When former Gallatin County Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Brisbin disappeared on Nov. 9, 1990, officials undertook one of the longest, most mystifying, complex and expensive murder investigations in the county’s history.
The trial of Larry Thurman Moore garnered national media attention and was the first case in Montana to use DNA evidence.
A bloodied camper, forged letters from the dead man, an alleged affair and contradictory tales convinced a jury of Moore’s guilt.
Investigators found Brisbin’s body buried in a gravel pit outside West Yellowstone five years after Moore shot Brisbin twice in the head.
Moore later confessed in 1995.
Moore, now 64, is serving a 60-year prison sentence.
Below is a timeline of the murder case.
Moore, 44, suffers a nervous breakdown, suspecting his Alcoholics Anonymous buddy, Brad Brisbin, is having an affair with his estranged wife.
Michelle Moore gets a restraining order against her husband after he reportedly tries to strangle her.
Nov. 9, 1990
Brisbin, 38, a West Yellowstone restaurant owner and father of four, meets Moore at Bair’s Truck Stop in Belgrade after Moore asks for a ride because he’d sold his truck and camper.
Brisbin tells his wife, Rene Brisbin, about the meeting because Moore said not to tell anyone. When Rene Brisbin’s husband doesn’t return home, she is sure he’s dead.
Moore, a successful West Yellowstone businessman, tells investigators Brisbin asked for the meeting. Moore claims Brisbin told him he was “fed up” with his life and wanted to leave. Moore says he saw Brisbin get in a red sports car with a woman and drive off.
Moore later changes his story saying he found Brisbin in his trailer with a handgun. He says Brisbin was injured by a bullet as the two struggled. He claims Brisbin told him he’d shoot himself if Moore called police. Moore says Brisbin disappeared while he went for water.
Meanwhile, the sheriff and a West Yellowstone attorney receive letters ostensibly written by Brisbin from Spokane, Wash.
Authorities search for Brisbin’s body. An excavator is used to scrape top layers of frozen soil at a gravel pit north of West Yellowstone. The search is unsuccessful.
Dec. 1, 1990
Moore is arrested and charged with deliberate homicide and two counts of tampering with evidence after a bloodied bullet and a piece of human flesh is found in his camper.
Dec. 7, 1990
Rene Brisbin testifies at Moore’s bail hearing that the two letters from Brad Brisbin were fakes. She says her name is misspelled and the signature is not from Brisbin.
Justice of the Peace Scott Wyckman holds Moore without bail.
Dec. 19, 1990
Moore pleads not guilty. His attorneys argue prosecutors produced “a tumbling parade of circumstantial evidence.”
Investigators use a 1-inch-long strand of muscle tissue found in Moore’s camper to get DNA evidence.
District Judge Larry Moran releases Moore on bail and allows him to go bow hunting for elk.
The judge sides with defense attorneys and separates the homicide trial from evidence tampering charges.
The homicide trial is set for February 1992.
Pieces of brain tissue found in the camper are from Brisbin, but the body is still missing.
West Yellowstone publisher Allen Messick receives a letter from “Doug” in Mexico, claiming Brisbin is alive.
Doug wrote Brisbin wants to return to his family by Christmas but wants assurances Moore won’t sue him and that criminal charges won’t be filed against him.
He says Brisbin left evidence in Moore’s camper to implicate Moore in his murder.
Defense attorney Jim Goetz continues to argue to dismiss charges against Moore. He says there’s no proof Brisbin is dead without a body.
The defense argues to exclude the then-cutting-edge DNA evidence, saying it isn’t accurate.
Prosecutors contend DNA found in Moore’s camper match Brisbin’s father and children.
Gallatin County Attorney Mike Salvagni says the evidence proves Moore killed Brisbin and hid the body.
Moran holds a weeklong hearing to determine the validity of DNA testing.
The judge rules to allow DNA evidence to be used in Moore’s trial. The case is the first in Montana to use DNA in a criminal prosecution.
Salvagni later announces his intention to run for the judge’s seat in November.
