Season 2 | Episode 2 | “Death by Design?” | Aired June 27, 2014
This week we travel to Waller County, Texas, to investigate a cold case involving the 1986 death of Diann Hoelscher.
A fashion designer, Diann was last seen on February 4, 1986, when she left her San Antonio home to travel to Houston to sell some high-end fabrics. She never returned.
Her remains were found in Waller 11 years later but remained unidentified until 2014, when the University of North Texas was able to match Diann’s missing-person case to the remains through DNA.
Now Kelly and Yolanda are meeting with Lt. Heather Owens of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office to see what they can do to solve this case and get justice for Diann.
Diann’s husband, Joseph, reported his wife missing on February 13. That same day, Diann’s briefcase was found in Waller County. In May, her car was found in a mall parking lot in Houston. So one of the big questions is whether Diann made it to Houston or if someone drove the car to Houston sometime later.
The fact that Diann’s husband waited over a week to report her missing is suspicious, so he’s the first suspect. Additionally, while the couple seemed to have money, it turns out they were having financial issues and Diann’s life insurance payout was $500,000. Joseph Hoelscher had Diann declared dead only two years after she went missing and collected on that payout.
It’s also possible that Dianne was killed on the road by a stranger. The fact that her briefcase was found in one place and her car in another could mean she was attacked somewhere on the way to Houston.
It’s time to get out and start investigating. Our heroes meet with Diann’s mother, brother and sister-in-law. They talk about what a lovely person Diann was, and it’s very clear how much they miss her, especially her mother, who still has a hard time talking about her.
When Kelly asks what they thought of Joe, Diann’s mom thought he was sort of smooth and didn’t really trust him, but her daughter was happy with him so she didn’t say anything. Her brother mentions that Joe didn’t even tell Diann’s mother that Diann was missing until four weeks later, when she just happened to be calling to wish her grandson a happy birthday.
They also confirm that around the time Diann went missing, they’d heard from Joe’s mother that Joe was having financial issues.
From here, Kelly and Yolanda hit the road to start investigating three key locations in the case: the road where the briefcase was found on February 13, the mall parking lot where her car was found, and the field where her body was found 11 years later.
When they look at the location where the briefcase was found, Yolanda is suspicious. The only identifying item in the case was Diann’s driver’s license, and she feels like the briefcase may have been left there deliberately.
Next up, the mall parking lot. Yolanda is suspicious again, because there’s no way the car could have just sat there for three months, abandoned, without security noticing or having it towed.
When it was discovered, it also turns out that while Diann was taking fabric to Houston, there wasn’t any fabric or luggage in the car. Plus, while Joe initially told police he hadn’t spoken to Diann after she went missing, he told the cops who found the car that he spoke to her once, but didn’t know where she was staying.
I’m thinking this is two strikes against the “random stranger” theory, and two points for the “husband did it” theory.
Finally, they go to the field where Diann’s body was located. Due to the skeletal nature of the remains and where they were found, there’s no way to determine how Diann died, or whether any damage to the remains was due to the murder or just a result of the elements. Given the remoteness and amount of brush at the locale, the killer picked a perfect place for a body dump. Someone thought this through.
Now it’s time to look at Joe Hoelscher, so they bring in retired missing-persons investigator Pete Lopez, who originally worked on the case and interviewed Joe. While he’s been retired 23 years, he still remembers Joe vividly. His perception of Joe was that he was playing them, that perhaps Diann had gone missing as part of a scam to avoid financial issues and problems — and that Joe was in on it. He also notes that Joe never really answered his questions. Instead, he started crying as a way to avoid questions.
When they talk to one of Diann’s former employees, they find out that it’s unlikely that Diann would have had high-end fabric to sell in San Antonio. Her business was strapped for cash, and the employee hadn’t heard about Diann making any plans to go to Houston.
There’s another hole in Joe’s story: Kelly and Yolanda talk with retired Houston homicide detective Larry Ott, who says he and his partner checked all of the hotels near the Galleria. But while Joe said Diann was staying in Houston, they can’t find any record of her staying anywhere or selling fabric to anyone in the area.
When they meet with a neighbor Joe asked to drive him to Houston to recover Diann’s car, they hear that Joe told a story about how Diann was staying by the Galleria and, after being seen with some guy, just disappeared.
Are we on story #3 or #4? I’m losing track.
As the “random stranger” theory fades, it’s time to talk to Diann’s friends to learn more about the Hoelscher marriage. Things were definitely rocky, and Joe seems to have struck a lot of people the wrong way.
We also find out new information that really looks suspicious. It turns out Joe filed for divorce in 1982, but it was never finalized. He then bought the $500K life insurance policy in 1983.
So did he figure that instead of getting a divorce, he’d get insurance on her and then take the payout? It’s looking that way.
Detective Owens even goes to talk to one of Joe’s exes to see if there is any behavior that would tell them if he’s the kind of guy who would do something like this. That would be a yes. The ex tells them about one night when she was sleeping and woke up to find Joe on top of her, choking her. She left him the next day.
Creepy, and things are definitely pointing toward Joe. But the detectives still need more information, so they talk to Joe’s son. The son recalls that his mom told them close to the day she disappeared that she was going to sell the business, and she needed to leave for a little while but she’d be back. However, while his mother would call every night when she was away on business, she didn’t this time, and his dad sort of blew that off. His dad also told his son that he’d hire investigators to look into his mom’s disappearance — and the son was also told that they found blood in the car.
He also says his dad told him that the fabric that Diann was selling was Swarovski fabric and it was actually registered, but it somehow ended up in New York when someone there tried to have it appraised.
Joe’s son also remembers Joe as being very in love with his wife and not being much of a crier, which is definitely different from what we heard from the detective earlier. He’s shocked by the news of the divorce filing, and you can tell he’s thrown. But when Kelly asks him if he wants them to look for the truth — even if it might mean his father killed his mother — he tells her that he’s committed to the truth more than anything.
Which means it’s time to talk to Joe.
We don’t get to see the interview, but Lt. Owens, Yolanda and Detective Alan Smith give Kelly the rundown.
Joe was very hard to pin down. Any time they asked him a question, he’d cry or he’d patronize them and tell them to let him finish. He also says he notified Diann’s family immediately. He can cry on command — Kelly called them strategic tears.
He also changed his story on what time Diann left that day. He said he looked into a private investigator, but it would have cost $50,000, so he opted not to.
With all of the stories told and the changes, toss in the divorce filing and the insurance policy, and you’re looking at a very strong circumstantial case.
Lt. Owens and Kelly present the case to the Waller County District Attorney, and he agrees to take the case.
All that’s left is for the Cold Justice team to talk to Diann’s family and let them know that they finally have answers. Kelly tells Diann’s mom that if there’s a trial, she’ll be sitting in the front row with her.
I hope that happens very, very soon.
On a personal note, I wanted to give a shout-out to the Cold Justice Facebook page. It’s awesome to see so many fans of the show, and the CJ social team is top-notch. Plus, you can see updates on previous cases, which is great.
Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you next week.
Cold Justice airs Fridays at 9/8 C on TNT.