More than a quarter century after Danette Elg’s mutilated body was found on a punctured waterbed in her bedroom, her family still declines to talk publicly about her and what happened.
The southeastern Idaho woman was a licensed private pilot who loved the outdoors, fishing and hang-gliding. At the time of her death, she had been the only female to graduate from the Idaho State Aeronautical School, according to her obituary.
Her convicted killer, Richard Leavitt, 53, is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection Tuesday, barring any last-minute court intervention.
In the days before the scheduled execution, Elg’s family kept their grief private. She was raised by her mother, Thelma, who died in 2006, and her stepfather, Richard Bross, who currently resides in Boise. Bross declined comment and other relatives didn’t return phones calls from the Associated Press.
Leavitt’s immediate family, including his parents and son, still reside in the small southeastern Idaho town of Blackfoot, where Elg was murdered.
Tim Leavitt, who at 31 is the same age as Elg at the time of her death, told the AP on Friday that he was just four years old when his father, who goes by “Rick,” was arrested. The son maintains that his father is innocent, though he has never read the case.
“I’m my dad’s kid. I know I’m not capable of murdering someone. There’s no way I could take someone’s life, so I don’t think there’s any way he could either,” said Tim Leavitt, who as a young adult was briefly incarcerated with his father.
On Sept. 25, 1985, a jury in Bingham County found Richard Leavitt guilty of attacking, sexually mutilating, and murdering Elg at her home. She had been stabbed 15 times with exceptional force on or about July 17 of the previous year, prosecutors said.
A day or so before her death, she called 911 to report a prowler had tried to enter her home and told police she suspected Leavitt, an acquaintance. When police arrived they found signs of attempted entry but nothing else.
There were four days between Elg’s murder and the discovery of her body and during that time, authorities said Leavitt was exceedingly interested in her whereabouts. He claimed Elg’s co-workers had called him after she didn’t show up at work, though authorities couldn’t confirm those phone calls.
Leavitt finally received permission to enter Elg’s home with police and the body was discovered. Leavitt’s blood was found in the bedroom, and he later claimed that he’d gotten a nosebleed when he was at Elg’s house several days before her death.
Additionally, prosecutors said, Leavitt received medical treatment for a serious cut to his finger on or about the same night Elg is believed to have died at her home and gave “shifting versions” of the story behind his injury, according to court documents.
Tim Leavitt was also imprisoned after pleading guilty to statutory rape, he said, and was incarcerated with his father at the Idaho State Maximum Security Institution south of Boise. The Idaho Department of Correction confirmed that both Leavitts were being held at the institution from February 2003 to April 2004.
In prison since the age of 19, Tim Leavitt said he had just turned 22 when he joined his father at the same facility. While incarcerated, they talked about how the execution day would eventually come, he said, and now it appears to have arrived.
“For me, it’s more of a relief,” he said. “I’m glad dad’s not going to be in prison anymore.”
But for many others, though, that day will bring justice, maybe some closure. Retired U.S. Attorney Tom Moss was Bingham County prosecutor in 1984 and said what Leavitt did to Elg is an image that has yet to escape him.
“It was the ugliest crime scene I’ve ever seen,” Moss said.