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Crime News Dateline

Family Searching for Answers After Woman Was Killed in Las Vegas After Her Wedding Was Called Off

Less than a year before her death, Theresa Insana's wedding was suddenly called off by her fiancé, who quickly moved on with a new love interest.

By Jill Sederstrom

It’s been nearly two decades since 26-year-old Theresa Insana was found dead in a Las Vegas culvert, not far from her home. 

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Her family is still desperate to find answers about who killed Theresa on the evening of Tuesday, October 26, 2004, then dumped her body in the culvert and slipped away.

What Happened to Theresa Insana?

The Niagara Falls, New York native believed she was living a dream when she moved to Las Vegas in 2000 with a friend after falling in love with the lively city.

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“She loved it,” her mom Ann Marie Insana told Oxygen True Crime's Dateline: Secrets Uncovered. “It was excitement.” 

Theresa got a job in the sales department of the Rio hotel, where she met boyfriend Jeff Fenton. The couple got engaged in 2002 after just three months of dating.

“She was just really excited to take that next step in her life,” her sister Maribeth would later tell Dateline, according to NBC News.

A photo of Theresa Insana, featured on Dateline: Secrets Uncovered 1127

They planned a wedding back in Theresa’s hometown of Niagara Falls but just five weeks before the 2004 nuptials, Fenton called off the marriage. 

“Theresa was so devastated,” her sister remembered. “Our hearts were just broken for her.” 

To add insult to injury, shortly after calling off the wedding, Fenton began dating another coworker at the Rio, Melissa Ball. 

By the fall of 2004, Theresa was doing her best to move on. She considered moving back to Niagara Falls but after getting a promotion at work, she decided to stay in Las Vegas despite the awkward situation at work with her ex-boyfriend and his new love.

“It absolutely changed the course of her life,” friend Grace Carducci told Dateline reporter Josh Mankiewicz. “I was really, really upset because I wanted her to come back home and I thought I was going to be the best thing for her.”

Tragically, it was a decision that may have cost her life. Just one month after receiving the promotion, on Tuesday, October 26, 2004, Theresa was killed. 

The day had seemed much like any other. Theresa stopped off to vote after leaving work and then returned home, where she spoke to her mother on the phone at about 6:30 p.m. 

“She says, ‘Mom, I’m tired and I’m going to have my macaroni and cheese and I’m going to rest and I’ll talk to you tomorrow,’” Ann Marie recalled. 

Just an hour later, at 7:30 p.m., her cousin Angela called, but the call went unanswered.   

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 “There wasn’t an explanation other than she’d already been attacked for why Angela’s phone calls were not being answered,” Las Vegas Metro Police Detective Marty Wildemann told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered

When she didn’t show up for work two days in a row, several of her concerned coworkers, including Fenton, went to her house to check on her. They found her beloved dog, cell phone, and purse inside the home but no sign of Theresa, whose car was still parked in the garage. 

Police would also uncover a blood smear on the back bumper of the car and two more spots of blood in a hallway bathroom, where a missing towel rod suggested Theresa may have fought back against her attacker. 

While the blood on the back bumper and in the trunk of the car matched to Theresa, the blood spots in the bathroom were from an unknown male. 

Detectives believe whoever attacked Theresa had killed her and then placed her body into the trunk of her own car. After dumping the body, they believe the killer returned the car to the garage. 

Theresa’s attacker had also methodically cleaned up the crime scene, even leaving out paper towels, trash bags, and bottles of cleaner on the kitchen counter. 

“You obviously had thorough knowledge of what she was doing, who was living there, and then the fact that you’d be safe to come back,” Wildemann said of the killer. 

Nearly a week after she disappeared, Theresa’s body was discovered wrapped in towels and blankets three and a half miles from her home in a culvert near a golf course. 

The rocky terrain to get to the culvert led the investigators to believe it was possible that more than one person had disposed of the body, leaving it in standing water inside the culvert. 

An autopsy would later determine that Theresa died from strangulation and blunt force trauma, according to NBC News. The medical examiner also believed Theresa may have been sexually assaulted, although it wasn’t possible to know for sure.

Detectives looked at those closest to Theresa, including Fenton and Ball. They learned that just two weeks before the murder, Fenton had stayed at Theresa’s house and watched her dog while she was working an overnight shift.

The day she died, she also confided in a friend that she had gotten into a fight with Fenton.

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Investigators were also struck by Fenton’s seemingly emotionless response to her death. 

However, Fenton and Ball insisted they had nothing to do with her death.

“There is no way in hell he would hurt that woman,” Ball told investigators during an interrogation.

Both Fenton and Ball also had an alibi: They had been at a car dealership buying a car at the time she disappeared. 

A few months later, Fenton and Ball both agreed to take a lie detector test, which showed deception when asked whether they had caused Theresa’s death and whether they knew she was dead before her body was found. Before the test was over, Ball, who was pregnant with Fenton’s child, ran out of the room in tears, something that struck investigators as unusual. 

Lie detector tests, however, are not admissible in court and there was nothing definitive to tie the couple to the crimes.

Fenton’s DNA also did not match the blood drops found in her bathroom or on a camisole she had been wearing at the time of her death.

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As the years since her death have passed, there’s been advances to genetic genealogy which have helped narrow down her killer. 

In 2017, authorities got a report from Parabon, a lab specializing in DNA phenotyping, that concluded that she had been killed by someone of Filipino descent, according to NBC News. Using the phenotyping data, they were also able to create a sketch of what her killer might look like. 

“That’s been our most active lead,” cold case detective Ken Hefner said.

So far, however, authorities have been unable to match the sketch to a possible suspect. Asians are historically underrepresented in genealogical databases, making it more difficult to track down potential relatives of the suspected killer. 

In the years since her death, Theresa’s dad, Joe Insana, died without ever knowing any answers about who killed his daughter. 

Her surviving family remains hopeful that some day the mystery of who took her life will finally be solved. 

“It has been a very long 19 years we’ve been waiting,” Maribeth said earlier this year. “We’re not gonna stop.” 

Anyone with information about the crime is urged to contact the Las Vegas Metro Police Department or 702-828-3521 or reach out directly to the cold case unit at 702-828-8973 or coldcasehomicide@lvmpd.com.