STE. GENEVIEVE, Mo. (AP) - The family of a southeast Missouri mother killed by her estranged husband is trying to move forward after a June plea deal that landed the killer in prison while allowing police to recover her body.
Thirty-nine-year-old Jacque Waller, a mother of 5-year-old triplets, was missing for almost two years before her body was found on a Mississippi River island near Cape Girardeau. James Clay Waller II, 42, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a 20-year prison sentence. The couple was going through an acrimonious divorce at the time of Jacque Waller's 2011 disappearance.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (bit.ly/1ifJlnF) reported that Waller's sister and brother-in-law now care for the 8-year-old siblings, who are second-graders. Bob and Cheryl Brenneke recently adopted the Waller children after serving as their legal guardians.
"We had a saying," said Waller's sister, Cheryl Brenneke, about helping care for the children as infants. "We loved to see headlights, but we'd love to see tail lights. After this happened, we said, you know, there's not going to be any more tail lights, but we can do this."
Waller and triplets Avery, Addison and Maddox had moved in with the Brennekes shortly before her death. She planned to live with a new boyfriend in Farmington, ordering pink-and-purple monogrammed Pottery Barn bedding for the girls and gray-and-blue plaid bedding for her son Maddox, and had painted their new rooms the day she disappeared.
"She was so excited," said Brenneke.
Instead, Waller's sister painted new rooms for the triplets in her home where they had lived alone on 60 acres after raising their own four children, who are now grown.
Her remains were found buried in southern Illinois' Alexander County on May 29.
After years of shielding the children from the truth, the Brennekes helped break the news. At the sentencing hearing, Clay Waller was confronted by a recording of his young son, who called him a "big, fat jerk." Clay Waller is also serving a five-year concurrent term in federal prison for threatening Brenneke over the Internet.
"You killed our mom," Maddox said in a recorded statement. "I thought you were a good guy. Now I know you're not. ... I wish you weren't my dad."
A large black-and-white portrait of Jacque Waller hangs in the Brennekes' living room, surrounded by pictures of cousins and other relatives. The newly blended family also watches home movies to help preserve memories of the slain mother.
On Nov. 12, the Brennekes celebrated what they call "Gotcha Day," when their adoption of the triplets became official. They're also working to help victims of domestic abuse. In October, Cheryl Brenneke spoke at a fundraiser for domestic violence victims in southeast Missouri.
"So many people don't understand that domestic abuse can be manipulation, and psychological," she said. "It's more than black eyes and bruises. I'm sure Jacque didn't consider herself to be an abuse victim."
Jacque Waller's former co-workers at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield have organized an annual 5K run/walk to benefit the family and domestic violence victims. Bob Brenneke said that event has helped the triplets tremendously.
"They say, 'All these people come for our mommy?'?" he said
The Brennekes say they're thankful for the adoption. They're thankful they have a grave to visit. And they're thankful for their memories.
"We all have a strong faith," Cheryl Brenneke said. "We know where she's at. We've all got a job to do with these kids."
"We've just closed this chapter. We can get on with living now."
Accompanying photo: Triplets with Cheryl Rawson-Brenneke