Alyssa Bustamante was a troubled child from the start. Her grandparents gained custody of her and her three younger siblings at the age of eight in 2002, after her mother, Michelle’s, ongoing struggle with drug addiction and her father, Ceaser, serving time in prison. In 2007, Alyssa tried to commit suicide and was hospitalized, later being put on heavy anti-depressants. She was very prone to self-harm, listing “cutting” as a hobby on her YouTube profile. But it was soon after this hospitalization, her friends began to notice a change in her. 

Alyssa’s younger sister, Emma, 6, had made friends with the neighbor, a 9-year-old named Elizabeth Olten. Elizabeth lived a mere four houses down the road in St. Martins, Missouri. On the evening of October 21st, 2009, Elizabeth begged her mother, Patty, to go out and play with Emma, who had come knocking on the door to play outside. After much pleading, her mother said she could go out for an hour, be home by 6, before it got dark. Elizabeth was scared of the dark; besides dinner would have been ready soon, so she wasn’t to stay out very long. 

That hour came and passed. But Elizabeth never came back home. 

Elizabeth Olten (CNN)

Her family contacted police and the search for Elizabeth began. By 10 o’clock that night, hundreds of people were looking for her in the area surrounding Patty and the neighbors’ houses. Yet, the area held no sign that Elizabeth was ever even there. When she left, Elizabeth had Patty’s cellphone, but constant calls only lead to voicemail. It seemed as though Elizabeth had just vanished off the Earth without a trace. The police were able to ping the phone, find the approximate location using signals from the nearest cell tower, locating it to a thick, heavily wooded area close to her house. The area was large and would need a lot of assistance to search it. 

By Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Elizabeth disappeared, the police had planes and helicopters in the air searching, dog teams, and dive teams to search nearby ponds and rivers. Then, they turned their attention to the last person who had seen her, the neighbor who had asked her to go out and play, Emma. When interviewed by the FBI, Emma told them that they had played for that hour, then Elizabeth left to go home, but that was the last she saw of her. 

But it soon came to light that all of the neighborhood children were accounted for at the time Elizabeth disappeared, except Emma’s 15-year-old half-sister, Alyssa. 

Alyssa told authorities that she had skipped school that day, but knew nothing about the whereabouts of Elizabeth. During this initial questioning, Alyssa was calm and cooperative, leading to her not becoming suspect, to begin with. However, behind the Bustamante home, volunteer searchers found what looked like a grave and forensic and investigative teams were sent to search that area. After interviewing Alyssa, she was brought to the scene, where she claimed that she had dug that hole. She said she just liked digging holes and would bury the bodies of dead animals she found. But Elizabeth wasn’t in this shallow potential grave. During this time, Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. David Rice was becoming increasingly suspicious of Alyssa. 

The FBI was granted consent to search the Bustamante home, sending one of their evidence officers to search Alyssa’s room. There, the officer would find a goosebumps-inducing sight. Alyssa’s bedroom walls were covered in writings, some in pen, but many in blood. She even had poems written about her self-proclaimed favorite hobby, cutting. On her walls, she also had letters from her father in prison taped on the wall. But the most compelling thing in that room was a journal, Alyssa’s diary. 

The diary had many disturbing references to things like burning down a house and killing the people inside it. But one thing that jumped out to them was a scribbled out journal entry from October 21st, the night Elizabeth disappeared. The only readable part was “Now I’ve got to go to church lol.” Using back lighting, after taking the diary as evidence, two words could be made out, “slit” and “throat”. 

Alyssa’s diary entry from the day Elizabeth disappeared (True Crime Daily)

The police bring Alyssa in for questioning once more, however this time, they use the silence tactic to make her nervous. Right as she begins to get visibly anxious, they tell her that they read through her diary, finding the scribbled out entry. Then she cracks. She tells Sgt. Rice that Elizabeth’s death had been an accident, that she had fallen and hit her head, suddenly dying. Alyssa was told that an autopsy on her body would be done once it’s found and that it would show every injury. Sgt. Rice asks if Elizabeth’s throat was cut, making reference to the two words found in the scribbled out entry. Alyssa’s grandmother breaks down crying when Alyssa says yes. Alyssa confesses to everything. 

Alyssa had sent Emma to the house to get Elizabeth, then sending her back home, taking Elizabeth by the hand into the woods. Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, Alyssa was armed with a kitchen knife. She took Elizabeth a quarter mile into the woods, a mere 15 minute walk. Alyssa told her that she had something there she wanted to show her. She led her to a pre-dug grave. Elizabeth was strangled multiple times, was stabbed at least 6 times, and had her throat slit. 

After this confession, Alyssa agreed to bring authorities to the site where she buried Elizabeth’s body. The body wasn’t well buried, body parts covered in mud sticking up out of the ground. The autopsy corroborated Alyssa’s telling of the events of that night. Using a blue-light, investigators were able to uncover what Alyssa had written after killing Elizabeth. 

“I just f**king killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them… it was ahmazing… it’s pretty enjoyable… I gotta go to church now… lol.” — Oct. 21, 2009, Alyssa’s diary. 

The murder of Elizabeth had been premeditated. The grave was dug at least five days in advance of the killing. Alyssa had sent Emma to the house with the express purpose of luring her to her eventual death. But why had she done it? Just to experience the feeling of killing someone. Alyssa had no motivation other than just wanting the thrill of watching someone die by her hands.

On November 17, 2009, Alyssa pleaded not guilty and was indicted on first-degree murder and armed criminal action. In January 2012, Alyssa took a plea deal, lesser charges of second-degree murder and armed criminal action, a life sentence, with the possibility of conditional release. After Alyssa’s conviction, Patty Preiss, Elizabeth’s mother, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Alyssa’s grandparents and siblings and was awarded $400,000. Patty also sued Alyssa to insure she made no profit off of her crime, in terms of books or movies. 

Citations: 

“Alyssa Bustamante.” Crime+Investigation UK, June 29, 2020. https://www.crimeandinvestigation.co.uk/shows/kids-who-kill-evil-up-close/articles/alyssa-bustamante.

McCarty, Melissa. “Diary of a ‘Thrill-Kill’: Missouri Teen Alyssa Bustamante Murders Neighbor Girl, Records Event in Journal.” crimewatch, March 20, 2017. https://truecrimedaily.com/2017/03/20/diary-of-a-thrill-kill-missouri-teen-alyssa-bustamante-murders-neighbor-girl-records-event-in-journal/.

“Murder of Elizabeth Olten.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, August 25, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Elizabeth_Olten.

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