PITTSBURGH (AP) — A central Pennsylvania man confessed to killing his daughter-in-law, who was last seen in 1999, and led police to her remains on his property over the weekend, state police said Monday.
Kenneth Leighty, 65, of Altoona, was arraigned and ordered jailed without bond in the death of Sherry Leighty.
Search warrants issued last month for his property in Huntingdon County show police suspected he had buried her there. The complaint charging Leighty with criminal homicide said Leighty confessed on Friday and helped investigators find the woman’s remains on Saturday on land he owns in Warriors Mark Township, about 100 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Attorneys for Leighty didn’t immediately return calls. He has been jailed since Altoona police tried to question him last month about Sherry Leighty’s disappearance, but police said he instead fought with officers and was arrested.
Huntingdon County District Attorney George Zanic declined to discuss the complaint until a news conference later Monday.
But the prosecutor has confirmed earlier this month that some human remains and clothing were found on or near the 150-acre tract Kenneth Leighty owns in Warriors Mark Township.
State police and other investigators had begun searching the land April 20, a day after Leighty was jailed.
The criminal complaint doesn’t specify how or why Leighty allegedly killed his daughter-in-law, whose husband — the defendant’s son, Aaron — told investigators he at first believed she might have run off to Maine with another man. Aaron Leighty said he began to doubt that when Sherry Leighty, whose divorce from him was finalized days after she was last seen, didn’t contact their children in subsequent weeks, months and years.
Authorities have said in search warrants that Kenneth Leighty was the last person to see his daughter-in-law alive when he drove her to work in October 1999.
Sherry Leighty’s family said she was 23 when she was last seen and that her father got full custody of the couple’s three children, then ages 7, 3 and 1, shortly thereafter.
Kenneth Leighty had told police he took Sherry Leighty to work the day of her disappearance, then went to work himself. Police have since determined, however, that he was off work at the time.
Cold-case investigators with the Altoona police uncovered new information in the case earlier this year, Zanic said.
Aaron Leighty has cooperated with police and spoke twice to his father last month in phone calls that were recorded by investigators, according to a search warrant for Leighty’s home and computers.
In one of the calls, Kenneth Leighty allegedly made incriminating remarks, including, “I did it … It was an accident,” according to a search warrant. He went on to tell his son that the body would likely be found along a fence row on his property in Warriors Mark Township, about 25 miles northeast of Altoona.
Police believe he has researched “search warrants, disposal of human remains and/or police tactics and techniques related to searching for buried human remains,” the warrant showed.
Sherry and Aaron Leighty’s now-adult son has told police he recalls his parents fighting a lot and said he had heard his mother’s remains were buried under an unused outhouse on Kenneth Leighty’s property, according to the warrant.
State police used cadaver dogs to search Kenneth Leighty’s property for the remains.
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