Murder, she wrote
A teenager’s diary contained the sickening details of a little girl’s murder
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
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.
KILLER BUSTAMANTE Sickening selfie