Moran dismisses Deputy County Attorney Marty Lambert from the case, saying he was vindictive toward Moore. Lambert admits to jokingly saying, “At least if we don’t convict the son-of-a-bitch, we’ll drive him out of business and into bankruptcy.”
Salvagni sends Moran a letter conceding Lambert also released confidential documents to a local attorney.
The judge scolds Salvagni for “hanging Lambert out to dry” and orders Salvagni to take immediate disciplinary action against Lambert.
Salvagni turns the prosecution over to the Montana Attorney General’s Office because of an “appearance of conflict” between his office and the judge.
Attorney General Marc Racicot assigns Mark Murphy to prosecute the case.
The Montana Supreme Court rules on appeal that DNA can be used in Moore’s trial.
Goetz calls DNA evidence “very novel and controversial.”
October to November 1992
The homicide trial gets underway.
Moore’s friends testify he said he’d kill Brisbin if Brisbin was having an affair with his wife.
Prosecutors Murphy and Rob Brown emphasize Moore’s inconsistent and improbable explanations about the events of Nov. 9, 1990.
Several witnesses testify Brisbin was unhappy at the time.
Defense attorneys charge that investigators declined to participate in telling the story on television’s “Unsolved Mysteries.” But investigators respond they were confident Brisbin was murdered and believed national attention would taint a jury.
Testimony is heard about DNA evidence, the blood-smeared camper, Moore’s attempt to scrub it clean with battery acid and the missing .357-caliber Ruger used to shoot Brisbin.
Fake letters and a trip to see the camper are also presented to the jury.
Moore testifies he did not kill Brisbin. He says the blood in the camper came from a deer he’d killed and put in the camper in October.
But prosecutors point to Moore’s numerous lies.
Moore admits to lying about the suicidal and drunken Brisbin to protect the former deputy who had applied for the undersheriff’s position.
The fourth week of the trial saw prosecutors acting out Moore’s version of the incident in a taped-off area before the jury to discredit Moore’s story.
Nov. 19, 1992
After 14 hours of deliberation, several jurors cry when the guilty verdict is read in court.
Moore’s sentencing is postponed after defense attorney Larry Jent files a motion for a new trial.
His arguments center around a jury swayed by Brisbin’s supporters wearing black armbands and funeral attire during the trial, and one juror telling others Moore was stalking her.
Moran questions jurors to determine if Moore got a fair trial.
One juror, a waitress, says she served Moore twice during the trial and felt uncomfortable about the encounters.
The waitress also admits she told other jurors about a dream she’d had during which Moore hears the guilty verdict and immediately shoots his attorneys and runs from the courtroom holding her hostage.
Moran denies a new trial.
June 5, 1993
Moore is sentenced to 60 years.
June 6, 1993
More than 150 people say goodbye to Brisbin at a memorial service in the West Yellowstone High School gym.
Speakers recall Brisbin’s role with his German shepherd in rescuing Kari Swenson when the “mountain men” kidnapped her in Big Sky in 1984.
Sheriff Bill Slaughter retires Brisbin’s badge No. 663.
Moore conspires to detonate a bomb made from an alarm clock, a battery, wiring and a toothpaste tube stuffed with match heads near the warden’s office in the Montana State Prison.
Soon after, he is severely beaten by fellow inmates, requiring facial reconstruction surgery. He doesn’t name his assailants.
Moore is charged with five federal crimes in connection to the bomb incident.
He avoids prosecution by finally admitting to the murder and leading police to Brisbin’s body, which is buried in a gravel pit outside West Yellowstone. He also leads them to the murder weapon.
Moore is removed at his request to an out-of-state prison after claiming Montana detention officers were mistreating him.
Moore is denied parole. He is denied parole several more times in subsequent years.
May 5, 2004
Cable television station Court TV airs an episode of “Forensic Files” detailing the case. A crew had spent 10 days in Gallatin County shooting the show.
Nov. 29, 2010
Moore is denied parole based on “strong opposition from the victim’s family and law enforcement.”
He will be eligible for parole again in November 2014. His sentence will end in 2023.
Jodi Hausen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2630.