According to Hidalgo County Sheriff, Eddie Guerra, the remains that was found inside a septic tank near Elsa were those of a woman that has been missing since March of 2004. The remains of 21-year-old Leona Marie Tollet Johnson’s were identified through DNA analysis.
An arrest warrant has been issued to the main suspect, 40-year-old, Aristeo Cervantes Jr.
On July 26, investigators with the sheriff’s department and Hidalgo Country Precinct 1 responded to a home on Mile 4 W Road and Dallas Street.
The sheriff’s office said that they identified Cervantes who is also already serving a 12-year sentence in a Beeville prison for the stabbing of his wife in 2015, as the property owner.
The victim had a reputation for running away from home as a teen. However, the last time Johnson went missing, her family knew it was different said, Guerra.
Cervantes confessed to stabbing a female to death and dumping her body inside a septic tank in 2014 after a dispute when he was questioned by investigators. He also claimed that he did not know the woman.
Cervantes identified his victim in a photo during the second visit by the investigators. DNA sample was from Johnson’s son and he was only three at that time when she went missing over a decade ago.
“She had a 3-year-old son. We found the 3-year-old son, he’s around 16 years of age. We collected DNA sample from him and sent in the bones, and had the comparison and came back as a positively identifying her as the victim,” said Guerra. “When we first approached him. He believed right away that that was going to be his mother.
The results were confirmed by a test that was conducted in a private lab in Virginia and the positive DNA match was the final puzzle piece investigators had to solve the case.
Guerra said that Cervantes wouldn’t have got away with murder but he was close.
“Yes, he could have. However, you know putting the body in a septic tank and you know eventually septic tanks have to be serviced. Things do have to be serviced, so I’m sure that he had that in the back of his mind, all this time, that it’s just a matter of when that tank was going to get serviced that he would be discovered. But if they had abandoned the house he could have easily gotten away with murder,” said Guerra.
Johnson had a substance abuse problem at the time of her disappearance, the sheriff added
Johnson was lured by Cervantes into his car with drugs and then went to his home located off Mile 4 W Road near Edcouch before stabbing her to death. The bones and items of clothing were to be found in the septic tank years later.
The family has been notified of the positive DNA match. The sheriff’s department is now going to build their case to get a grand jury indictment that will begin the legal side to justice for Johnson’s family.
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