Originally created 01/19/98

Daughter's death unravels



SAVANNAH -- Joe Aeger's coffee had gone cold, and he prepared to leave the Whitemarsh Island Huddle House restaurant when his boss, Edward Wright, started talking about problems between him and his 28-year-old daughter.

Mr. Wright, glancing across the table at Mr. Aeger, said he didn't want his daughter to take his 7-year-old granddaughter away -- then added, with a cold stare, that the problem had been taken care of.

The solution was in seven dark-green garbage bags in the back of his van.

Mr. Wright, the owner of a construction company, knew that Mr. Aeger had plans to install a septic tank in the back yard of his Effingham County home. He calmly offered to pay for the backhoe for the work, Mr. Aeger said, if Mr. Aeger would put the bags stuffed with Francesca Regina Wright's body parts in the hole.

Mr. Aeger said he decided he might be risking his life, and those of his wife and nine children, if he refused.

So he got into his GMC pickup and Mr. Wright followed him in his van. They drove west to Mr. Aeger's residence, where Mr. Aeger said the two transferred the bags containing Ms. Wright's body parts from the van into a truck trailer in the driveway.

The next morning was Thanksgiving eve. Mr. Aeger said he rented a backhoe and dug a hole next to his house. When he finished, the hole was 6 feet deep and 6 feet in diameter.

Mr. Aeger picked up the seven bags, never looking inside, and threw them into the hole, along with a chain saw that he said Mr. Wright gave him.

"I put those bags in the hole, knowing that I would be bringing them back up," Mr. Aeger said, standing over the partially exposed hole where he had led police the night before.

POLICE SAID MR. WRIGHT

confessed, after his arrest late Friday, to using a hatchet to kill his daughter and then using the hatchet and a chain saw to cut her up.

"He told us his daughter was taking his granddaughter to Holland," said Chatham County police Maj. Billy Freeman. "He said he didn't like what she had been doing during the past year."

Mr. Aeger said Mr. Wright gave him a similar reason for killing Ms. Wright.

But Mr. Aeger knew there were other problems between the father and daughter, going back at least a year.

Ms. Wright had been handling payroll and clerical work for her father's business, Wright Construction Co. Her father fired her for running up an enormous phone bill on the company, Mr. Aeger said.

The bill totaled more than $20,000, mainly with calls to a psychic hot line, Mr. Aeger said.

Mr. Wright was furious, Mr. Aeger recalled, and his relationship with his daughter seemed soured from then on. Mr. Wright also talked sometimes of his hatred for her boyfriend, Ronald Story, with whom she lived in Pooler, Mr. Aeger said.

But the motive police are investigating the most is the dispute over Ms. Wright's 7-year-old daughter, who split time between the households.

MR. AEGER, HIS WIFE

and four of his children went on with their lives, the rest of the family unaware that the kids' play area was now a grave.

Mr. Aeger, who had bought the 0.7-acre plot of land six years earlier, continued landscaping the front yard and putting finishing touches to the 2,000-square-foot, single-story house.

He also kept working as a foreman for Wright Construction. For the first few days after the burial, Mr. Aeger said Mr. Wright joked about how he'd see his daughter's car parked in the Kmart parking lot, where he had dropped it after the killing.

"He'd say he couldn't believe how stupid the police were leaving that car there," Mr. Aeger said.

Police eventually found the car Nov. 30, five days after Mr. Story reported his girlfriend missing.

The entire time Ms. Wright's body lay beneath his property, Mr. Aeger said he believed a tale that Mr. Wright had spun, that he'd hired a hit man from Ohio to kill his daughter for $5,000.

In addition to burying the woman, Mr. Aeger repainted and recarpeted Mr. Wright's bathroom in his Wilmington Island home, where the dismembering occurred, police said.

But fear and guilt eventually got the best of Mr. Aeger. He quit his job a week ago, after working six years for Mr. Wright.

On Friday, he drove to Mount Olive Christian Church and asked for his pastor.

"He was a nervous wreck, literally," said Gene Clay, pastor of the church. "I made a phone call to the Pooler police and verified the woman was missing. Then I sent him directly to the police."

AT 4 P.M. FRIDAY,

Mr. Aeger walked into the Pooler Police Department and unburdened himself. Pooler officers, realizing the possible slaying occurred on Wilmington Island, called in Chatham County police.

Officers from both departments followed Mr. Aeger home and started digging with shovels next to the house.

"We found the first bag with a body part around 6 (p.m.)," Maj. Freeman said.

The bag was full of straw and lime, which would have helped the flesh dissolve. Still, the body part wasn't badly deteriorated, Maj. Freeman said.

At 8 p.m., Mr. Aeger's phone line was tapped, and he placed a call to Mr. Wright. The plan was to tell Mr. Wright that Pooler police had requested Mr. Aeger to come to the station.

By the time the phone conversation ended, Mr. Wright had confessed to the entire crime, police said. He told Mr. Aeger if he dug up the lawn, there also would be a bag full of his bloody clothing, police said. Mr. Aeger said he now realized no hit man was ever involved.

"He wanted to meet me," Mr. Aeger said, squeezing his hands on each side of his head. "He said he wanted to cement my head together."

A meeting was set up at the Waffle House on Interstate 95 and Georgia Highway 204.

When Mr. Wright pulled in at 10 p.m. and got out of his vehicle, police gang-tackled him. Mr. Aeger watched through his truck window.

By then, the Effingham County Sheriff's Department had volunteered to help dig up the remaining bags with a backhoe.

Around 10:30 p.m., the seventh and final bag was pulled from the pit. Some of the officers helping pull out pieces of Ms. Wright's body from the bags became physically ill.

Officers pieced together Ms. Wright's body before sending it off Saturday to a crime lab in Atlanta for an autopsy. They also found the bag of bloody clothes and chain saw.

After the officers left, Mr. Aeger hopped in his truck and headed to the Silver Dollar Bar and Grill in Bloomingdale.

"He looked upset and shook up when he came in," the bar's owner, Charlie Jones said. "He said he needed a couple of stiff drinks and had a lot on his mind. Later he came and talked to me and told me what happened."

Mr. Aeger closed the bar.

MR. WRIGHT, 54,

spent Friday night in the Chatham County jail and returned there with no bond Saturday morning after being arraigned in Chatham County Recorder's Court on a murder charge. He faces indictment and trial, unless he pleads guilty.

"I would hope he's prosecuted to the fullest extent," Maj. Freeman said.

Police charge that Mr. Wright waited with his daughter at his Wilmington Island home until the rest of the family went out Nov. 25, then attacked her with a hatchet. He dragged her dead body into a bathroom and used the hatchet and chain saw to cut her up, Maj. Freeman said.

"This was premeditated," Maj. Freeman said. "(Mr. Wright) freely admits that he did it."

As for Mr. Aeger, Mr. Freeman said he won't be charged as an accomplice.

"We're using him as a witness, and he came forward," Mr. Freeman said. "He freely admits he knew what was in the bags. Quite frankly, had we discovered the body up there without his help, certainly he would have been charged. But we have some audiotapes where the father admits that he killed her."

Mr. Aeger's story seemed believable to Maj. Freeman.

"When he told me about it, I thought, `If he just did this to his daughter, what was I to him?"' Mr. Aeger said. "I was afraid."

Maj. Freeman said he is sickened by the crime.

"In my 33 years of law enforcement, this is one of the most cold-blooded crimes I have ever dealt with," he said. "How do you kill your own daughter and dismember her?"