20/20 How a cigarette butt 20 years later solved The Murder of Angie Dodge

Angie Dodge was raped and stabbed to death when she was 18 years old on June 13, 1996, in Idaho Falls, Idaho. She was found in her bedroom in a horrific state. Angie’s throat was cut and there were multiple stab wounds, including right above her right breast.

Angie, the youngest of four kids, was an outgoing person who had just graduated high school and was about to go to college. She had just rented a room in an apartment house three weeks before she was murdered there. She’d left home because of disagreement about house rules, but had reconciled with her mother the night before she was murdered.

Police collected multiple DNA samples from the site, but still had no match, and no suspect, six months later. When a friend of hers, Ben Hobbs, was arrested for raping a woman in Nevada at knifepoint, police were quick to turn their attention to him. Ben had actually attended Angie’s funeral and carried flowers in the funeral party.

Police go to Nevada where Ben Hobbs was incarcerated for his other crime to question him and collect his DNA. They also went back to Idaho Falls to interview his friends, a group who went by the name “The River Rats” because they would often socialize at Snake River. Angie would often be seen at the river too.

Chris Tabb, who was one of these River Rats, came in for police questioning. He was interrogated for over 60 hours, including by someone with who he was familiar because he used to work at Chris’ school. Eventually, Chris changed his story and said that both he and Ben Hobbs were involved in Angie’s murder. The problem was that both Chris and Ben’s DNA didn’t match the DNA found at the scene of the crime. Police asked Chris to tell them who the third man was so he named his friend, Jeremy Sargis.

Jeremy was livid when he was called into questioning, and the evidence backed up his claim of innocence. His DNA did not match, and Jeremy had an alibi.

Eventually, Chris tells the police that he’s the one who made the cut above Angie’s breast. This confession led Chris Tapp to be charged with first-degree murder and rape on February 3, 1997. Still, there was no DNA evidence linking him to the murder, and police still had not found the man whose DNA was at the crime scene.

The wrong man is sentenced

Ben Hobbs wasn’t charged because he never confessed and there was no DNA evidence linking him to the crime.

Although Chris’ lawyers saw holes in his story, the prosecution argued that innocent people don’t confess, which isn’t true. False confession is a phenomenon that happens more than we would like to believe.

Chris Tabb begged the judge to “spare his life,” which made Angie’s mother Carole Dodge break down in tears. “How dare he ask to spare his life when Angie begged for her?” she sobbed. “How dare he?”

The judge decided against the death penalty and also spared Chris life without parole. He was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years for the murder and 10 years for the rape.

A mother pursues the quest for the real murderer

“When you have a child that’s murdered, life just gets shattered and there’s no way to put the pieces back together,” Angie’s mother Carole Dodge.

Carole Dodge wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of the murder trial and desperately wanted to find the man whose DNA was at the crime scene.

For 20 years Carole read every document in the case and would spend time out driving in the streets surveilling and questioning people. She also spent time studying every second of the 60 hours of Chris Tapp’s interrogation tapes. When listening to these tapes, she realizes that Chris Tapp actually didn’t know very much about Angie’s murder. Carole became convinced that Chris Tapp had not been there.

In 2008 Carole spoke to Chris Tapp’s new defense lawyer John Thomas for a chat. She told him she thought Chris was innocent and pleaded with him to watch Chris’ interrogation in full. Carole also couldn’t get over the fact that only one person’s DNA was found at the crime scene, which led her to believe that only one person committed this awful act against her daughter, and it wasn’t Chris Tapp.

Meanwhile, Chris Tapp found himself losing himself in the prison environment. He says the violence and things he witnessed there changed who he was. He also developed a deep sense of hatred for being imprisoned for something he didn’t do.

In 2017, Chris had been in prison for 19 years, and the rape charge was withdrawn. He still had a murder conviction, but he was able to walk free. Even though he was finally outside of prison, Chris still wanted his murder charge expunged.

The new team of investigators looking into Angie Dodge’s murder had not worked on the original case and had not been involved in Chris Tapp’s mishandled interrogation.

How the real killer was found

Thankfully, DNA technology had advanced quite a bit in the two decades since Angie’s murder, and the DNA evidence needed to find Angie Dodge’s real murderer was in police storage the entire time. In the 90s, the sample was unable to give police a good match. 20 years later, however, genetic genealogist CeCe Moore was able to find a match.

Parabon NanoLabs works with CeCe Moore initially to help adopted people find their biological parents. She can also use her techniques to work with law enforcement to crack cold cases. The DNA they had to work with was very degraded, which made their work extremely difficult, but not impossible.

After several false leads, a lost obituary helped lead investigators to a man named Brian Leigh Dripps Sr., who was living across the street from Angie Dodge in 1996.

He was an expectant father going through a divorce and was just a few days before his 31st birthday when Angie Dodge was murdered.

Police surveilled Brian Dripps, waiting for him to leave his house. They eventually were able to obtain a cigarette butt that he threw out of his car window during a regular trip to the gas station for a soda.

After so long, investigators finally got a DNA match for the DNA found at Angie’s murder in Brian Dripps. Brian confessed to her rape and murder when police let him know they had his DNA. He said his intention was to rape Angie, but not to kill her.

In February 2021, Brian Dripps pled guilty to Angie Dodge’s rape and murder. In June 2021, the 55-year-old was sentenced to life in prison. Carole was there to see the real murderer face justice.

Of course, none of this can give back the time taken from Chris Tapps, who was exonerated in February 2021.

Why did Chris Tapp falsely confess?

Throughout all these hours of questioning, police end up revealing details of the crime to Chris that Chris wouldn’t have known. He picks up on these details and changes his story based on the facts they tell him. The polygrapher told Chris that he could face the gas chambers for this crime, which may have scared him into falsely confessing.

During interrogations, police can lie to a person, and also make them question their own memories and sense of reality.

Chris Tapp has filed a civil lawsuit against the Idaho Falls Police Department and seven former officers who were involved in arresting him. In June 2021, a judge denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case.

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