GILLETTE, Wyo. -- Cheryl and John Trover returned home from a Friday night out with friends. John got ready for bed. Cheryl had other plans.
Cheryl Trover, a high school math teacher, wife and 37-year-old mother of two, had murder on her mind. She had plotted her moves for months, and tonight was the night. John's last.Pulling on a ski mask, she disguised her voice and tied her son and daughter with rope. She shot her husband twice, then slit his throat and stabbed him in the heart with his own hunting knife.
She later told police how she had fled from a dark-skinned intruder, how she had run naked into the cold night.
But Cheryl Trover's plans had already gone wrong. She'd be dead herself within 48 hours, unable to live with the mistakes she had made.
Police quickly found the murder weapon in the house across the street, the house that held the secrets she had tried to protect. It was the house of Cheryl Trover's principal -- and her lover for the past four years.
"It's as close to a murder mystery -- and probably better written -- as any I've read in a long time," said Sgt. Steve Rozier, lead investigator in the case.
"Not that it's a good thing, but it certainly had a lot of twists and turns."
Gillette is a coal mining town of about 17,000 people, defiant in its isolation on the barren, rolling prairie where antelope roam free.
It depends on ranching and rich, low-sulfur coal deposits. Vast trains driven by multiple locomotives export the product of immense open-pit mines such as Eagle Butte, where John Trover, 43, worked as an accountant.
Gillette has seen steady growth along with Wyoming's coal industry over the past 25 years, drawing blue-collar residents of eastern states whose coal industries have lagged.
Campbell County High School, where Cheryl Trover taught, also grew to more than 1,600 students.
The Trovers seemed so happy. There seemed to be no trouble in the 14 years they were married, not even as they socialized at a neighborhood sports bar on Dec. 4, the night John Trover was killed.
Leslie Flocchini knew the Trovers for 11 years. Less than two weeks before the murder, she saw them at a junior high girls' basketball game.
"Cheri and John sat right beside us and we talked the entire time and made jokes and laughed. And I can still remember John rubbing Cheri's shoulder. It's a huge shock," Flocchini said.
"They were very affectionate to one another in public," she said. " . . . you never know the subtleties of relationships."
Like her children, Cheryl Trover was athletic. Lean and muscular with long, dark hair, she lifted weights religiously at a stylish, warehouse-size gym where she and her husband often played racquetball.
She also was pursuing a master's degree in education administration. Speakers at a memorial service on Thursday described her as a favorite of many students.
John Trover's co-workers remembered a kind, family-loving man who could take a joke.
"John wasn't much of a hunter, and we talked him into shooting sporting clays one time," co-worker Murphy Love said. "He shot four out of 100."
"We had a company function where we had this big, round table we painted up like a clay pigeon and then gave him a little gun with plastic bullets," he added. "We rolled it up within three feet to see if he could shoot it."
Police had a theory within hours of the murder. They heard whispers that Cheryl Trover was involved with Principal John Riley.
The Trovers had a key to Riley's house. Riley, who was divorced, often had Christmas dinner with the Trovers, either at his house or theirs.
Police believe Cheryl Trover feared a divorce would cost her custody of Torrey, 13, and Jackson, 11. John Trover had gained custody of his daughter Brooklin, 18, when he divorced his first wife.
Riley admitted to the affair and resigned his job. People believe he now plans to move away. Apparently, he was unaware of her scheme.
"From our conversations with Mr. Riley, they were in love," Rozier said.
The plot began up to six months ago, when Cheryl Trover learned Riley would attend a conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., the weekend of Dec. 4.
In recent weeks, Eagle Butte Mine officials had received vague threats from a caller with a low, possibly female voice. Layoffs were rumored at the mine.
"We believe that Cheryl Trover made some phone calls (saying) that someone from the coal company might end up paying for the layoffs in some way," Rozier said.
Cheryl Trover also told neighbors she had seen a man wearing coveralls, cowboy boots and wire-rim glasses near their house. It was the same description she later gave of the intruder.
Police believe Cheryl Trover shot her husband as he stood facing away from her in his underwear.
But Cheryl was no better at handling a gun than John. She had mistakenly loaded the handgun she had taken from Riley's house with .22-caliber rifle bullets, which misfired. John's wounds were only superficial.
Then she found John's 6-inch hunting knife and killed him in the kitchen. She faked signs of a struggle, dragging her 6-foot husband's body across the floor and down to the finished basement.
She wiped the blood off the gun and returned it to Riley's house, then drove off in the couple's pickup.
In the southern outskirts of town, she stripped naked and set fire to her clothes, the cowboy boots and coveralls in the truck.Comment on this story
As the truck burned, she fled into a field and hid in a drainage culvert. A passing motorist quickly put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher, preserving the evidence. She emerged when police arrived at about 5:30 a.m., and authorities launched a search for the intruder.
A sexual assault test at the hospital was inconclusive. Police noticed that cigar burns on Cheryl Trover's back appeared to be self-inflicted. The details she offered were confusing.
Cheryl Trover went to a friend's ranch west of town. When Riley called Sunday afternoon to tell her police had found the gun, she asked for a half hour to herself. She went upstairs, found a rifle in a master bedroom, locked herself in an adjoining bathroom, and shot herself.
"Something happened," the Rev. Tom Ogg said at the memorial service for the couple. "Most everybody who knew them said, 'This is not the person we knew.' "