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After 9-year-old Jennifer Wilson was sexually assaulted and brutally murdered in Flagstaff at the hands of Richard Bible in 1988, in a way, Yuma lost its innocence.
“That changed a lot of things in Yuma,” said former Yuma County Sheriff John Phipps. “There was a big effort that went through all the communities, not only in Arizona, but everywhere about guarding your kids, talking to them, informing them.”
Phipps was the sheriff in 1988 and traveled to Flagstaff to help his friends, the Wilson family, search for their daughter.
“My wife and I, and our family, were very close to Rich and Nancy Wilson, and our granddaughter was the same age as (Jennifer). They played together.”
In need of more manpower to comb the woods around Flagstaff, Phipps enlisted the help of Col. Mack Luckie, who commanded Marine Corps Air Station Yuma from 1988 to 1990.
“We needed some boots on the ground,” Phipps said, adding that Luckie did not disappoint and sent well over 100 Marines.
“They landed two C-130s — there were Marines marching through those woods looking for that little baby. We did things right then. Of course (Luckie) got criticism over it, because we used Marines for purposes other than combat situations, but we didn't care.”
Phipps was on location when Wilson's body was found under a pile of twigs and oak leaves on top of Sheep Hill.
“I'll never forget it. I carried that little body off that mountain until the father wanted to carry her. That was a sad, sad night. It was the most horrible crime, and I've been in law enforcement 32 years.”
Phipps vividly remembers seeing Bible at the police station.
“I'll never forget. There was like 50 or 60 law enforcement officers there at the police station in Flagstaff. When they brought him in, it was just deathly quiet. They brought him down the hallway to the back end of that station, and some boy said, ‘Let Sheriff Phipps interrogate him.'”
After Jennifer's body was found, Phipps remained in Flagstaff to support the Wilson family. The local sheriff even gave him a space to use as an office while in Coconino County.
“I sat through every day, every hour, every minute of the trial with the Wilson family. I was right there holding their hands, and I was in the courtroom with them and I will never forget.”
After 23 years, Phipps is pleased to see the Bible's execution finally carried out.
“It is long overdue.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6849.