Alyssa Bustamante was 15 years old when she murdered her 9-year-old neighbor, Elizabeth Olten, whose body was found in a shallow grave in St. Martins, Missouri.
On the evening of Oct. 21, 2009, Patty Preiss was about to cook dinner for her family when she heard a knock at the door. It was 6-year-old Emma, who lived a few houses down.
She was there to ask her if Elizabeth could play outside with her.
Elizabeth was Preiss’ youngest daughter, and she was a fourth-grade student at Pioneer Trails Elementary School.
Preiss initially said no, but when Elizabeth and Emma started jumping up and down, begging her to let them play together, she couldn’t refuse.
She told Elizabeth that she would have to return home by 6 p.m.
Elizabeth was supposedly afraid of the dark, so her mother was expecting her to return before sunset at 6:30 p.m. When she didn’t, Preiss called her cell phone, but it went straight to voicemail.
She then contacted Emma’s grandmother, who told her that her daughter was never at her house that evening. That’s when she called the Cole County Sheriff’s Office and reported Elizabeth missing.
Law enforcement officers arrived 15 minutes later and questioned Emma’s grandmother. Again, she stated that Elizabeth was never at her house.
By 10 p.m. that same day, deputies had checkpoints set up, helicopters in the air, and dive teams searching the ponds and rivers for Elizabeth.
There was also a dog team and hundreds of residents searching the surrounding areas.
Meanwhile, Preiss continued calling Elizabeth’s phone, but each time it went to voicemail, which prompted authorities to contact the family’s cell phone company and request an emergency ping.
It wasn’t long before they received several pings that were traced to a wooded area not far from Elizabeth’s home, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Just as rescue workers had begun searching the woods for Elizabeth’s cell phone, it went dead, and the pings stopped.
Sergeant David Rice with the Missouri Highway State Patrol stated that he then turned his focus back to the last person to see Elizabeth, and that was Emma.
When she was questioned, she stated that while she and Elizabeth were playing, she got stuck in a thorn bush and started crying and screaming for her half-sister, Bustamante, to help her.
Law enforcement officers then realized that all the children in the neighborhood had been accounted for during the time Elizabeth went missing, except for Bustamante.
The Cole County Sheriff’s Department received a written note that suggested Bustamante may have had something to do with Elizabeth’s disappearance.
“There was overwhelming evidence that she committed this crime,” said Captain John Wheeler of the Cole County Sheriff’s Department.
On Oct. 23, 2009, detectives picked up Bustamante from her home and brought her to the police station for questioning.
Rice said, “She admitted that she skipped school that day. She was aware law enforcement couldn’t find this girl but stated she knew nothing about it whatsoever.”
During the interview, the investigators were informed that the rescue team had found what looked to be a makeshift grave in a wooded area behind Bustamante’s home.
Detectives took Bustamante to the scene.
She said, “I dug the hole.”
Rice asked her why, and she stated that she likes digging holes. And if she were to find a dead animal in the woods, she would bury it—but authorities said the hole was empty.
It was during that time that officers obtained a warrant to search Bustamante’s house.
When an agent entered her bedroom, she ascertained disturbing writings on the wall that had been written in blood—some were in ink.
While rummaging through her belongings, the agent encountered Bustamante’s diary, where she wrote about burning down a house and burning the people inside.
When the agent reached the last journal entry, she noticed it was dated Oct. 21, 2009—the same day Elizabeth went missing.
Bustamante appeared to have written a few paragraphs that day, but she tried to obliterate what she had written by scribbling over the words with blue ink, except for the last part.
It read: “Now I’ve got to go to church.”
Investigators used backlighting to decipher the journal entry, but they were only able to make out two words: “slit” and “throat.”
They then used a blue light to read the rest of Bustamante’s journal entry. It is stated as follows:
“I just [expletive] killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throat [SIC] and stabbed them… It was ahmazing… it was pretty enjoyable. I gotta go to church… LOL.”
With her grandmother present, Rice interrogated Bustamante. He made her aware that they had found her diary in her bedroom and that they had read it, including the entry she had tried to destroy.
Rice said, “Once I brought up the diary, I could see a distinct shift in her demeanor. And I think it was at that point that she knew that we knew.”
Bustamante then revealed what happened to Elizabeth in the woods.
She said it was an accident, claiming that as they were walking, Elizabeth fell and fatally hit her head.
Rice proceeded to explain to Bustamante that they were “going to recover the body, and the autopsy would show every injury.”
Because of the content of her diary, Rice blatantly asked Bustamante if Elizabeth’s throat was cut.
She said yes.
Her grandmother broke down in tears and ultimately left the interrogation room. That’s when Bustamante confessed to murdering Elizabeth.
On Oct. 16, 2009, Bustamante was home from school because of a parent-teacher conference. She utilized that time to dig two holes in a wooded area behind her home.
Five days later, she asked her sister, Emma, to get Elizabeth out of her house. After doing so, she told Emma to go home.
She took Elizabeth by the hand and led her into the woods, which was a 15-minute walk, under the pretense that she had something to show her.
Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, Bustamante was armed with a knife, and she was leading her to a shallow grave.
When they arrived at the location, Bustamante told detectives that she strangled Elizabeth multiple times before stabbing her six or seven times in the chest.
She then slit her throat and buried her body.
At around 3 a.m. on Oct. 23, 2009, Bustamante led detectives into a wooded area, where she buried Elizabeth.
Sergeant Rice said Elizabeth’s body was not well covered, as several parts of it were protruding from the ground.
It was reported that she was initially well concealed, which is why volunteer search crews and rescue teams were unable to find her.
Bustamante was arrested and charged as an adult with first-degree murder.
Dr. Carl Stacy with the Boone County Medical Examiner’s Office performed an autopsy and confirmed that Elizabeth had been strangled and stabbed in the chest.
On Nov. 20, 2009, Bustamante was admitted to Fulton State Hospital for a psychological evaluation lasting up to 96 hours. Her public defender, John King, told a judge that she was “demonstrating signs of severe depression and anxiety.”
She purportedly attempted to cut herself with her fingernails and had been put on suicide watch.
Two years and four months after the killing of Elizabeth, a trial date was set, but there was a setback in the case.
The defense team filed a motion to suppress Bustamante’s confession.
They argued that some of the questions she was asked during the police interrogation weren’t permissible under Missouri law because she was a juvenile.
The judge agreed.
The US Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional for juveniles to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and Bustamante’s confession was, therefore, thrown out.
Prosecutors then offered a plea deal: an amended charge of second-degree murder with a 10- to 30-year sentence or life in prison with the chance of parole.
The defense team accepted the plea deal, and Bustamante pleaded guilty.
Before Bustamante was sentenced, she addressed the victim’s family.
She said, “I can’t understand what you guys are going through. I’m sorry for that. If I could give my life to bring her back, I would, and I’m sorry.”
In February 2012, a judge sentenced Bustamante to life in prison plus an additional 30 years for armed criminal action with the possibility of parole.
Under Missouri law, Bustamante would have to serve 35 years and five months before she could become eligible for parole.
In 2014, she filed an appeal to overturn her conviction, but it was denied.