Mur­der, she wrote

A teenager’s di­ary con­tained the sick­en­ing de­tails of a lit­tle girl’s mur­der

Pick Me Up! - - CONTENTS -

She’d used her sis­ter to en­tice El­iz­a­beth into the woods

With her daugh­ter hap­pily watch­ing TV, Patty Preiss set about mak­ing din­ner.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. It was her daugh­ter El­iz­a­beth’s friend from down the road, and she wanted the 9-year-old to come out to play.

Straight­away, El­iz­a­beth begged her mum to let her go. Patty glanced at the clock. It was nearly 5pm.

But she couldn’t re­sist her lit­tle daugh­ter’s pleas. So she agreed, but told her to be back by 6pm sharp, as din­ner would be on the ta­ble.

El­iz­a­beth was full of smiles as she waved good­bye to her mum and dashed out.

Patty car­ried on pre­par­ing din­ner, but 6pm came and went, with no sign of El­iz­a­beth.

The mum tried not to panic. Her daugh­ter had prob­a­bly lost track of time.

But, as the sun set on Jef­fer­son City, Mis­souri, Patty be­gan to worry. El­iz­a­beth was afraid of the dark, wouldn’t choose to be out alone.

She called her neigh­bour, but they said El­iz­a­beth wasn’t at their house, hadn’t been there all day.

Patty called the po­lice. As time ticked by, the po­lice called in the FBI.

News of the lit­tle girl’s dis­ap­pear­ance fil­tered through to neigh­bours.

All des­per­ate to help, over the next two days they joined the po­lice in search­ing for El­iz­a­beth.

By 10pm, hun­dreds were look­ing for her.

Mean­while, the po­lice vis­ited the fam­ily of the lit­tle girl with whom El­iz­a­beth had gone out to play – the Bus­ta­mantes.

There, they met her older sis­ter Alyssa, 15. When the of­fi­cers spoke to her, she sug­gested El­iz­a­beth had been kid­napped, and that who­ever had taken her de­served to be pun­ished.

But of­fi­cers sensed that Alyssa knew more than she was let­ting on. The teenager seemed trou­bled, too.

Then, while search­ing for El­iz­a­beth, of­fi­cers found a grave-shaped hole, close to the Bus­ta­mantes’ home.

They chal­lenged Alyssa to see if she knew any­thing about it. She ad­mit­ted to dig­ging it – but said she just liked to dig.

So the hunt for the young­ster went on. And, af­ter two days of search­ing, of­fi­cers dis­cov­ered an­other hole in woods be­hind Alyssa’s home.

Lit­tle El­iz­a­beth’s body lay in­side and the grave had been cov­ered with leaves.

Im­me­di­ately, of­fi­cers thought back to Alyssa, who’d ad­mit­ted dig­ging the first grave they’d found.

They went back to the teenager, searched her home.

Know­ing her lies weren’t go­ing to wash any more, she ad­mit­ted that she’d used her younger sis­ter to en­tice El­iz­a­beth into the woods, say­ing she had a sur­prise for her. She’d stabbed, stran­gled and slit the throat of the child, be­fore bury­ing her in the shal­low grave she’d dug a week ear­lier, then cov­ered it with leaves.

Alyssa Bus­ta­mante was ar­rested and charged with first-de­gree mur­der, which car­ried a manda­tory sen­tence of life with­out pa­role.

Just be­fore the trial, af­ter turn­ing 18, Bus­ta­mante struck a plea bar­gain and ad­mit­ted sec­ond-de­gree mur­der and armed crim­i­nal ac­tion.

So the hear­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2012 was to de­ter­mine whether she should get life in prison or as lit­tle as 10 years.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, Bus­ta­mante sat silently, only oc­ca­sion­ally glanc­ing at the of­fi­cers, at­tor­neys and foren­sic ex­perts who were tes­ti­fy­ing, read­ing aloud the in­ner­most thoughts she’d recorded in her jour­nal as a 15-year-old.

