Okaloosa County Murder Mystery Solved, 4th Cold Case Cracked in Year

By: Bryan Anderson Email
By: Bryan Anderson Email

Fort Walton Beach Beach resident Pluma Bell Sanford was your picture perfect senior citizen, kind-hearted and even volunteered at the hospital. Her untimely death in 1997 sent shockwaves through the Okaloosa County community.

"Just heart-wrenching to see this woman who had given so much was left in her home and attacked, brutally attacked," said Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley.

"It really got to me as an investigator that somebody would be so brutal and so callous."

But they weren't going to give up.

"We worked hard to try and solve that. We interviewed literally hundreds of people, and tracked evidence, and collected evidence. We filled an entire office with evidence," Ashley said.

Their break in the case finally came just three months ago. That's when Missouri authorities arrested a man for aggravated battery and ran his DNA through a nationwide database.

"Over the years, the CODIS (Combined DNA Index) system, basically it tracks DNA. We got a CODIS hit on an individual," Sheriff Ashley said.

That individual is Missouri native Harry Leach, 37 years old. He was still in jail Wednesday when authorities served him with a warrant for capital murder and kidnapping in the Sanford case. Investigators were able to determine Leach posed as a repairman and was in Sanford's home around the time she was murdered.

The next step for local authorities is to arrange Leach's extradition from Phelps County Jail in Missouri to Okaloosa County. Sanford's murder was the fourth cold case Okaloosa County Sheriff's investigators said they recently solved.


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