By COURTNEY HESSLER
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Leah Hickman, a 21-year-old Marshall University student who was strangled to death, was last seen alive 10 years ago Thursday, Dec. 14, and her killer has still not been identified.
The investigation was thrust into the national spotlight when it was initially treated as a missing person case, but after a week of grueling searching, her body was discovered in the crawl space of her apartment building located in the 400 block of 8th Avenue in Huntington.
Police said she had been strangled. Investigators previously said they had a working theory about her killer, but did not have enough evidence to prosecute. The theory showed the death was not random, but an act carried out by someone who knew the layout of the apartment.
Grace Baptist Church, located at 7051 Ohio River Road in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, will host a community prayer vigil for the slayed woman at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, with Hickman’s father, Ron Hickman, the church staff, volunteers and Pastor Matthew Dotson from Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.
Hickman had been a member of the church before her death.
While her loved ones and friends gather in her memory, police are hopeful the future will hold answers in the mystery that has perplexed the community for a decade.
She was last seen by her half sister, Jessica Vickers, at the apartment the two shared in the 400 block of 8th Avenue on Dec. 14, 2007. That evening, Hickman got on her Myspace page and called a friend to say she was going to McDonald’s. That was the last time she was heard from, but a receipt from her meal was found in the apartment.
The next day Vickers returned to the home and noticed Hickman’s purse, keys and car were still at the home, but she could not find her. Hickman also did not show up for a four-hour shift at the Barboursville Dress Barn, where she had been working for five months.
A missing person’s report was filed Dec. 16, 2007, and the search continued. Police spent the week canvassing her neighborhood, searching abandoned houses and interviewing sex offenders in the area, looking for evidence in the case. Dress Barn announced a $10,000 reward for information about her whereabouts.
Her body was found Dec. 21, 2007, in a crawl space located underneath the apartment building. The space was connected to a common laundry room but was not secured by a closed door, and the body was not in plain view. There were also “several ways” to access the area, police said at the time.
There were four apartments in the building where the body was found, and then-Huntington Police Lt. Rocky Johnson said two were unoccupied. Of the two occupied apartments, one was leased to Hickman and Vickers, and one was leased to a man who was out of town at the time of Hickman’s disappearance.
Police and her family were left puzzled by who left the message and why they chose an insignificant day to do it.
In 2015, Huntington Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli said the case was anything but cold and had recently splintered off into smaller investigations. The police department regularly meets to discuss unsolved cases, with Hickman’s being one of the more important ones because of the mystery behind it.
Police had hoped mitochondrial DNA testing done at a Phoenix crime laboratory on evidence taken from the scene would help identify the student’s killer, but they had no luck. Ciccarelli previously said they still have a small amount of that DNA left and hope one day DNA testing will advance further to help with the investigation.
Anyone with information about Leah Hickman’s death should contact the Huntington Police Department’s tip line at 304-696-4444 or its Detective Bureau at 304-696-4420. All information can be provided anonymously.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.
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