This sick­en­ing pas­sage was read to the court...

I just f *ck­ing killed some­one. I stran­gled them and slit their throat and stabbed them and now they’re dead. I don’t know how I feel atm [at the mo­ment].

It was ah­maz­ing. As soon as you get over the ‘ohmy­gawd I can’t do this’ feel­ing, it’s

She’d de­scribed sui­ci­dal feel­ings and urges to hurt oth­ers

pretty en­joy­able.

I’m kinda ner­vous and shaky right now. Kay [OK], I gotta go to church now... lol.

A po­lice of­fi­cer also tes­ti­fied the teenager told him ‘she wanted to know what it felt like’ to kill some­one.

Bus­ta­mante’s de­fence ar­gued that she should re­ceive a lighter sen­tence be­cause of her trou­bled child­hood.

Her fa­ther was in prison, her mother had aban­doned her.

Her grand­mother be­came her le­gal guardian when she was 7. Bus­ta­mante and other of her si­b­lings were mostly raised by her grand­par­ents.

The judge heard ac­counts from the teenager’s jour­nal two months be­fore the mur­der, where she’d de­scribed sui­ci­dal feel­ings and urges to hurt her­self and oth­ers.

At one point, she’d writ­ten that she in­tended to burn down a house and kill all the oc­cu­pants, though she never fol­lowed through with it.

A week be­fore El­iz­a­beth’s slay­ing, Bus­ta­mante noted that she couldn’t use her mo­bile be­cause the charger had died, mean­ing she couldn’t talk to any­one about the rage she felt or her de­pres­sion.

‘If I don’t talk about it, I bot­tle it up, and when I ex­plode some­one’s go­ing to die...’ her de­fence read aloud.

Bus­ta­mante had at­tempted sui­cide in 2007, and had been hav­ing treat­ment for de­pres­sion and self harm­ing, as well as be­ing on Prozac.

But there was lit­tle sym­pa­thy for Bus­ta­mante from El­iz­a­beth’s loved ones.

From her wheel­chair, El­iz­a­beth’s grand­mother shouted, ‘Alyssa should get out of jail the same day El­iz­a­beth gets out of the grave.’

And griev­ing mother Patty gave a pow­er­ful state­ment.

De­scrib­ing her daugh­ter as a ‘ happy lit­tle girl,’ she said tear­fully, ‘So much has been lost at the hands of this evil mon­ster. El­iz­a­beth was given a death sen­tence and we were given a life sen­tence.’

With Bus­ta­mante look­ing at her, Patty con­tin­ued, ‘I hate her, I hate ev­ery­thing about her.’

The judge only cut off her tes­ti­mony when she de­scribed Bus­ta­mante as ‘not even hu­man’.

Be­fore she was sen­tenced, Alyssa Bus­ta­mante said to El­iz­a­beth’s fam­ily, ‘If I could give my life to bring her back, I would. I just want to say I’m sorry for what hap­pened. I’m so sorry.’

To Patty’s re­lief, Alyssa Bus­ta­mante was sen­tenced on the mur­der charge to life in prison with no chance of pa­role, plus 30 years for the other charge.

But, sev­eral months af­ter Bus­ta­mante’s guilty plea, the US Supreme Court ruled in a sep­a­rate case that ju­ve­niles can­not face au­to­matic life sen­tences with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role.

Fol­low­ing an ap­peal, Bus­ta­mante’s sen­tence was cut. She must now serve at least 35 years and five months be­fore be­ing el­i­gi­ble for pa­role.

In 2017, El­iz­a­beth’s mother won a wrong­ful-death law­suit that re­quires Bus­ta­mante to pay her more than $5 mil­lion (around £3.6 mil­lion).

Whether she’ll ever get the pay­out is un­clear.

But surely no money can ever com­fort Patty Preiss.

The mother whose daugh­ter was meant to be home for din­ner but, in­stead, never came home at all.

Vic­tim El­iz­a­beth

KILLER BUS­TA­MANTE Sick­en­ing selfie

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