Skeletal Remains Found in Septic Tank Near Elsa Identified
WESLACO – Remains found inside a septic tank near Elsa are those of woman that has been missing since March 2004, according to Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra.
Twenty-one-year-old Leona Marie Tollett Johnson’s remains were identified through DNA analysis.
An arrest warrant has been issued to 40-year-old Aristeo Cervantes Jr., the main suspect in the murder case.
Investigators with the sheriff’s department and Hidalgo County Precinct 1 responded to a home on Mile 4 W Road and Dallas Street on July 26.
The sheriff’s office said they identified Cervantes Jr., who is also already serving a 12-year sentence in a Beeville prison for the stabbing of his wife in 2015, as the property owner.
Guerra said Johnson had a reputation of running away from home as a teen, but the last time she went missing, her family knew it was different.
When investigators questioned Cervantes, he confessed to stabbing a female to death and dumping her body inside a septic tank in 2004 after a dispute. He claimed he didn't know the woman.
During the second visit by investigators, Cervantes identified his victim in a photo lineup. Police sought family out and obtained a DNA sample from Johnson's son. He was three at the time she went missing over a decade ago.
"She had a 3-year-old son. We found the 3-year-old son, he's around 16 years of age. We collected DNA sample from him and sent in the bones, and had the comparison and came back as a positively identifying her as the victim," said Guerra. "When we first approached him. He believed right away that that was going to be his mother.”
The positive DNA match was the final puzzle piece investigators had to solve the case. The results were confirmed by tests that were conducted in a private lab in Virginia.
Guerra said Cervantes Jr. wouldn't have got away with murder, but he was close.
"Yes, he could have. However, you know putting the body in a septic tank and you know eventually septic tanks have to be serviced. Things do have to be serviced, so I'm sure that he had that in the back of his mind, all this time, that it's just a matter of when that tank was going to get serviced that he would be discovered. But if they had abandoned the house he could have easily gotten away with murder," said Guerra.
The sheriff adds at the time of her disappearance, Johnson had a substance abuse problem.
Cervantes lured her into his car with drugs and then went to his home located off Mile 4 W. Road near Edcouch before stabbing her to death. The bones and items of clothing were to be found in the septic tank years later.
The family has been notified of the positive DNA match. The sheriff's department is now going to build their case to get a grand jury indictment that will begin the legal side to justice for Johnson's family.
The full press release from the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office can be read below:
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