KCK police have suspect and hope to solve 1989 murder case of Sarah DeLeon

Kansas City, Kan., police detectives said Sunday that they have identified a suspect in the 26-year-old unsolved murder of 19-year-old Sarah Jo DeLeon.

The detectives said there is a pattern of behavior that might link DeLeon’s Dec. 29, 1989, murder to the unsolved 1994 murder of Diana Marie Ault in Independence and an abduction in Kansas City, Kan., on Feb. 13, 1987.

Detective Scott Howard said the suspect they have identified is a woman from the Kansas City metropolitan area. He would not speculate about whether she is aware she is a suspect.

“The investigation has revealed that the suspect and an accomplice have been involved in other incidents involving the harassment and intimidation of romantic rivals,” Howard said in a prepared statement.

Detective Mike Warczakoski said new DNA collection and testing technology prompted them to reopen the DeLeon case in July 2014. Howard said the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department has spent well over $50,000 in testing and manpower in the latest attempt to solve the case, which he hopes to present to the Wyandotte County district attorney’s office for charges in coming weeks.

“We’re coming to a conclusion,” Howard said. “We can see an end.”

But first investigators are asking for help related to an “abduction by deception” in which the victim was tricked into leaving her home in a limousine and taken to the American Inn at 78th Street and Interstate 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,” the statement said.

Anyone who may have been at the American Inn at that time and saw anything unusual or suspicious is asked to call the Kansas City, Kan., homicide unit or the Tips Hotline at 816-474-8477.

“We believe that we can show a pattern of behavior that links this to the DeLeon homicide and other crimes,” Howard said.

DeLeon suffered a head wound and was stabbed multiple times. Police say her body was dumped along railroad tracks near Interstate 435 and Wolcott Drive on the western edge of the city. It was spotted by a train crew. DeLeon’s car was found earlier that morning, with the door open and the flashers on, about a mile from her home under the I-70 overpass at 78th Street. No blood or evidence of a struggle was seen around her car, police said at the time. There was no indication of sexual assault.

Police said DeLeon had left her boyfriend’s house about 1 a.m. and was headed home.

DeLeon was a 1989 graduate of Washington High School and was attending Kansas City, Kan., Community College. She and her younger brother worked as an usher at The Woodlands greyhound race track.

A $10,000 reward remains for anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of DeLeon’s killer, Warczakoski said. Howard said police have been in contact with the DeLeon family and they were aware of Sunday’s public announcement.

Ault, 26, was shot to death inside her Independence home, surrounded by her crying 4-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter, on Jan. 31, 1994. Police found her car and a gun thought to be the murder weapon at a nearby church. Ault and her husband had told police they had received several threatening phone calls, mostly from a woman. Police identified a suspect but did not have enough evidence for prosecution.

Kansas City, Kan., detectives would not go into detail about what they links the DeLeon and Ault murders. The women’s families thought the murders were connected.

“Through different periods of time we’ve jointly investigated our homicide and their homicide,” Howard said of the two police departments.

A Facebook page called JusticeforSarah1989 includes a posting from March 28.

“We continue to be in awe of modern technology and crime fighting capabilities of today...,” it said. “Your courage and perseverance continues to provide an invaluable informational resource to investigators working this case and ultimately insures that Sarah finally receives the justice she deserves.”

Matt Campbell: 816-234-4902, @MattCampbellKC