Mother of 1989 murder victim Sarah DeLeon ‘elated’ over news of arrest in cold case

Carolyn Heckert
Carolyn Heckert Clay County Sheriff’s Office

It was the news Gail Elieson has waited nearly 27 years to hear.

A suspect has been arrested and charged in the killing of her 18-year-old daughter, Sarah DeLeon.

“I’m elated,” Elieson said Thursday, the day after Kansas City, Kan., police announced the arrest of Carolyn J. Heckert in the 1989 killing of DeLeon. “I didn’t believe it until I saw her name and mugshot. That was fantastic.”

Heckert, 48, of Smithville, a longtime area real estate agent, was arrested Wednesday afternoon by the U.S. Marshals Service and taken to the Clay County Detention Center.

Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman said that Heckert was charged Wednesday with first-degree premeditated murder in DeLeon’s death.

A judge set her bond at $1 million.

DeLeon’s body was found by a passing train crew on Dec. 29, 1989, along railroad tracks near Interstate 435 and Wolcott Drive in western Kansas City, Kan.

She was stabbed to death, and police said there were no signs of sexual assault.

Her abandoned Ford Mustang had been discovered the night before on 78th Street under Interstate 70 in Kansas City, Kan. Police said the car was found with its door open and its emergency flashers on. There were no signs of blood or a struggle.

Elieson said Thursday she had never met Heckert but has long known that the woman was considered a suspect in her daughter’s death.

Heckert was 21 at the time DeLeon was killed and may have lived in Kansas City, Kan., at the time, according to online records.

In May, Kansas City, Kan., police said they had identified a female suspect in connection with DeLeon’s killing, although detectives did not release a name at that time.

They said that DeLeon’s case was thought to be linked to the 1994 killing of Diana Ault in Independence and a 1987 “abduction by deception” case in which the victim was tricked into leaving her home in a limousine and taken to the American Inn at 78th Street and I-70 in Kansas City, Kan.

“We are asking for tips regarding the Feb. 13, 1987, incident as we believe the circumstances are relevant to a possible prosecution in Sarah DeLeon’s death,” police said in a statement at that time.

The Ault and DeLeon families have long been in contact and have held joint commemorative ceremonies for the women.

Both families have said previously that DeLeon and Ault were the victims of harassment or bullying before their deaths.

“The investigation has revealed that the suspect and an accomplice have been involved in other incidents involving the harassment and intimidation of romantic rivals,” Kansas City, Kan., police said in May when they announced they had identified a suspect.

Elieson said that when she heard Wednesday an arrest had been made in her daughter’s case, she called Ault’s father to let him know so he wouldn’t hear it in the media first.

Independence police said Wednesday that no arrest had been made in Ault’s death and the investigation remains open.

DeLeon was a graduate of Washington High School and attended Kansas City, Kan., Community College.

“She was a good kid,” her mother said Thursday. “She had no enemies but this one woman.”

Tony Rizzo: 816-234-4435, @trizzkc