Friends and a former wife attending the trial of convicted killer Douglas J. Howery just could not see him as a cold-blooded killer but his stepson said he suspected him all along. As they awaited the jury’s verdict on Thursday, Nov. 29, those in Howery’s camp were adamant about his innocence.
“We were married for about 14 years,” said first wife Sue Howery, of Springfield. “He had never been in trouble before and he wouldn’t even discipline our boys.
“He was always a loving, generous husband and kind. He never laid a hand on me.”
“I met him in 1972 at Wagner Electric in St. Louis,” said long-time friend Neil Moersch, of Troy. “He’s a real nice guy and I never heard him say a cross word. I don’t think that he did it.
“If it was me, hypothetically, why would you bury her on the property you owned and then sell it?” Moersch asked rhetorically. “Of course, I didn’t live with him either.”
Those statements were contrasted sharply by stepson Matt Higginbotham, of O’Fallon.
He is the son of Betty Ann Howery by a prior relationship and saw a different Douglas Howery when he lived with him and his murder-victim mother. It was Higginbotham’s DNA the FBI used to prove the bones found at the Annada murder scene were his mother’s.
Since Betty Ann Howery disappeared in 1992 at the age of 44, “It hasn’t been easy,” Higginbotham said.
“I have no doubt he was the man that killed my mother. Growing up, I watched the man beat my mother and she was intimidated by him.
“The nature of the evidence makes it very clear cut. No one else had reason or rhyme to do this.
“The next day he called into my mom’s work,” to report she was on vacation. “My mom was not the kind to not call herself or not show up to work.”
Higginbotham learned of his mother’s disappearance not from his stepfather, but from a cousin who reported she had not shown up for a family gathering. He filed a missing persons report with the St. Charles Police. That was where the Howerys were living at the time she disappeared because their Annada farm house had burned down.
“Periodically, I’d do Google searches for her and you maintain hope but I suspected her demise had happened,” he said.
When police unraveled the case in 2008 and 2009 and took his stepfather into custody, “I got on my knees right then and thanked God for what had happened. I was exuberant that they had finally arrested him for the crime,” Higginbotham said.
Neda Foster, of Salem, said her deceased husband John also worked with Howery at Wagner Electric and they became fast friends with “Doug and Betty” as she called them.
“We would go out to their farm on weekends and play cards,” Foster said. “We also went with them to Nashville and Branson,” to see country music.
“He was there when my husband was dying and I was at his son’s high school graduation.
“I never saw him angry at all. He was a gentle person so when I heard (about the murder and arrest) I was devastated.”
Foster said she didn’t know if Howery killed his wife for sure or not, but she doubted it, based on him continuously taking the Fosters to the farm where Betty Howery lay slain.