Police in Salt Lake City, Utah, say DNA technology helped identify skeletal remains found in 1979 as belonging to a local mother who vanished 42 years ago.
Sandra Matott, 37, was reported missing July 18, 1979, by her husband Warren Matott, who said she was last seen at a Salt Lake City bar eight days prior. Police said when they attempted to follow up with her husband, they were unable to reach him.
About a month later, on Aug. 19, 1979, a homicide investigation was launched after hunters found skeletal remains in Millard County, about 175 miles outside Salt Lake City. Investigators found a ring and watch at the scene, which were both later determined to belong to the missing woman.
It took decades of sleuthing to connect the cases, but ultimately DNA samples provided by the missing woman’s daughters helped bring closure to the decades-long mystery.
‘No matter how much time passes, the detectives of the Salt Lake City Police Department will never let up in their quest to solve every case and to get answers for loved ones,’ Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown said in a press release.
Sandra Matott was reported missing by her husband, Warren Matott, on July 18, 1979
About a month later, hunters discovered skeletal remains in Millard County, about 175 miles outside Salt Lake City. Police later released this sketch in an effort to identify the Jane Doe
‘Solving a cold case requires teamwork, dedication and an unrelenting pursuit of justice. That’s how we got to today – because of the teamwork of multiple agencies and the dedication of the current and prior detectives throughout Utah who worked Ms. Matott’s case. They never gave up on this investigation. They recognized the work that needed to be done to get the family of Sandra Matott answers, and for that I could not be prouder.’
Police made little progress on the case until 2013, when a Salt Lake City Police Department homicide detective tasked with reinvestigating the case entered Matott’s information into two national databases for missing people. Relatives told the investigator that they believed her husband – who died in 1999 – was responsible for her disappearance.
Matott’s son Darrell Haymes, who was 19 at the time she went missing, said she was the victim of domestic violence, trapped in a relationship marked by alcohol-fueled fights.
The year before she disappeared, she shot her husband in the stomach in self-defense, Haymes told The Daily Mail.
She got parole for turning the .38 Smith & Wesson on her husband, while he spent some time in the hospital recovering.
The pair got back together later that year.
Millard County deputies recovered a watch and ring from the scene, which were later determined to belong to Matott
In 2020, the skeletal remains were sent to the University of North Texas’ The Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI) for DNA testing.
‘This lab provides DNA services where they can extract DNA from skeletal remains,’ Sgt. Patrick Bennett, of the Millard County Sheriff’s office, told Mail Online. ‘Some of the remains were sent from the Medical Examiner’s Office in Utah to this lab where they were able to obtain a DNA profile.’
Scientists then obtained a mitochondrial DNA sample – DNA passed from mother to child – to identify the remains as belonging to Matott.
‘We are happy the case is now closed because it brings us some answers,’ Haymes said in a press release.
‘As a family we are happy about this development, but also sad it took this long. Forty-two years is a long time. We are happy that the investigators never closed the case and continued to work on it so we could reach this point.’
The case took a twist in 1984, when Henry Lee Lucas confessed to murdering Matott
Although one mystery is solved, another remains: it’s not yet clear who, if anyone, is responsible for the mother’s death.
In 1984, serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to murdering Matott. The vagueness of his account prevented police from verifying Lucas’ claims, who was convicted of slaying 11 people.
‘I do not believe that Henry Lee Lucas was responsible for Sandra’s death,’ Bennett said. ‘He had become quite well known for confessing to unsolved homicides. He was even named, ‘the Confession Killer.’
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown says solving the case took ‘teamwork, dedication and an unrelenting pursuit of justice’
‘He later recanted many of his confessions, and in many of those cases, evidence supported that he did not commit the murders. Sandra’s family all believe that Warren Matott, Sandra’s husband, is responsible for her death due to his behavior around the time of her disappearance,’ Bennett added.
Detectives in both Millard County and Salt Lake City believe Warren Matott knew more about his wife’s disappearance than he disclosed.
He died in 1999 of Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive nervous system disorder.
‘Karma got him,’ Haymes told The Daily Mail. ‘It’s a terrible disease.’