Newtown: Until school shooting, 1 homicide in almost a decade

Story highlights

  • The town had only one reported homicide in nearly 10 years
  • Two years ago, investigators found the remains of a missing woman
  • Her husband has been charged in the death

Nearly three decades ago, a woman disappeared from the Connecticut town of Newtown, leaving behind a trail of questions.

For years, investigators grappled for answers in the 1984 case. In 2010, they found her skeletal remains buried under the flooring of an apartment kitchen, and arrested her husband.

Until last week's elementary school massacre, the break in the cold case was the big headline in the town of 27,000 people.

It became the only reported homicide in the town in nearly a decade. A study of FBI numbers dating to 2004 listed only the woman's killing.

Portrait of a grieving town

Then came Friday, when a gunman blasted his way through Sandy Hook Elementary School, spraying bullets and slaughtering terrified children in the second-deadliest shooting in U.S. history.

When the whiz of bullets subsided, 20 children, six adults, and the gunman lay dead. Earlier, he had shot and killed his mother.

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The latest deaths jolted the scenic town filled with twinkling holiday lights and vibrant poinsettias. The upscale community features expansive homes surrounded by woods. Lobster bakes and dances are popular among residents.

Many residents commute to jobs in Manhattan and the nearby Connecticut cities of Stamford and Hartford.

Unlike the mass shooting, the cold case involving the last murder in the town was short on details.

John Heath reported his wife missing from their Newtown home in April 1984. Friends and relatives said her disappearance was unusual; she would never walk out on her 4-year-old daughter, according to the Hartford Courant.

The couple was going through a divorce when she disappeared, the Newtown Bee reported.

Twenty-six years after the missing-person report, a man and his son renovating an apartment once owned by Heath found the woman's bones.

A search at the location revealed more of Mary Elizabeth Heath's remains stuffed in beddings.

She suffered blunt force trauma to the head and had two broken arms, court records showed, the latter defense wounds a result of putting her arms up.

Police charged John Heath with murder, to which he pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.

The story rocked the small community.

Regional news outlets competed with local ones to report the latest developments.

On Friday, the town was in the headlines again. This time, all over the world.

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