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Mystery Solved: How Police Say the Sherry Leighty Case Came Together

Police and the prosecutor in the Sherry Leighty case explain what made them suspect Ken Leighty in Sherry Leighty's disappearance.
HUNTINGDON, HUNTINGDON COUNTY - It was a 13 year old mystery.  A case resurrected by family members and put to rest by police.  Sherry Leighty's sister Shelly Nagle said she suspected Ken Leighty all along in her sister's disappearance.  The investigating officer said it wasn't long before he had the same feeling. But a feeling wasn't enough for the district attorney to approve a warrant for a search of Ken Leighty's property.

"I was very skeptical because it was a hunch," Former District Attorney George Zanic said last year.

Even the investigator was doubting himself.

"Being 13 years, I thought no I'm never going to get anywhere with it," said Det. Matthew Starr.

Deserted by their own mother.  Starr said that's the story Sherry Leighty's children grew up believing.  

"That was their whole impression was their mom left them and ran away and wanted nothing to do with them," said Det. Starr said.

After one year as a detective, Starr said he was handed a one paragraph missing person report from 1999 and told to look into it. 

"After reading that report she voluntarily moved out of town with a boyfriend there were no signs of foul play.  I just figured she was in Maine," said Det. Starr.

Sherry's sister Shelly, who had already started a Facebook page to solicit information, led Starr to the boyfriend Sherry supposedly ran away with.  That man told Starr it never happened.   Starr then made phone calls to the Social Security office and Department of Welfare.  Nothing.  No one had any information on the young mother.

"Probably right about then, things started to click that this isn't right.  If there's no record of this girl whatsoever.  We started thinking some foul play may be involved," he said.
Then he met her father-in-law.  Ken Leighty.  One conversation with him told Det. Starr, Ken knew more.

"He knew very specific details about the last day he allegedly took her to work," he said.  "He said that day her hair was brushed very nicely and she was cleaned up, had fresh make-up on, was wearing nice clothes and was very descriptive for being 13 years old."

A later conversation Ken Leighty had with his son would leave even a veteran investigator floored.  Police recorded it with the permission of Ken's son.

"Mr. Leighty did admit he killed her, she was on the fence row on the property and it was an accident," said Det. Starr. 

Authorities knew it was a lot to ask of Ken's son.  To set up his father on little more than a hunch.

"That was very hard," Former District Attorney George Zanic said.  "I have goosebumps thinking about it when he's on the phone with his dad and his dad confessed."

So now Ken Leighty waits for sentencing on February 27th.  It gave finality to the mystery and a chance for her children, 3 teenagers now, to say goodbye to their mother.

"Finding her remains was probably the best thing we could've done," Det. Starr said.

Sherry Leighty's family said they do have things they want to say publicly but are awaiting Ken Leighty's sentencing.
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