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The skeletal remains of a Utah woman who mysteriously vanished more than four decades ago were recently identified by authorities.
The remains of Sandra Matott were officially identified by DNA testing 42 years after her bones turned up near a roadway in Millard County, officials announced late last week.
Matott was reported missing on July 18, 1979, by her now-deceased husband, Warren Matott, who is now suspected in her disappearance and death. At the time, Matott told investigators he’d last seen his wife alive in a Salt Lake City bar more than a week earlier; detectives eventually lost contact with the widower.
In August 1979, Milard County Sheriff’s office recovered human remains after hunters stumbled upon bones near an interstate exit. No signs of homicidal violence were present, according to investigators. A ring and a watch, both of which belonged to Sandra Matott, were found by the bones. A murder investigation was subsequently opened, although it took until 2019 to connect those remains to the cold case involving the missing Utah woman.
In 2013, a Salt Lake City homicide investigator learned from Sandra Matott’s family that they suspected her husband was her murderer. But he had died in California in 1999.
Over the years, Millard’s case information was unsuccessfully entered into multiple state and federal cold case databases.
In 1984, serial killer Henry Lee Lucas admitted to Matott’s killing but his claims were later found to be unreliable. While in police custody, Lucas allegedly confessed to then recanted testimony involving hundreds of murders.
In 2019, investigators caught a break when Millard County Sheriff’s Office contacted them at the Salt Lake City Police Department after a case file was found which contained information related to the skeletal remains.
In the fall of 2020, the bones in question were submitted to the University of North Texas for DNA analysis. On Aug. 10, county authorities received confirmation the skeletal remains were those of Matott; her cause of death was inconclusive, according to a state medical examiner’s report.
Authorities believe Warren Matott had more information related to his wife’s death, although they never established a probable cause against him and never faced charges.
“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.
The case is the longest-standing missing persons cold case to be solved by the Salt Lake City Police Department.
“Solving a cold case requires teamwork, dedication and an unrelenting pursuit of justice," Brown added. "That’s how we got to today — because of the teamwork of multiple agencies and the dedication of the current and prior detectives throughout Utah who worked Ms. Matott’s case. They never gave up on this investigation. They recognized the work that needed to be done to get the family of Sandra Matott answers, and for that I could not be prouder.”
Milard County Sheriff’s Office also closed its own investigation into Matot’s death this month.
“The Sheriff’s Office expresses our condolences to Sandra’s family for their loss and many years of waiting for answers,” Sgt. Patrick Bennett of the Millard County Sheriff’s Office told Oxygen.com on Monday.
Bennett credited DNA testing, as well as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems, a publicly available web-based service that tracks missing persons cases, with helping to solve the investigation.
“I was honored to be involved in the process to identify Sandra,” he added.
Matott’s family also welcomed the news.
“I was a little emotional when I heard about it, when they finally discovered the remains,” Darrell Haymes, Sandra Matott’s son, told Oxygen.com. “[I’m] happy to have closure [but] frustrated it took 42 years — I had already given up on it.”
Haymes said his family long-suspected Warren Matott’s in his mother’s disappearance and possible slaying, claiming domestic abuse was at the root of his mother’s death. The 63-year-old, who lives in the Salt Lake City area, said he was frustrated police didn’t look closer at Matott at the time his mother vanished.
“We kind of knew what happened anyway,” Haymes added. “We knew it was him that killed her and disposed of the body.”
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