Returning to scene of the crime, former KCK officer describes break in Sarah De Leon cold case

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A former Kansas City, Kan., police officer returned to the scene of a crime that's haunted him for nearly three decades – the train tracks where police found the body of a young woman named Sarah De Leon.

Sarah’s case has gone unsolved since 1989, but this week, Wyandotte County prosecutors charged the woman they believe is responsible.

Carolyn Heckert, 48, is now facing first degree murder charges in connection with Sarah’s case.

The same day those charges were announced, FOX 4 talked exclusively with Jeff Cheek, the former KCK cop who has worked tirelessly over the past three years to get justice for Sarah.

Cheek was just 19 years old when he joined the KCK police department back in 1989 – the same year Sarah was murdered.

“It just looked like pure evil met pure innocence,” Cheek recalled of the crime scene.

Sarah’s case was one of the first homicides Cheek ever responded to as a young cadet for KCKPD.

“My heart just sank,” he said. “My stomach sank. I remember thinking to myself, ‘My God, somebody is going to get a phone call here shortly that their daughter is not coming home.’”

Police said Sarah was stabbed to death and her body was dumped near some KCK train tracks near I-435 and Wolcott Drive just a few days after Christmas in 1989.

“This just was a little girl fresh out of high school,” Cheek said, “that it just made absolute zero sense, and the manner, the fashion, it just looked like pure evilness.”

It was evilness that has haunted Cheek long after he left the police department – motivating him to get involved when the case ran cold.

“I just remember thinking, ‘Surely to God there`s some new technology, there`s something, surely there`s something that could restart this.’”

Now a private investigator, Cheek began researching and calling experts – relentless in his fight to get the case a second look.

“All of this is about community involvement,” he said, “and allowing people in and new information, open up your mind to new information.”

Eventually, Cheek discovered there had been some advancements in DNA technology that could help track down Sarah’s killer.

Nearly three decades later, police have finally put Heckert behind bars for Sarah’s murder and given Sarah’s family some hope they'll soon see justice.

“It`s been a long time coming,” Cheek said, “and I felt a huge relief for them, that at least they`re starting to feel some closure.”

Cheek said Heckert has long been a suspect in Sarah’s murder, but said it wasn't until recently that prosecutors felt like they had enough evidence to file criminal charges.