violent behavior. "The judge did, however, rule in favor of Tyler's family in the suit against Joshua. The family was awarded $2.64 billion in damages--but since Joshua is incarcerated without any solid income, it is unlikely that Tyler's family will ever receive any pay out. 

By this point, it was widely believed that Joshua murdered Tyler before dumping her body in the river. Still, investigators did not have a body and enough evidence or witnesses to prosecute. Joshua remained behind bars on his other conviction, but his 2020 parole eligibility was quickly approaching. 

Finally, in October 2017, Joshua was charged with the first-degree murder of Tyler Thomas. After news of his arrest circulated, a man named Cory Pfeifer came forward and said that he had been housed in the same jail as Joshua during 2011. While behind bars together, Joshua reportedly told Cory that he killed Tyler and disposed of her body. He also reportedly told Cory that "they would never convict him because they would never find her body."

Joshua pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and went to trial in early 2020. A jury deliberated for nine hours before convicting him of the lesser offense of second-degree murder. He was due to be sentenced in April 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed his sentencing until July 2020. Then, Joshua was sentenced to 71 years in prison. 
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