Human remains that turned up in July when a septic tank was being serviced at a south Texas home have unraveled a murder mystery — one that went unsolved for more than a decade.
Leona Marie Tollett Johnson was reported missing in 2004, when she was 21-years-old, according to the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office. She had a 3-year-old son at the time. Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said they identified the remains by testing them against the DNA of Johnson's son, who is now 16-years-old.
“When we first approached him, he believed right away that was going to be his mother,” Guerra told KRGV.
Guerra told KRGV that Johnson was known to run away from home often when she was a teenager. But the last time she ran away, Guerra said, her family could tell that it wasn’t the same as when she’d run away before.
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But investigators said they weren’t sure who had done it until they received a call on July 26 reporting something odd — human remains lodged in a septic tank.
Authorities went to the residence near Edcouch, Texas, and heard about how the couple who lived there had been having problems with their septic tank. When they tried to fix it, they discovered a boot inside the tank. And inside the boot was a large bone, according to KGBT.
The woman who lived at the home was the daughter of Aristeo Garcia Cervantes, 40, who authorities quickly interrogated, and ultimately confessed to killing Johnson more than a decade ago and hiding her remains in his septic tank.
Cervantes is currently at a Texas prison in Beeville, serving a 12-year sentence after being convicted of stabbing his wife. He stabbed his wife in 2015, at the same residence where Johnson’s remains were found, according to the sheriff’s office.
He confessed to killing Johnson — whose name he did not remember — after luring her into his car with the promise of drugs, according to CBS News. Cervantes then stabbed her to death.
Guerra told KRGV that Cervantes could have gotten away with murder, but that putting the remains in his septic tank always risked them being found.
“You know eventually septic tanks have to be serviced,” Guerra said. “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.”