Salt Lake City Police Department, Millard County Sheriff’s Office close missing person case from 1979

Sandra Matott went missing on July 18, 1979, and over four decades later, investigators have been able to bring closure to her family.

(Salt Lake City Police Department) An undated photo of Sandra Matott.

The Salt Lake City Police Department has closed a missing person case from 1979, the oldest missing persons cold case closed in the department’s history.

According to a news release from the department, the missing person’s investigation was opened on July 18, 1979, after Sandra Matott was reported missing by her husband, Warren Matott, who stated she was last seen at a bar eight days earlier in Salt Lake City. At the time, a detective attempted to reach Warren “but was unsuccessful.”

A few months later on August 19, 1979, the Millard County Sheriff’s Office located human skeletal remains found by a hunting party near the I-15 Cove Fort exit, near a road called “Old 91,” the release states. Jewelry was located at the scene and due to the “suspicious circumstances,” the Millard County Sheriff’s Office opened a homicide investigation.

“Between 1979 and 2012, the sheriff’s office, at that time they worked the case,” said Sgt. Pat Bennett with the Millard County Sheriff’s Office. “The remains that were found were almost all skeletal, and there was no obvious sign of cause of death based on the skeletal remains. So they sent out bulletins, they reached out, they even had a sketch done based on the skull, trying to identify this woman and kind of what happened.”

In 1984, serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing Sandra Matott, according to the release. The sheriff at the time and the lead investigator met with Lucas, Bennett said, and they said Lucas was able to provide enough details that “they felt he was responsible for it as well.”

According to the news release, Lucas’ “claims were vague, and detectives could not verify his confession,” and media reports indicate that “Lucas confessed, and later recanted, to hundreds of murders.”

Then in early 2013, an SLCPD homicide detective was reassigned to the case.

While the investigation continued through the summer of 2013, Sandra’s family reported they believed Warren Matott — Sandra’s husband, who died on October 11, 1999, in California — “was likely responsible for her disappearance and death.”

In February 2019, Sandra was entered as a “Cold Case Missing Person” into Utah’s “Cold Case Database” and her case information was later entered into a “federal database that assists law enforcement in identifying, locating, apprehending, and prosecuting people responsible for violent crimes.”

Bennett first got involved with the case in 2019, after joining the Millard County Sheriff’s office in 2011. He read through the case file on the remains and started to search NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a “national information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases across the United States,” according to its website.

Bennett found Sandra Matott in the database, who was described as wearing a specific watch and ring, which Bennett remembered from the jewelry that was found with the unidentified remains.

“So I came back and started digging into it more, and I reached out to the Salt Lake Police Department and told them, ‘Hey, I’ve got a possible match for your missing persons.’” Bennett said. “So we started coordinating on trying to get DNA done.”

The Millard County Sheriff’s Office contacted SLCPD in November 2019, and Utah’s Forensic Anthropologist completed a report in December of that year allowing the bones to be submitted to the University of North Texas’ Human Identification Center in October 2020.

On August 10, 2021, the Millard County Sheriff’s Office received confirmation the remains located in 1979 belonged to Sandra Matott, and they, along with the Salt Lake City Police Department, informed Sandra’s family members on Aug. 13 her body had been found.

“For the most part, most of us gave up,” said Darrell Haymes, Sandra Matott’s son. “We figured that we would never reach closure on it... Then when we got a call last week saying that they wanted a meeting, we knew something was up.”

Now, Haymes said the family plans to have their mother cremated and with her ashes made into jewelry for his three younger sisters in her honor, along with updating a marker placed on Sandra’s mother’s grave with her year of death.

“We are happy the case is now closed because it brings us some answers,” Haymes said in the release. “As a family, we are happy about this development, but also sad it took this long. Forty-two years is a long time. We are happy that the investigators never closed the case and continued to work on it so we could reach this point.”

Although the Utah Medical Examiner’s Office was unable to determine Sandra’s cause of death, detectives from SLCPD and the Millard County Sheriff’s Office “believe Warren Matott likely had more information about the disappearance and death of Sandra Matott,” although there was “never any probable cause to charge Warren Matott in connection to this case.”

“I’d just like to say that this case has been very rewarding, and very eye-opening as to resources that are out there such as NamUs,” Bennett said. “Without the resources provided through NamUs, this would not have happened at all. So I’m very, very grateful to have been able to be a part of it.”