- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - Eight years have passed since Leah Hickman was last seen alive, and there are still few answers about who killed the then 21-year-old Marshall University student.

Although nearly a decade has passed, Huntington Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli believes the case is anything but cold. He could not elaborate due to the ongoing investigation, but said the case recently splintered off into smaller investigations.

“It’s still an active investigation. There have been investigations ongoing relative to that case in the last few months,” he said.

Hickman, from Leon, West Virginia, was last seen alive Dec. 14, 2007. The disappearance was initially treated as a missing person case, garnering national media attention.

After a week of grueling searching, her body was discovered in the crawl space of her apartment building located in the 400 block of 8th Avenue in Huntington. Police said she had been strangled.

Investigators previously said they had a working theory about the killer’s identity, but lacked evidence needed to prosecute. The theory indicated her death was not a random act, but was carried out by someone who knew the layout of her apartment.

The police department regularly meets to discuss unsolved cases, the Hickman case being one of the most important because of the mystery, Ciccarelli said.

“We will pursue any lead that comes to us,” he said. “We meet regularly and discuss a number of unsolved cases to look for ways to bring unsolved cases to conclusions.”

DNA evidence was taken from the scene and police hoped mitochondrial DNA testing at a state-of-the-art crime laboratory in Phoenix would identify the student’s killer.

They had no such luck when the results came back in 2009.

Now the detectives’ hopes lie with the development of forensic science and the small sample of mitochondrial DNA left.

Ciccarelli believes one day a combination of police work and forensic development will bring Leah Hickman and her family justice.

“(Forensic development) is certainly one aspect we will continue to monitor and see if there are advancements in forensics in that case,” he said. “The other side of that case is police work, and we are pursuing that type of investigation as well.”

Like many unsolved homicide cases in the area, Hickman’s death remains very recognizable in the community due to public outcry and memorial services held yearly.

In April 2014, Hickman’s case was thrust back into the public eye when vandals defaced a wall of the apartment building where her body was found.

In large, painted letters, “Who killed Leah Hickman” was scrawled on the lower part of the building facing 4th Street.

Police and Ron Hickman, Leah’s father, were left puzzled by who wrote the message and why they did it on a date that did not appear to be significant to the case.

Anyone with information about Leah Hickman’s death should contact the Huntington Police Department’s tip line at 304-696-4444 or its Detective Bureau at 304-696-4420. All information can be provided anonymously.


Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, https://www.herald-dispatch.com

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