‘Dateline NBC: Noises in the Night’ is an episode that chronicles the 2016 murder of Emma Walker, a popular and bubbly high school student who was found slain in her bed in her family home in Knoxville, Tennessee. In this ‘Dateline’ classic, we get everything from archival footage to copies of official documents to exclusive interviews with the two college students who helped the authorities solve this baffling case. With manipulation, obsessive love, and hurt integrated within every aspect, this true-crime tale is still wildly talked about to this day. So now, let’s find out all its details, shall we?
How Did Emma Walker Die?
As a 16-year-old Central High School student and cheerleader, Emma Walker was kind, compassionate, and driven, by all accounts. She had dreams of helping others when she grew older, so she planned on studying medicine to become a NICU nurse one day. But little did the bright-eyed teenager know at the time, she would never get the chance or the future to do so. After all, it was on November 21, 2016, when Emma was at the single-story home that she shared with her brother and her parents that she lost her life.
On that Monday morning, Emma’s mother, Jill, followed her routine and tried to wake her daughter up for school. “I went in there to wake her up, which – it’s usually very easy,” she said in an interview with ABC’s ’20/20.’ “And (I) said her name, (but) didn’t hear anything. Bumped her leg, didn’t hear anything. Then, (I) looked at her face and realized, and checked for a pulse and couldn’t find anything. I don’t remember a whole lot from that. I know I called 911.” Once the police arrived, they immediately declared the house a crime scene.
Someone had shot Emma to death in her sleep. Two bullets had been fired into her bedroom the night before, and while one got lodged in her pillow, the other struck behind her left ear, killing her instantly. As the investigators canvassed the area, they recovered two 9 mm handgun shell casings from the backyard. Then, as the entry point of the bullet holes at the different sides of the house were around the same height and angle, they determined that a single person fired both shots. Thus began the search for Emma’s perpetrator.
Who Killed Emma Walker?
Upon questioning Emma’s friends and family, the police discovered that she recently had a few issues with her on-again-off-again ex-boyfriend William “Riley” Gaul, whom she’d known for two years. The 18-year-old freshman football player at Maryville College had been hounding his ex since their breakup to attempt reconciliation. Allegedly, Emma had broken up with him because of his controlling, possessive, and frightening behavior. She reportedly didn’t want to walk on eggshells or have her life revolve around arguments, so she called things off. As per her neighbors, the gunshots rang off at 3 in the morning.
In his interrogation, Riley revealed that he had tried to contact Emma several times the previous day, even going as far as to use a friend’s phone to call her. But as she didn’t want to talk to him, he stopped pushing and went to his grandparent’s house before driving back to his college campus. Along the way, he said, he spent two to three hours in his vehicle just crying because of the breakup. Yet, he added that he had no idea who would want to harm Emma. Riley’s roommate corroborated this story to an extent, admitting to the investigating officers that he had returned to their dorm close to 4:45 a.m.
After that, though, two of Riley’s friends came forward to claim that Riley had shown them a 9 mm gun that belonged to his grandfather and asked them if they knew how to remove fingerprints from it. They told the police that they would like to assist their investigation, which led to a sting operation that helped the authorities catch their suspect with the gun in his possession. With that, Riley was charged and arrested for first-degree murder. He was also indicted of six other felony charges as evidence pointed towards him stalking and harassing Emma just the weekend before her brutal murder.
According to the prosecutors, Riley was the one who had anonymously texted Emma about him getting kidnapped and thrown in a ditch outside her friend’s home the previous Friday and was also the mysterious man who had insistently banged on her door on Saturday. They believed that Riley’s motive was that if he couldn’t have Emma, nobody else could either. Riley’s defense, on the other hand, was that even though he had fired the shots into his ex-girlfriend’s bedroom that night, he only intended to scare her into talking to him, not kill her. Riley was thus found guilty of Emma’s murder.
Read More: Where Is William “Riley” Gaul Now?