Saturday, January 20, 2024

The Disappearance and Murder of Leah Hickman

source: Herald-Dispatch

Leah Hickman had her whole life ahead of her during December 2007. The then-21-year-old lived in Huntington, West Virginia, and she was a student at Marshall University. Leah was pursuing a degree in journalism and was looking forward to her future. Unfortunately, that future was cut short when Leah vanished on December 14th, 2007. Her body was found a week later. 

Before her untimely death, Leah shared an apartment with her half-sister, Jessica Vickers, on 8th Avenue in Huntington. On the day of her disappearance, Leah accessed her Myspace page from a computer at the apartment. She later spoke to a friend on the phone and said she was going to go to McDonald's for some food. 

A receipt later found in the apartment seemingly confirms that Leah did, in fact, go to McDonald's. What happened after that remains a mystery to this day. Leah's sister Jessica stated that when she returned to their apartment the following day, Leah was nowhere to be found. However, her car, purse, and cell phone were all left behind. 

Leah's family was later notified that she did not show up to a scheduled work shift at Dress Barn. This immediately worried her loved ones, who subsequently attempted to search for her themselves to no avail. Her family then reported her missing to police on December 16th, 2007. 

On December 21st, 2007, a team of investigators found Leah's body in a crawl space in her apartment building. She had been strangled to death and her body was wrapped in plastic. It appears that her killer(s) placed her in the crawl space in attempt to hide her body. 

Several years have passed, and Leah's murder remains unsolved. Investigators have never publicly announced any suspects of persons of interest in case. However, there has been a lot of both local and online speculation about who might be responsible for Leah's death.


Who killed Leah?

After Leah's body was found, locals in Huntington immediately began speculating - both online and offline - about the identity of her killer(s). There are many factors that play into said speculation. Some of the speculation comes from known information about Leah's case, while other speculation comes from rumors heard around town. 

The apartment building/crawl space.

The building where Leah lived/was found murdered. (source: Herald-Dispatch)

In 2007, there were four units inside the apartment building where Leah lived with her sister Jessica. One unit was obviously occupied by Leah and Jessica. Two of the other units were vacant. A single man lived in the remaining unit; however, he was out of town at the time of Leah's disappearance and murder. 

The crawlspace where Leah's body was found is part of the building's laundry room. The laundry room was a common area used by all tenants, located in the building's basement. 

source: YouTube

It seems likely that whoever placed Leah's body in the crawl space was, at the very least, familiar with Leah's apartment building. Various discussion about this case online seems to indicate that the crawl space could easily go unnoticed unless one already knew it was there. 

Speculation about the sister's ex-boyfriend.

Over the years, there has been an abundance of speculation about Leah's sister/roommate Jessica, and Jessica's ex-boyfriend. Much of that speculation has been posted online on various forums. Certain posts state that the ex-boyfriend lived with Jessica in the 8th Avenue apartment for 2 years. 

In fact, some posts also indicate that there was overlap between Leah and the ex-boyfriend in the apartment as well - meaning that at some point, Leah, Jessica, and Jessica's ex-boyfriend all lived there together. A statement that consistently seems to come up across all the online speculation is that Leah and Jessica's ex-boyfriend did not get along. 

Another statement amongst locals that has popped up more than once is that Jessica and the ex-boyfriend broke up while he was deployed to Iraq. Jessica and Leah then reportedly removed all of his things from the apartment. 

One specific post from Mydeathspace states: "The rumor is: he used to live in the apt with Jessica before he shipped off to Iraq. They broke up while he was gone, and Leah/Jessica threw all his crap away. It was stored in the basement." 

If there is any truth to the rumor in this post, this raises a bunch of suspicions. If the "basement" being referred to in this post is the basement of Leah and Jessica's apartment building, that means it's the same basement where Leah's body was found in a crawl space. Is it possible that Jessica's ex-boyfriend showed up at the apartment demanding his items? If so, did Leah bring him down the basement, where he strangled her and then hid her body in the crawl space?

The same post on Mydeathspace also mentions something else that raises suspicions about the ex-boyfriend. The post, in part, states "Rumor is his arm was injured right after Leah came up “missing” and he refused to take any lie detector tests."

It's worth noting that these rumors originated all the way back in 2007, when the crime first occurred, and they have never been publicly substantiated by investigators. Still, these rumors have never been publicly ruled out, either. 

Speculation about the sister.

Most speculation about Leah's murder mentions Jessica's ex-boyfriend as a probable suspect. Much of the speculation also mentions Jessica herself possibly being involved in Leah's murder as well. As previously stated, Leah allegedly never got along with Jessica's ex-boyfriend. There are various online postings that Leah and Jessica were also fighting a lot before Leah's disappearance and murder as well.

It's not unusual for sisters to fight from time to time, but rarely does sibling drama escalate to murder. The extent of the fights between Leah and Jessica do not appear to be discussed super in-depth online, but many seem to agree that they fought quite a bit. 

In 2018, a commenter on a Reddit post about Leah's case wrote the following: "Lifelong Huntington resident here. The general consensus is it was her sister's boyfriend and the sister helped cover for him. A smaller percentage of people think the reverse, that it was the sister and the boyfriend covered for her. Personal belief is that it was both. The sisters were known to fight a lot over anything and everything. Most people that knew them believe the sister was involved in some way if not the actual perpetrator."

What do investigators think?

Again, it's worth noting that Jessica and her ex-boyfriend have not been charged with anything related Leah's murder. Investigators have never publicly labeled either of them as suspects. Investigators have also not labeled anyone as a suspect or person of interest; they have mostly remained tight-lipped about the case.

In September 2008, Huntington Police Capt. Steve Hall told reporters, "There is an individual that we believe was involved. It is an individual that we have contacted and have spoken to. However, this individual keeps coming to the forefront of someone we’re particularly interested in."

To this day, investigators have not disclosed the identity of this individual. There has been inevitable speculation that this person is Leah's sister's ex-boyfriend. It seems that detectives have still been unable to collect evidence that could lead to a prosecution. 

DNA evidence.

Investigators collected various evidence from the area where Leah's body was found. The evidence was sent for DNA testing, but the results were reportedly not conclusive. Leah's father reportedly requested that the DNA be retested by 
Parabon NanoLabs. Investigators working the case stated that the DNA sample was so small that they feared new tests would destroy it.

The lead detective on the case told reporters that they were hesitant to retest due to "the fear that it would lead nowhere, and the remaining evidence would be lost."

A cold case.

As of 2024, the murder of Leah Hickman remains unsolved and is considered a cold case. It has been years since investigators have provided any substantial updates in the case. 

In 2014, someone spray painted "Who Killed Leah Hickman?" on the outside brick wall of the apartment where Leah lived. Police reportedly do not know the identity of the spray painter.

source: Herald-Dispatch

Since then, there have not been any updates on Leah's case. However, the online speculation remains somewhat active. Investigators still encourage anyone with information that could help solve Leah's case to call the Huntington Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Bureau, at (304) 696-4420 or the tip line at (304) 696-4444.

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