Rita Pearce interview
Wednesday, September 1, 2021 – 1:30 p.m.
Rita Pearce owns Pearce Brokers, another real estate company in Oxford.
In the weeks before her death, Annette Wyatt had been investigating whether someone was giving Pearce Brokers inside information that helped them lure clients away from the Harte Agency.
Detectives Murphy and Parker interviewed Ms. Pearce at the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff’s Department.
- Detective S. Murphy
- Detective E. Parker
- Rita Pearce
Detective Parker: Good afternoon, Ms. Pearce. Would you please state your name and address for the record?
Rita Pearce: Yes. Rita Pearce. 615 Tyler Avenue in Oxford.
Detective Murphy: Thank you. We just need a little background on you before we start. Can you please tell us your marital status and place of employment?
Rita Pearce: I've been divorced from Bradley Gifford for several years. And I'm the owner of Pearce Brokers. We're a real estate agency serving Oxford and the surrounding area.
Detective Murphy: And what is your educational background?
Rita Pearce: I graduated from high school in 1994, took some online business courses, and I have my real estate license.
Detective Murphy: So that would make you how old, Ms. Pearce?
Rita Pearce: I'm 45.
Detective Murphy: Okay, and have you ever been arrested or convicted of any crimes?
Rita Pearce: I've had some speeding tickets, but that's about it. I've never been in any trouble.
Detective Parker: Thank you, Ms. Pearce. Now, do you know Annette Wyatt?
Rita Pearce: Yes, I knew Annette. She worked for the Harte Agency. She was a great real estate agent. I'm so sorry to hear what happened.
Detective Parker: Yes. And how long have you known Annette?
Rita Pearce: Well, I didn't really know her that well. We ran into each other, of course, because we work in the same field, and I respected her. But we didn't socialize if that's what you mean.
Detective Parker: Okay, so how long had you known Annette Wyatt in that capacity?
Rita Pearce: For years. Maybe ten years or so. I don't know exactly when I became aware of her, but it's been a long while. Sorry, I can't be more specific.
Detective Parker: That's fine. What do you know about Annette Wyatt?
Rita Pearce: I know she's a great agent— she was a great agent. I know that she and Jeff, the owner of the Harte Agency, they used to have a relationship and that it never went anywhere. I know that she deserved to play a bigger role in the Harte Agency. She was probably the best person they had on board there.
Detective Murphy: Did you ever try to get her to come work for you?
Rita Pearce: Sure, I suggested it a few times over the years to see if she was interested. I’d be a fool not to want someone of her caliber working for me. But she never took me up on it. She was very loyal to Jeff, even though she would’ve had better opportunities with me, in my opinion.
Detective Parker: Anything else you know about Annette? Anything about her personal life?
Rita Pearce: Not really. I don't think she was married. I used to see her at all the charity balls and community events, so she was active in Oxford. That's it, I guess.
Detective Murphy: Ms. Pearce, did you murder Annette Wyatt?
Rita Pearce: Good Lord, no!
Detective Murphy: I know that's a troubling question, but we have to ask. Do you know who did murder Annette Wyatt?
Rita Pearce: No, I have no idea who would do that.
Detective Murphy: Okay. And where were you on Saturday evening?
Rita Pearce: I was at home. I was … let's see … I went to Walmart to pick up some dinner around 4:00 p.m., got home, put it in the fridge, puttered around the house for a while. I ate around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. I watched a movie on TV, Crocodile Dundee. Then I went to bed. Not a very exciting evening.
Detective Parker: Where did you watch TV? In what room of your house?
Rita Pearce: In the living room.
Detective Parker: Did you fall asleep on the couch?
Rita Pearce: No, I fell asleep in my bedroom.
Detective Parker: I see. And how long did you stay in your bedroom?
Rita Pearce: Until I woke up the next morning. Around 6:00 a.m.
Detective Parker: Okay, and then what did you do?
Rita Pearce: I put on my robe, went outside to get the newspaper, came back in, made coffee. Then I read the newspaper in my kitchen while I drank coffee. About an hour later, I took a shower and got dressed. Then I had some toast and checked emails, drank some more coffee. Then I went to church.
Detective Murphy: Can anybody confirm you were at home all evening?
Rita Pearce: I don't know. I was by myself all night. Nobody came over. Nobody called. You can maybe ask my neighbors. My car was in the driveway all night. One of them might have noticed that. Or they might have seen my lights on. Other than that, I don't know. But I can promise you I never left my house from the time I got back from Walmart until going to church the next morning.
Detective Parker: Where do you go to church?
Rita Pearce: I go to St. Andrews United Methodist Church.
