Tony Messenger, a weekly radio talk show host, who also writes a column for the Columbia Tribune, says the murder case of his colleague Kent Heitholt is "shocking" and "bizarre."
"He was just the friendliest guy that you could never imagine anybody having a reason to kill him," says Messenger. "The people that worked for him, loved him."
On the night of his murder, Kent signed off his computer at 2:08 a.m. Less then 20 minutes later, he was found dead by his car.
"He was beat mercilessly, with some sort of blunt object. And then, once he was down to the ground as I understand it, he was strangled with his own belt," says Messenger.
Initially, police kept that detail about Kent's belt to themselves; it would later become a crucial issue in the case. But they did reveal other facts of the crime right away: there were bloody shoeprints, an unidentified human hair was found in Kent's hand, Kent's wallet was there, but his keys and wristwatch were missing.
Messenger says the crime didn't have the typical signs of a robbery, but police did have one lead: a janitor caught a glimpse of two young white men running away from Kent's car around the time of the murder, and called 911.
But the janitor said he could not provide a detailed description of them.
Police were further frustrated because the crime happened on Halloween, the one night bloody clothes wouldn't stand out.
Two years later, Heitholt's murder was the only unsolved homicide in Columbia. Police said they were still "hopeful" someone would pick up the phone to clear his conscience.
Heitholt's daughter, Kali, wasn't holding her breath.
"I just kinda gave up and just had to deal with the fact that my dad was gone instead of worrying about who did it anymore," she says.
Then, in January 2004, a call came in on a crime tip hotline that someone was talking and telling his friends he was involved in the murder. Police were convinced it was the break they were looking for.
"It came off as a slam dunk case. Bragging about it at a party," says Messenger. "People overheard. End of story. Lets get these kids in jail."
Kali was only 15 when her father was murdered, and she remembers her father as a "big teddy bear," smiling all the time. Heitholt's late hours didn't worry Kali. "He was 315 pounds, 6-3. I thought he could take care of himself," she says.
Kali had come to accept the killers would never be found. After two years investigating, police had no viable suspects. But then they got word that community college student Chuck Erickson was now talking to his friends about the murder.
"This kind of answers why we were having, you know, trouble working this case, because they're really kind of under the radar," says Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane.
Crane says Chuck was no hardened criminal. He had come from a stable, well-to-do family and was a high school student at the time of the crime.
Police pulled Chuck in for questioning and he told them what he told his friends: that he killed Kent Heitholt.
In a videotaped police interview, Chuck told an investigator he hit Kent Heitholt in the head with a tool. Chuck also named an accomplice: his friend, Ryan Ferguson.
That same day, Chuck was taken into custody, and so was Ryan. Both had gone to the same high school as Kali
"I never really thought it would be so close to my age group. That was really tough," she says.
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