The arrest of a Newburg man by a Phelps County sheriff’s deputy a year ago has helped solve a 15-year-old cold case involving a 73-year-old woman who was murdered in Florida.
The Okaloosa County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office Wednesday charged Harry Bernard Leach, 52, of Newburg, with one count of capital murder and one count of kidnapping in connection with the homicide of Pluma Bell Sanford in her Fort Walton Beach, Fla., residence on Aug. 15, 1997.
Sanford’s badly beaten body was discovered in the back bedroom of her home. Sanford, a hospital and church volunteer, had suffered blunt force trauma to her face and head, as well as broken ribs. The cause of death was ruled as asphyxia, secondary to ligature strangulation.
Leach was served a fugitive arrest warrant Wednesday for the charges by Phelps County Sheriff’s Department detectives. Investigator Brad Embry, of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, served the warrant, signed by Okaloosa Circuit Judge Jack Heflin.
Leach remains in the Phelps County Jail pending his extradition hearing or the posting of a $1 million bond.
Leach was previously arrested on Jan. 23, 2012, in Phelps County by a sheriff’s deputy because he was involved in a domestic assault involving a weapon. Leach was later placed on probation.
In October of 2012, a DNA sample was taken from him to comply with recent Missouri laws mandating DNA samples be submitted on everyone arrested for felonies.
All DNA samples obtained by law enforcement agencies are submitted and entered into the Combined DNA Indexing System (CODIS), a national database where DNA samples are compared to verify identities, identify individuals who may have committed other crimes and identify unknown remains, among many other uses.
On Nov. 16, 2012, after Leach’s DNA profile was entered into CODIS, the system notified Okaloosa County of a possible match. Investigators with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed the sample and were able to place Leach at the victim’s home as a repairman around the time of the murder.
Then on Dec. 11, 2012, detectives from Okaloosa County arrived in Phelps County to interview Leach and obtain a fresh DNA sample to present to the Okaloosa County crime lab for comparison.
Leach was incarcerated in the Phelps County Jail at that time for a probation violation.