Detective Parker: What time did you leave your house to go to church?
Rita Pearce: About 8:45. I go to the 9:00 a.m. service.
Detective Parker: Did you go with anybody?
Rita Pearce: I went by myself, but you can ask anybody at the 9:00 service. They all saw me. I even remember what I wore: my white slacks and orange floral blouse.
Detective Parker: Can you name a few people who can confirm this?
Rita Pearce: Absolutely. Betty and Jimmy Wood, Maribeth and Kevin McAnally, Lisa Barksdale, Pam Westmoreland. Do you need more names?
Detective Parker: I think that'll do. Are all of them Oxford residents?
Rita Pearce: Yes. Except Pam. She lives in Taylor.
Detective Parker: Thank you. Now tell me more about your evening on Saturday. What did you purchase at Walmart?
Rita Pearce: Fresh produce—spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers—everything I needed for a salad. I also bought smoked salmon to put on top. Oh, and I forgot to mention earlier that I'd stopped off at Star Package Store for a bottle of wine, too.
Detective Parker: Do you have receipts for those purchases?
Rita Pearce: I should. Let me check my purse … yep, right here!
Detective Parker: Do you mind if we take them?
Rita Pearce: No, not at all. Here.
Detective Parker: Tell us again what time you got home after shopping.
Rita Pearce: Around 5:00 p.m., I guess. I don't know exactly.
Detective Parker: And then what did you do?
Rita Pearce: Not much. I put the groceries away, changed into my comfy clothes, cleaned up a little bit, opened mail, read the newspaper, watered the plants outside. Oh hey, actually, I saw my neighbor, Dan Hayes, drive by. We waved to each other. You can double-check that with him. He lives right next door to me, on my left.
Detective Parker: We'll check that. What time would you say he passed by?
Rita Pearce: Maybe 6:00 p.m. or so.
Detective Parker: Okay. And what time did you say you ate dinner?
Rita Pearce: Around 7:00 p.m. I made the salad with smoked salmon.
Detective Parker: Your Walmart receipt also lists Clorox and kitchen gloves. May I ask why you purchased those?
Rita Pearce: To clean my house.
Detective Parker: Do you usually use Clorox and kitchen gloves to clean your house?
Rita Pearce: Yes. I also use Windex and Palmolive and Ajax, and other products. But I was out of Clorox last week, and my gloves were pretty much shot, so that's why I bought new ones.
Detective Parker: You weren't planning a murder, were you, Ms. Pearce?
Rita Pearce: No!
Detective Parker: I understand. I have to ask.
Rita Pearce: All right. But my goodness.
Detective Murphy: Ms. Pearce, when did you last see Annette Wyatt?
Rita Pearce: Last week. Tuesday, I think.
Detective Murphy: And where was this?
Rita Pearce: At Uptown Coffee. We were both getting coffee at the same time. We chatted for a while.
Detective Murphy: What was the nature of your chat?
Rita Pearce: Just friendly chitchat. Nothing serious. How's the market treating you? What about this weather lately? You know, that kind of stuff.
Detective Murphy: What was Annette's mood that day?
Rita Pearce: Normal. She just seemed normal.
Detective Murphy: How do you describe normal?
Rita Pearce: She was friendly and upbeat. Happy, I guess. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Detective Murphy: Ms. Pearce, did Annette have any enemies that you are aware of?
Rita Pearce: No one that would want to kill her.
Detective Murphy: Anyone that might have been jealous of her or had a grudge against her?
Rita Pearce: Well, I think a lot of other agents probably were jealous of her. She's—she was—a darn good agent who always managed to snag the biggest clients and sell the biggest properties. I'm sure that led to some hard feelings, although I can't say for sure. It's just a guess.
Detective Murphy: Were you jealous of Annette Wyatt?
Rita Pearce: No, of course not. I respected her a lot, though. I thought we had a lot in common, actually.
Detective Murphy: How so?
Rita Pearce: We're both successful businesswomen who have a genuine knack for real estate. I think she could have run the Harte Agency just like I run Pearce Brokers.
Detective Murphy: Anybody else might have had a grudge against her? Maybe someone who wasn't an agent?
Rita Pearce: No. Well, maybe Jeff's wife.
Detective Murphy: Jeff who?
Rita Pearce: Jeff Harte. He used to date Annette before he got married to what's-her-name. Annette is so much more successful and attractive than Jeff's wife. I can't speak for Elena, but I know that I would feel some pressure knowing that my husband's ex-girlfriend is a smart and beautiful woman who spends every day working with my man while I'm out of sight.
Detective Murphy: You say you don’t know Annette well, but you mentioned twice now that she used to date Jeff. How do you know about that?
