On the outside, Emma Walker and Riley Gaul's high school relationship seemed like the stuff of movies, except this film isn't a romance. Sadly, it's a horror film that ends with one of them dead. Walker was a pretty, popular, and bubbly high school freshman. Her boyfriend, William Riley Gaul, was a star on the football team and his grade point average was just as impressive. John Hughes himself couldn't write two more perfect characters.
Beneath the sheen of young love bubbled toxicity that slowly eroded the relationship. It began when Gaul started isolating Walker from her friends and escalated into abusive, often threatening Snapchat messages, per ABC News. Walker's parents tried everything they could to get their daughter to break up with the person who wished her dead. It wasn't until she found the courage to do so that Walker met a deadly fate. Where is Riley Gaul now? Here's what we know.
Riley Gaul is now behind bars and likely will be until he's in his 70s.
In October 2023, nearly seven years after Walker was murdered while asleep in her bed, Gaul's final bid to get his conviction overturned was denied. According to Knox News, his case had gone all the way to the Tennessee state Supreme Court which is often referred to as the "state court of last resort." He was "found guilty in 2018 of first-degree murder for shooting Walker and is serving a 51-year prison sentence at Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tenn.
This wasn't the first time Gaul attempted to free himself from his lengthy sentence. In 2021, his lawyer requested a new trial, citing insufficient evidence, but that was denied. Gaul then "filed an appeal with the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals the same year. An appellate judge ruled in February 2023 to uphold his murder conviction and modified the felony theft conviction, which had no effect on the time Gaul must serve in prison." The felony theft conviction was related to the stolen gun Gaul used to kill Walker.
The state Supreme Court automatically reviews capital cases, which Gaul's was not. It's also unlikely he'll be able to appeal their decision because "only capital cases get an automatic review," per Knox News. In all likelihood the Court of Criminal Appeals ruling will stand.
Riley Gaul's behavior leading up to the murder was bizarre and alarming.
Keegan Lyle, a friend of Walker's, told ABC News that Gaul and Walker's relationship seemed "normal" at first. When Gaul wasn't very interested in getting to know Walker's friends, Lyle wrote it off as him being shy. That all changed when he grew more and more possessive of Walker's time. "He became kind of controlling over her, what she did, her activities," said Lyle.
Soon they were arguing constantly over text and via Snapchat, breaking up and getting back together numerous times over the next two years. Gaul would often wait for hours outside of the supermarket where Walker worked. When the threatening messages began, that's when Walker's parents stepped in. Gaul was no longer welcome in their home and they took Walker's phone away. The couple finally broke up when Gaul was a freshman at a nearby college while Walker was a junior at their old high school.
Gaul attempted to take his own life by chasing a bunch of Vicodin with alcohol, although friends felt that was just a cry for help. Then three days before Walker's death, she was at a party and she started getting strange texts from a number she didn't recognize. This person told Walker they had kidnapped Gaul and sure enough, she and a friend discovered him in a ditch outside of the party. No one believed he was kidnapped, and Gaul walked home.
The next day Walker texted friends to let them know that "somebody in all black walked down my street and came to my door and rang the doorbell over and over again." Despite Walker's hatred for Gaul, she was frightened and asked him to come over. He rushed to her home but that was quickly nipped in the bud by her parents. Two days later, Walker's mother found her daughter dead in her bedroom.