Werner Lippe told a friend that he killed his wife at 8:15 a.m., after she took their children to school and returned home, by knocking her out and burning her in a backyard barrel, according to a recording played to a Westchester County jury.
"Eight-thirty, everything was in the barrel, and I didn't do anything anymore," Lippe said on the recording, heard by the jury Wednesday in White Plains.
Lippe, 68, a jewelry designer from Cortlandt, is on trial on a murder charge in the death of his wife, Faith Lippe, a 49-year-old nutritionist for the Ossining schools. The Lippes, married for 18 years, were going through a divorce and custody battle when Werner Lippe reported his wife missing Oct. 4, 2008.
He told police that he saw his wife leaving the house at 1:45 p.m. Oct. 3 with a Manila envelope and getting into a dark-colored vehicle, leaving her purse behind.
But prosecutors say Lippe killed his wife that morning and incinerated her body behind their home on Little Lake Road. Lippe's defense lawyer has said the confession was a lie created by paranoia and fear that he was being set up and has pointed to a lack of forensic evidence.
The jury on Wednesday heard from Lippe's longtime friend James Learnihan, a 54-year-old Catskill resident who wore a police wire during several conversations with Lippe in October 2008.
He told the jury how both his family and the Lippes frequented Hunter Mountain, a ski resort in the Catskills, and how close their families were for 14 years. He said state police called him and asked him to wear a wire.
Learnihan, who has served in the Navy, Army and National Guard, described how he duped Lippe into thinking that his military buddies could find information that would clear him as a suspect.
He said his friends could get high-quality satellite images of the neighborhood on the day Faith Lippe vanished, and he showed Werner Lippe a satellite image of his house on the Internet from Google.
"They're going to see everything that happened," he told Lippe on the tape. "We're going to get to the truth."
When asked on the witness stand how Lippe reacted to seeing his house on the Internet, Learnihan replied, "He was somewhat shocked."
On Oct. 25, Lippe called Learnihan from the road, saying he wanted to talk. Learnihan said he took his tape recorder and met Lippe at a Sunoco gas station, where Lippe started crying.
"What happened?" Learnihan asked.
"I'm too embarrassed to say," Lippe replied on tape.
"Did someone take her? You've got to level with me."
"She doesn't exist."
Learnihan broke down and wept on the witness stand.
Lippe later explained what he meant in an Oct. 29 conversation that Learnihan also caught on tape. Lippe said on tape that he struck his wife outside with a stick, used it as leverage to push her into the barrel and then lit a fire.
"Jim, I'm not proud of this," he said on the tape. "I have to live with this for the rest of my life."
He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
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Jury hears Lippe on recording: Wife 'doesn't exist' LoHud.com The Journal News