It’s a blockbuster story with classic elements: beautiful women, sex and revenge.
It revolves around Carolyn J. Heckert, now charged with first-degree murder, and Sarah DeLeon and Diana Ault, young Kansas City area women who were killed more than 20 years ago.
The story hit big Thursday, with news of the arrest of Heckert, a 48-year-old real estate agent who lives in Smithville.
Unfortunately, local news consumers couldn’t get the story in understandable context from any single news outlet. It took me more than an hour to sort it out from a variety of sources.
I’m sure people who read about this case yesterday or heard about it on radio or TV were asking themselves, “What the hell was going on there?”
Many of those same news consumers probably read or watched only one account of Heckert’s arrest and were left with their curiosity brimming.
…Having been a reporter who “ate his bylines for breakfast” (that’s what one of my first editors once said of me), I wasn’t going to let it lie until I had checked it thoroughly. That meant going to the websites of The Kansas City Star and the four local TV stations — KCTV5; Fox4, KSHB, Channel 41; and KMBC, Channel 9.
Ground Zero for me was The Star’s long but limited account, which said DeLeon and Ault were the victims of harassment or bullying before their deaths. The Star quoted Kansas City, KS, police as having said several months ago, “The investigation has revealed that the suspect and an accomplice have been involved in other incidents involving the harassment and intimidation of romantic rivals.”
OK. That provided a motive. Then it was on to the TV websites…
:: Fox4, which tends to be very aggressive in its crime reporting, offered nothing, not even the “romantic rivals” element.
:: KSHB’s only insight was this line: “Last May, KCK police told 41 Action News they suspected DeLeon may have been targeted because she was a romantic rival.”
:: KCTV5 had a curious report, but it did offer some illumination. A reporter interviewed DeLeon’s father, Bill Laskey, who said he had long believed Heckert had killed his daughter.
But the story immediately turned curious, when, out of the blue, Laskey was quoted as saying: “I said no, it wasn’t a robbery. It’s the b**** your son’s been with. I think it’s Carol.”
The story offered no indication who Laskey was addressing when he said, “it’s the bitch your son’s been with.”
The answer to that question became a bit clearer two paragraphs later, when the reporter dropped in this telling line: “Ault’s husband admitted to an affair.”
Voila! Laskey must have been speaking with the mother or father of Diana Ault’s husband.
The Channel 5 report concluded with this: “Laskey said Heckert threatened his daughter. As a result, Ault changed her locks and phone number, even filing a harassment report with Independence police. Within weeks, she would be dead.”
:: To put the final pieces of the puzzle together, I had to go not only to KMBC’s Thursday story but also to a 2004 KMBC story that gave the full backdrop.
Here are the key paragraphs from the 2004 story, which quoted Ault’s husband, Tim Ault:
“Ault said he had an affair and moved out to live with another woman shortly before his wife’s death. The other woman was Tim’s co-worker at a Kansas City, Kan., postal facility.
“Investigators found out she had ties to another murder victim — 18-year-old Sarah DeLeon. DeLeon was stabbed to death fours years earlier and her body dumped by some railroad tracks. Police found her car abandoned on 78th Street underneath Interstate 70.”
Why did Sarah DeLeon die? The 2004 story said the postal worker (undoubtedly Heckert) had had an affair with DeLeon’s boyfriend (not named) during a period when the boyfriend and DeLeon were broken up. DeLeon was murdered after the boyfriend dumped the postal worker and went back to DeLeon.
Now, people wanting to know what’s going on with any big story shouldn’t have to go to that much time and trouble to get to the root of it. Some reporter and at least one of the five news outlets I went to should have pulled the Heckert-Ault-DeLeon story together.
Seriously, it wouldn’t have been very difficult…But, unfortunately, that’s the way it is in journalism’s “new and not-improved” era.