PHOENIX - For decades, Bill Macumber has been called a murderer.
Convicted of a double homicide, he was sentenced to life without parole and has spent the past 35 years in jail. But his guilt has long been in doubt.
"This case has a stink about it," said Tom O'Toole, a long-time county judge and lawyer.
To this day, Macumber maintains his innocence. But his case is much more than a suspect who claims he didn’t do it.
Macumber’s wife is the person who turned him in. And it's a twisted story of he-said-she-said with an alleged cover-up, set-up and tainted trial.
In fact, another man confessed to the murders several years before Macumber was ever arrested - something the jury never knew.
ABC15 has reviewed thousands of pages of documents, reports and records and spent months speaking with people close to case.
The conviction has been called one of the most "doubtful" in Arizona history. And last year, the state’s board of executive clemency unanimously recommended that Macumber be released.
However, Gov. Jan Brewer denied Macumber's clemency.
Now, Macumber and his lawyers are left without options still trying to figure out what went wrong.
On May 23, 1962, a man and woman, both 20 years old, were shot and killed in a desert area now near Scottsdale and Bell roads.
"It was a terrible senseless killing," said Larry Hammond, a lawyer for the Arizona Justice Project, which represents Macumber. "There was no demonstrated motive."
The bodies of Joyce Sterrenberg and Tim McKillop were found a day later lying next to their car.
Check out the original crime scene photos above (Warning: Graphic content)
The couple’s case was extremely high-profile. But despite the publicity, investigators ran short on leads. And with little evidence, the case went cold.
That is, until one day, 12 years later.
"(Bill's) wife, Carol Macumber, who worked at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, went to her supervisors and told them that her husband had admitted to committing these crimes," said Katie Puzauskas, a lawyer for Macumber with the Arizona Justice Project.
Bill Macumber was arrested a week later.
Carol Macumber has changed her last name to Kempfert. She now lives in Washington.
Her testimony was a key piece of evidence that would put him away along with some bullet shells and a palm print found at the scene.
"Miraculously, out of the file jumped a palm print that matched a print of Bill Macumber,” Hammond said. “They must have been further impressed when they found the shell casing of a 45-caliber pistol that Bill owned.”
Bill and Carol were going through a divorce.
At the time, Carol Macumber was a sheriff's office employee and had access to case records, fingerprints and files, according to lawyers and records. She also practiced fingerprinting on Bill when she first started her job.
Was the evidence planted?
The Macumber’s youngest son, Ron Kempfert, said it was a "desperate" move by his mother to protect herself.
"She was going to lose custody of us,” Kempfert said. “There was no doubt about that. She was having affairs. It could be proved that she was having affairs.”
Carol Kempfert said that the accusations against her are untrue. She also said that Bill is the one with a made-up story and that he is a compulsive liar, who has manipulated his son.
“He did tell me he committed the murders,” she said. “He did come home with blood on his shirt … I never lied.”
Carol was under investigation by the sheriff's office, state records show. That’s something Carol also refutes. But documents state that her revelation of Bill’s confession came while she was being questioned.
"I have no doubt my mother set my father up for the murders," Ron Kempfert said.
Deep in the basement of the law library at Arizona State University is the Arizona Justice Project.
They've been working on the Macumber case since 2000.
There's an entire room dedicated to just Macumber’s case. And buried in the records is a major of piece of evidence that was never heard by the jury.
"They didn't know that there was a third-party suspect," Puzauskas said.
That suspect was Ernie Valenzuela, a self-proclaimed serial killer with a startling connection to the Sterrenberg / McKillop murders.
“When he started talking about (the murders), he was like Hannibal Lector,” said O’Toole, who represented Valenzuela as a young public defender. “He savored them. He cherished them.”
In the late 1960s, O’Toole was assigned to defend Valenzuela in another murder.
That case was eerily similar to the murders in 1962: A man and woman attacked in a remote area of the desert.
During the case, Valenzuela told O’Toole he had gunned down another couple and described the McKillop / Sterrenberg killings in detail, O’Toole said.
“He was cold-blooded,” he said. “He had a look about him. You had to see it to understand it.”
O’Toole wasn’t the only one. In fact, records show that Valenzuela confessed the murders five different times