The identity of Leah Hickman’s murderer remains unknown. She vanished just before Christmas and was found several days later hidden where no one would think to look. The last time her father had spoken with her was on her birthday, just a few weeks before her death.
The memory of Leah Hickman is displayed in a blue hue across the community of Huntington, West Virginia. After all, it was her favorite color. Ribbons of blue are hung around the apartment complex where she was found strangled and her body was in a crawl space.
Leah was a junior studying journalism at Marshall University. After graduation, she hoped to become a television news reporter. On 8th Avenue in Huntington, Leah shared an apartment with her half-sister, Jessica Vickers. Jessica was the last person to see her alive. Computer records show that on December 14th, 2007, after signing into her Myspace account, Leah decided to go to McDonald’s and called a friend to let them know where she was going.
A receipt from McDonald’s, dated December 14th, was later found in the apartment, confirming her visit there.
Upon entering the apartment the next day, Jessica noticed Leah’s car keys and purse were there, but there was no sign of her roommate. Leah’s car was still in the parking lot. Jessica tried calling her sister’s cell phone, but it just went to voicemail. She then posted a message on her sister’s social media page asking “Oh sister, where are you?” Again, there was no reply.
As a new employee at the local Dress Barn, Leah was very vigilant about arriving to work on time, so it raised concerns when she did not show up for her shift that day. When notified that his daughter was absent, Ron Hickman rushed over to the apartment accompanied by his sister and a preacher. Nothing more was found to indicate where Leah might have gone.
On the 16th of December, her family filed a missing person’s report and emergency search parties were formed to comb the surrounding area over the next 7 days. Dress Barn posted a $10,000 reward for any information on Leah’s disappearance and the Huntington Police Department received numerous tips, but none of them led to her whereabouts. Flyers were posted all over the city pleading for anyone who might know where she was to call in. It wasn’t long before she was found in the most unusual place.
A week later, on the 21st of December, Leah’s body was discovered in the crawl space of her apartment building. The crawl space could be accessed from the common laundry room and all four of the apartments in the building.
Initially, police had a theory that Leah was killed by someone she knew and that the killer was familiar with the configuration of the complex. Only one apartment was occupied other than the one Leah shared with her half-sister. However, the man living in that unit was out of town during the time Leah went missing, therefore he was excluded from the suspect list.
The city was devastated. Leah was only 21 years old when she died. Dress Barn closed for the Christmas weekend in her honor and paid for all of her funeral costs.
Mitochondrial DNA taken from hair fibers at the scene was tested in 2009, but the results were unable to find a match. Detectives were now lacking both witnesses and suspects. Insufficient evidence led to the case going cold.
Leah’s father has asked the Huntington police to have the DNA evidence tested by Parbaon NanoLabs as they have had great success on other cases in the past. Captain Ray Cornwell said the department is hesitant to do this for fear it will lead nowhere and the remaining evidence will be lost. There is such a small amount of the sample left that investigators have to be cautious when deciding to retest. At this point, all they can do is wait for a credible lead to come in or for technology to advance enough to finally help solve the case.
Police say they revisit this case frequently and that it is still an ongoing investigation. There are currently no suspects in Leah Hickman’s murder.
In 2014, an anonymous person spray painted one simple question on the side of Leah’s apartment building on 8th Avenue: “Who killed Leah Hickman?” This brought new attention to the case along with the hope that her mystery might finally be solved; unfortunately, no one came forward.
Ron Hickman prays there will someday be justice for his daughter. He vows to keep fighting for her until her killer is arrested and convicted for this heinous crime. Leah’s loss is not easily forgotten in the Huntington community. A memorial is held for her annually.
If you have any information on Leah Hickman’s murder, please contact the Huntington Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Bureau at (304) 696–4420 or the tip line at (304) 696–4444.