Rita Pearce: Everybody knows it. Real estate is a small world in Oxford, detective. Even if you don’t know someone personally, you know of them. And you know if two of them are dating.
Detective Murphy: I see. Have you ever seen Mrs. Harte act in a way that would lead you to believe she had a grudge against Annette Wyatt?
Rita Pearce: No. I'm just trying to think of possibilities, and she's a possibility. But I've never seen her do anything. In fact, I've only ever met her once or twice at real estate functions.
Detective Murphy: I understand. Thank you. Is there anyone else?
Rita Pearce: Not that I know of.
Detective Parker: Ms. Pearce, do you know a man named Lyle Rogers?
Rita Pearce: Yes, he's one of my clients.
Detective Parker: When did he become a client?
Rita Pearce: A few weeks ago. I don't have the exact date, but I can check my file at the office if you need it.
Detective Parker: That's okay for now. Do you remember if he mentioned why he chose your firm?
Rita Pearce: I don't recall, no. I assume it's because we're a great firm with a great reputation. That's how we get most of our clients.
Detective Parker: I see. And do you know Ginny and Mitchell Hankins?
Rita Pearce: I do. They're also clients of mine.
Detective Parker: Same questions about them. When did they become clients, and why did they choose your firm?
Rita Pearce: A few weeks ago, maybe a month now. Again, I'd have to check my file. And I don't remember them saying anything about why they chose my firm. That's not usually a question I ask my clients.
Detective Parker: Okay. What about Phil and Melinda Sanders?
Rita Pearce: They're my clients, too. I don't understand. Why are my clients involved?
Detective Parker: I didn't say they were involved, Ms. Pearce. We're just checking all avenues right now. Can you tell me when the Sanders became clients of yours?
Rita Pearce: Within the last few weeks. All of them came within the last few weeks. I really don't know why it matters or what it has to do with Annette Wyatt's death.
Detective Parker: We're just chasing down all possible leads, Ms. Pearce. Please don't worry about it. What about Patti Thompson?
Rita Pearce: Yes, she's a client, too. She also came to us recently, but we get new clients all the time, detective. We probably take on three or four new ones a day. If you're going to ask about all of them, it's going to take hours. You're welcome to come to my office and look through my client files.
Detective Parker: Thank you, Ms. Pearce. That won't be necessary today. Do you know, by chance, if any of the people I just mentioned ever used a different Realtor prior to choosing your agency? Perhaps the Harte Agency?
Rita Pearce: I don't know. Like I said, I don't ask clients those questions.
Detective Parker: Ms. Pearce, when did you hear about Annette Wyatt's murder?
Rita Pearce: On Sunday evening. It was on the news. I couldn't believe it.
Detective Parker: And what did you hear about it?
Rita Pearce: Just that she was found dead at work, that police thought it was a homicide and that they were looking for suspects.
Detective Parker: Do you know why Annette was in the office Saturday night?
Rita Pearce: I have no idea. Working, I guess.
Detective Parker: Did she usually work late?
Rita Pearce: I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if she did, though.
Detective Parker: Why is that?
Rita Pearce: Because she seems to have a strong work ethic, like me. I've certainly been known to burn the midnight oil working late at the office. It's just what you have to do to get ahead in this world.
Detective Parker: Do you know who else had access to the Harte Agency after hours?
Rita Pearce: No. I would assume Jeff Harte had a key. Maybe the other agents? I honestly don't know who Jeff gave keys to.
Detective Parker: Did you have a key to the Harte Agency?
Rita Pearce: No. Why would I?
Detective Parker: Just ruling it out, ma'am.
Detective Murphy: Ms. Pearce, if you were conducting this case, who would you talk to?
Rita Pearce: I'd talk to Jeff Harte. I'd talk to his wife. I'd talk to the other agents. I'm certainly no detective, but if it happened in the office at night, whoever did it probably worked there or had some connection to the agency.
Detective Murphy: Why is that?
Rita Pearce: Well, who else would go into that office at night?
Detective Murphy: Pretend you're the detective. Who else would go into the office at night?
Rita Pearce: Um … maybe a cleaning service, if Jeff Harte has one. Or maybe a disgruntled client. Maybe someone passing by who saw a light on and thought they'd go in and rob the place – a crime of opportunity, as they say.
Detective Murphy: Those are good suggestions. Thank you.
Rita Pearce: Sure.
Detective Murphy: I think we're done for today. We appreciate you coming in and helping us with our investigation, Ms. Pearce. If we need to speak with you again, would you mind?
Rita Pearce: No, not at all. You know how to reach me.
Detective Parker: Thank you.
Interview ended – 2:09 p.m.