Police solve Utah cold case from 1979

Sandra Haymes Matott, 37, was reported missing from Salt Lake City in 1979. Police have now confirmed through DNA testing that skeletal remains found in Millard County that same year are Matott’s.
Salt Lake City Police Department

A cold case investigation in Salt Lake City from 1979 that also has ties to a homicide investigation in Millard County has been solved, police announced Friday.

Investigators have confirmed that remains found in Millard County are those of Sandra Haymes Matott, 37, who disappeared in 1979. The announcement resolves the missing person case in Salt Lake City and marks a closure in a homicide investigation in Millard County, although the Utah State Medical Examiner could not determine how Matott died.

Until Friday, Matott's disappearance had been the oldest missing persons cold case in the Salt Lake City Police Department.

"We are happy the case is now closed because it brings us some answers. As a family we are happy about this development, but also sad it took this long. Forty-two years is a long time. We are happy that the investigators never closed the case and continued to work on it so we could reach this point," Matott's son, Darrell Haymes, said in a prepared statement on Friday.

On July 18, 1979, Warren Matott reported his wife was missing, claiming she was last seen a week earlier at a Salt Lake City bar.

But police say family members believe by that point, Sandra Matott had actually been missing longer than what her husband was claiming.

On Aug. 19, 1979, skeletal human remains were found by hunters in Millard County near the I-15 Cove Fort exit.

"There were no signs of homicidal violence to the skeletal remains. At the scene, investigators located two pieces of jewelry, a ring and a watch. Both were later determined to belong to Sandra Matott. Due to the suspicious circumstances, the Millard County Sheriff's Office opened a homicide investigation," according to the Salt Lake City Police Department.

A ring and a watch belonging to Sandra Matott were found next to skeletal remains in Millard County in 1979. Police have now identified the remains as Motatt.
Salt Lake City Police Department

Salt Lake detectives at the time tried to conduct follow-up interviews with Warren Matott but were unsuccessful, the department stated.

Then in 1984, Henry Lee Lucas claimed he was responsible for Sandra Matott's death. At one point, Lucas claimed he was responsible for more than 100 murders across the United States and was considered one of the nation's most prolific serial killers.

But Salt Lake police noted that Lucas' claims were vague, and detectives could not verify his confession. An investigation later determined that Lucas was responsible for a handful of murders but had lied about the rest. He later recanted the majority of crimes he claimed to have committed.

In 2012 and 2013, Salt Lake police began looking at Matott's case again after determining it was still unresolved.

"During the investigation, Sandra Matott's family reported they believed Warren Matott, Sandra's husband, was likely responsible for her disappearance and death," according to police.

Warren Matott died in California in 1999.

In 2019, Millard County sheriff's investigators also took another look at their skeletal remains case.

With help from Utah's forensic anthropologist and DNA tests performed at the University of North Texas, the Millard County Sheriff's Office received confirmation on Aug. 10 that the remains were those of Sandra Matott. Matott's family was informed of the discovery on Aug. 13.

Although the State Medical Examiner's Office could not determine a cause of death, investigators believe Warren Matott "likely had more information about the disappearance and death of Sandra Matott. However, there was never any probable cause to charge Warren Matott in connection to this case," Salt Lake police stated.

"No matter how much time passes, the detectives of the Salt Lake City Police Department will never let up in their quest to solve every case and to get answers for loved ones," Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown said Friday. "Solving a cold case requires teamwork, dedication and an unrelenting pursuit of justice. That's how we got to today — because of the teamwork of multiple agencies."

The Millard County Sheriff's Office also announced Friday its homicide investigation into the human remains found in 1979 was now closed.

"We are grateful to be in an age where technological advances have provided many avenues for law enforcement to find answers not previously available to them," Millard County Sheriff Richard Jacobson added. "We send our condolences to her family for their loss and many years of waiting. It is an honor to us that we were able to help bring them some answers."

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