Victim’s ex-husband charged with first-degree murder
Residents of Lovell and adjacent communities woke up on Jan. 5 to the news of a brutal murder in their community. The victim, Carol Jean “CJ” Barnes, by many accounts a loving, kind person who many remember as a friendly checker at the Red Apple Supermarket, a student at Northwest College or as a supportive friend or sponsor at one of the local Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
According to police reports, the murder took place sometime in the afternoon or early evening hours of Thursday, Jan. 4, at Rose City West apartments in Lovell. This is the first time a crime of this nature has taken place in Lovell in more than 10 years.
The murder suspect, Donald Joe Crouse, a resident of Lovell and an ex-husband of Barnes, was charged with premeditated first-degree murder on Monday during his initial court appearance in Basin. Crouse is currently being held at the Big Horn County Detention Center in Basin on a $1 million cash bond set at that hearing, an increase from his original $500,000 bond. If Crouse is convicted of first-degree murder, the crime is punishable by death or life in prison, without parole.
Court documents allege that the defendant “purposely and with premeditated malice, killed a human being.”
Crouse, 48, is accused of killing Barnes, 49, of Cowley, based on evidence at the scene of the crime and his own admissions during an interview with officers from the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation in Casper, following his arrest in Natrona County.
According to an affidavit of probable cause submitted by the Lovell Police Department, officers received a call at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday from a concerned family member regarding the welfare of Barnes. The family member stated to police that he became concerned after receiving an “SOS” text message from Barnes that indicated she was in need of help.
Officers immediately went to Barnes’ residence in Cowley and to Crouse’s apartment at Rose City West to see if Barnes was OK. After noticing blood evidence on the exterior of Crouse’s apartment door, officers entered the apartment where they found Barnes dead on the floor of the living room with injuries that appeared consistent with stab wounds. They also found multiple bloody knives in the apartment.
According to the affidavit submitted by Lovell Police, evidence at the scene included three handwritten notes allegedly written and signed by Crouse. Some of the notes outlined his intent to kill Barnes, others made disparaging remarks about Barnes. Entries allegedly made by Crouse referred to his plot to kill as a “mission” fueled by “revenge.” One note even prayed that she would show up so he could kill her. One note directed officers to seek other information on a cell phone. According to Lovell Police Chief Dan Laffin, officers found the cell phone, but contrary to numerous media reports, the police department has not been able to access its contents.
As part of their investigation, officers spoke to an acquaintance of Crouse who said he called Crouse at around 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. During the call Crouse allegedly confessed that he had “freaked out” and stabbed Barnes.
An immediate investigation and statewide search for Crouse resulted in his arrest in Mills on Thursday, within hours of the incident, at 8:39 p.m. According to the affidavit, Crouse was found wearing bloody clothing at the time of his arrest and in possession of the victim’s car. Crouse was held in the Natrona County jail until he was transported to the Big Horn County Detention Center in Basin on Sunday.
According to Laffin, the department had not received any previous complaints about Crouse and did not have any domestic incidents on record involving the couple. However, they did have contact with him twice. The first time was on Nov. 9, 2017, when he called the police department to complain about an attempted scam on his Facebook account. The second call was on Dec. 20, 2017, when officers checked on his welfare at the request of another individual (not Barnes). The caller was concerned that Crouse may be suicidal.
Chief Laffin said officers responding to the request for the welfare check spoke to Crouse at length and, with his permission, examined his cell phone for any messages that would indicate that he might be a threat to himself or others. At the time, they found nothing on the phone or in his demeanor to indicate he was a threat, and no other action was taken.
Laffin noted that Crouse is a convicted felon and served time in prison on drug charges in Natrona County in the past. Other court records indicate he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge in Florida in 1993 for loitering. He pled no contest to that charge and paid a fine.
An autopsy was performed on the victim and a report has been provided to law enforcement, however, no details have been released to the press.
“The effectiveness of inter-agency communication and cooperation should not go unnoticed,” stated Laffin in a press release issued on Sunday. “The immediacy of the suspect’s arrest was due to this communication and the outstanding efforts of the Mills Police Department and the alertness of the arresting officer, Grant Pederson, of that department.
“The most important thing for all of us now is to ensure that a fair trial is held and justice for the victim is secured. The release of information related to this case will be closely controlled and limited in an effort to ensure all aspects of the process remain uncompromised and an accurate criminal trial is conducted. Please keep the family of the victim in your thoughts and prayers.”
Crouse is scheduled to appear again in court in Basin on Monday, Jan. 15, at 9 a.m., for his preliminary hearing.
GoFundMe site set up to raise funds for victim’s funeral
A GoFundMe site has been set up to help the family of murder victim Carol Jean Barnes pay for her funeral expenses. Barnes, 49, was murdered in Lovell last week. Her ex-husband, Donald Joe Crouse, is being held in Big Horn County jail as a suspect in the crime (see related story).
“The tragic way in which Carol was taken exceeds our capacity to understand, leaving us all in shock,” wrote the creator of the site Alisha Cothrun. “As her loved ones are struggling to cope, I am helping the family with getting funds together, so Carol is able to have the sendoff she so deserves.”
At press time, the site had raised $790 toward its $7,000 goal. To access the site, go to www.gofundme.com and type in Carol Jean Barnes in the search bar.
By Patti Carpenter