A 48-year-old woman was arrested in the cold-case killing of a Kansas City college student found brutally stabbed to death nearly three decades ago, officials said.
Carolyn Heckert was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals in Clay County, Missouri, on Wednesday in the 1989 murder of Sarah DeLeon, police said.
DeLeon had last been seen alive leaving her boyfriend’s house at about 1 a.m. on December 29, 1989.
The 19-year-old woman’s body was discovered by a train crew along railroad tracks. She had been stabbed numerous times and had suffered a head injury, authorities said.
Her black Mustang, which was found nearby, showed no signs of a struggle and no indication of sexual assault.
Law enforcement at the time thoroughly investigated the murder, but it wasn’t until new methods of DNA collection and testing technology became available that a female suspect involved with “the harassment and intimidation of romantic rivals” was identified earlier this year.
“We’re coming to a conclusion. We can see an end,” Detective Scott Howard said at the time.
It was not immediately clear if Heckert was the suspect previously identified in DeLeon’s murder, or if she is linked to another unsolved killing investigators believed was connected to the 1989 killing.
Investigators in May said the DeLeon’s case may be connected to the January 30, 1994 killing of Missouri mother-of-two Diana Marie Ault, 26, who was fatally shot inside her Independence home near her two young children.
“We knew Sarah was harassed and a little bit bullied and we feel like that also ties into the connection with the Ault case, too,” DeLeon’s brother, Matt DeLeon, told KBMC at the time.
Before she was murdered, Ault and her husband had told police that they had received threatening phone calls from a woman who had reportedly been romantically linked to Ault’s husband.
Heckert, who has not been charged with Ault’s murder, is being held on $1 million bond and is expected to be extradited to Kansas, authorities said. The 48-year-old real estate agent, licensed in Missouri and Kansas, has no previous criminal record.
DeLeon’s loved ones and their supporters celebrated that she may finally have a chance at justice and closure.
“Prayers for the family and friends, and for all of us that knew Sarah,” a friend posted on the Justice for Sarah Facebook page. “May she finally find justice after all these years.”