Strange Cases: No Skeleton in the Closet? Look Under the Floor.

skull and skeleton

John and Elizabeth Heath had not gotten along for a quite some time. On April 1, 1984 Elizabeth disappeared from their home at 89 Poverty Hill Road in Newtown, Connecticut. John ultimately went to the police station on the 4th to make a missing person’s report. He claimed that she had likely run away with another man with only the clothes on her back and $600 in cash. Next, he said he had been looking for her and calling her friends and family. Eventually, John turned the search over to the authorities. A month later, he told the police that his mother he had seen her drive up to the house, then get back in a car again and drive away. It seemed like a logical story. Years went by, and Elizabeth was never heard from again.

John went on to marry their daughter’s caretaker, Raquel Figueroa, and things settled down a bit. They lost the house to foreclosure in 2005 and moved to a nearby town where John was considered a quiet man. There remained a deep, dark secret was waiting for the covers to be pulled away — and that would happen sooner than John had hoped.

 

Bargain basement price with a buried secret.

Jordan Wright bought the Heath property out of foreclosure in 2007, and set about fixing it up. A barn was on the property, which had been upgrade with two apartments — one on the top floor and one in the basement. After renovating the house, Jordan and his father turned their attention to the large barn. The four bedroom top floor apartment was fixed up first, and rented out.

By April of 2010, they were ready to begin fixing up the basement efficiency apartment. There was a water damage stain on the floor, so they decided to start there first. They tore out the flooring, found it moldy and rotten, and so began ripping out the under floor as well. Then, they found a concrete dry well under the floor. Inside the shallow well, under some bedding were garbage bags. As they lifted one bag up, a bone poked through the plastic and Jordan’s father, a medical doctor, identified it as a human femur. They called 911. Their remodeling project had just turned into a crime scene.

 

The evidence speaks out: testimony from the grave.

Once the body was exhumed, forensic pathologist H. Wayne Carver began putting the pieces together. Dental records confirmed that the remains belonged to Elizabeth. The investigation heated up and more evidence began appearing. Detectives were given a photo by a Heath family friend of the couple, in front of bedding identical to the comforter which wrapped the bones in the cellar. Family and friends recalled a bad smell from the basement, which John had explained “must have been from some wild critter crawling down there to die”.

Two years after the discovery, John was charged with murder and the case went to trial.

It was the bones themselves which painted the darkest picture of Elizabeth’s last day. In a dramatic courtroom session, Dr. Carver began showing pictures of the skeleton and testifying about the extraordinary injuries.

The first slide was of shattered pieces of a skull. Dr. Carver testified that the face had been severely beaten: the top of the head took at least four hard blows with a blunt object. The jaw had been broken off –- “amputated by a severe blow”. Dr. Carver said that it would have taken a lot of force to do that much harm.

The blows rained down onto her shoulders with one shoulder blade shattered, which was considered to be a “very unusual injury’. Her broken left forearm told the jury that she had tried to protect herself, to no avail.

Under cross examination by the defense attorney, Dr. Carver testified that Elizabeth had been alive when her forearm was broken, but admitted that it was possible that some of the injuries could have occurred post mortem, or while her body was being stuffed into the little dry well — except for the fatal head blows.

 

A cold case: a hidden body in cold storage.

Right after her disappearance, there were suspicions that John Heath had not told the truth. The couple had begun a contentious divorce, and, as it turned out, the husband was engaged in an affair with their daughter’s caregiver. Her family told investigators that Elizabeth would never have left her young daughter behind, and she was a responsible person. Even though her husband painted her as a drug addict, there was never any evidence of that sort. Still, without clear evidence and “without a body”, there was never a case.

All of the cards fell into place with Jordan’s accidental discovery 26 years after the entombment. The defense tried to blame it on someone else, but in a recording during an interrogation, John told investigators that only he, his wife and sleeping daughter were in the house on the night Elizabeth was last seen.

On October 16, 2013, 70-year-old John Heath was convicted by a 12-member jury of first degree murder. After 29 years under flooring in an old barn, wrapped in bedding and garbage bags, broken into pieces and dumped head first in a sealed dry well, Elizabeth Heath was finally able to tell her story.

 

Your turn: Do you have any strange murder stories you’d like to tell us about? Have more information about this case that you’re finding difficult to keep to yourself? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.

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