Notable cases where the prosecution was able to get a conviction despite the homicide victim's body never being recovered:
In the 1950s, West Palm Beach municipal Judge Joe Peel had earned a reputation for straddling both sides of the law. When Senior Circuit Judge Chillingworth, his superior and a pillar of the West Palm Beach community, disciplined him for representing both the husband and wife in a divorce, Peel hired a World War II veteran and moonshiner to kill Chillingworth. On June 15, 1955, Floyd "Lucky" Holzapfel and George David, bootleggers who relied on Peel for protection, abducted Chillingworth and his wife Marjorie, took them out into the ocean, killed them and dumped the bodies. Evidence at the Chillingworth house quickly ruled out robbery as a motive and investigators were stumped. But four years later, Holzapfel mentioned his role to a friend, who turned him in. Lincoln and Holzapfel were granted immunity in return for their testimony. Peel was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Experts regard it as the first time a conviction was achieved without a body.
More recent cases:
An Alva, Okla., jury deliberated two hours in September 2007 before convicting Katherine Rutan in the murder of her 6-year-old son, Logan Tucker. Prosecutors said Rutan killed her son on June 23, 2002, so she could be with her boyfriend. Key evidence included a boyfriend who testified that she told him she wished she could kill her children and get away with it. Rulan's other son, Justin, told the jury that his mother took his brother into the woods and returned without him. She was sentenced to life in prison.
Nina Reiser, wife of Linux software designer Hans Reiser, disappeared in September 2006 in Oakland, Calif. Nina, a Russian native, married Reiser in 1998 and filed for divorce a year later. The divorce was still pending when she disappeared, though she had already gained custody of the couple's two children. Hans Reiser claimed his wife had abandoned him and the children, but prosecutors said he had "motive coming out of his ears," including large child support payments and evidence Nina had an affair with his best friend. Reiser rejected a three-year plea deal to voluntary manslaughter, but four months after being convicted of first-degree murder last April he agreed to lead investigators to his wife's body in return for a lesser sentence. He is serving a 15-year-to-life sentence for second-degree murder.
Tom Capano, a wealthy lawyer from a prominent Delaware family, immediately became a suspect when one of his mistresses, Anne Marie Fahey, went missing in 1996 shortly after she broke off their affair. But without a body, prosecutors were stymied until they successfully pressured Capano's younger brother to admit that he helped dump Fahey's body at sea after she had been fatally shot. Capano, who claimed the shooting was an accident, was convicted of murder in 1999 and is serving a life sentence.
After Jami Shearer told her abusive husband, Steven, she was leaving him in September 1990, she disappeared. Steven, who had accused her of cheating on him with his friend, had told her he was going to kill her and had remarked that an area near their Seattle home was "a dumping ground for missing persons," friends later testified. Incidents of abusive behavior toward her were also document and records showed that Steven Shearer had also been actively using a dating service in the months before his wife's disappearance. His sister also testified that Steven Shearer had told her he had done something very bad. Police charged him with first-degree murder and, though prosecutors lacked a murder weapon or eyewitnesses, he was convicted nearly 10 years later and sentenced to 60 years in prison.