Remembering Kent Heitholt and a cat named Margot

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:20 p.m. CST, Friday, November 8, 2013

COLUMBIA — Kent Heitholt used to carry a bag of kibble in the back of his car for Margot. After finishing work for the day at the Columbia Daily Tribune, Kent would leave a little pile of it on the ground for the stray gray cat.

Of course, Kent never knew her as Margot. She didn't get that name until after Kent was gone, found dead close to the last meal he would ever leave her.

Nina Johnson, a librarian at the Missourian who worked at the Tribune before Kent's murder, learned about the cat shortly after Kent was killed. She was involved with a local animal rescue organization, Second Chance, and had once been Kent's colleague at the Tribune.

Nina heard that Deborah Heitholt, Kent's widow, was going down to the parking lot where her husband died and feeding the cat he had often talked about.

It didn't seem right to Nina. She told Second Chance about it, and people there said they would pay to trap the cat, spay it and give it to Kent's family.

One night in January 2002, a couple of months after Kent's death, Nina went to the Tribune building to try and get the cat.

Using a bit of food as bait, she lured the cat and took it home.

A few days later, a couple of Kent's colleagues at the Tribune came by Nina's house to confirm that she had captured the right cat. She had.

Nina took the cat to the vet and found out it had been spayed already. It must have had a home once.

Once the stray had been checked out, Second Chance contacted Deborah to ask if she and her two children wanted it.

"She told me later that she was really torn, because for them it was a reminder," Nina said. "They also felt connected to the cat and wanted to give it a home."

The Heitholts decided to take the cat. Kent's daughter, Kali, named her Margot, after a character in the film "The Royal Tenenbaums."

Another thing Deborah said around that time has stuck with Nina ever since, through all the years of grief and legal developments in the case.

"If only this cat could talk," Nina remembers Deborah saying, "because this cat probably saw the murder happen."

Deborah went on to give a big donation to Second Chance, more than covering the costs of Margot's medical care.

Efforts to reach the Heitholts Tuesday were unsuccessful; they have since left the Columbia area and the scene of the crime that took so much away from them.  

But given the life expectancy of cats, it's possible that Margot lived for many years with her new family, or even that she's still alive, roaming the house of someone who loved the man who used to feed her each night after work.

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Landon Woodroof November 8, 2013 | 12:07 p.m.

This is Landon Woodroof, the reporter on this story. I was honored to see in my inbox last night an e-mail from Kent Heitholt's widow, Deborah. With her kind permission I'm posting it here so readers can know more about what happened to Margot and the special role she played in Kent's family:

"Thank you for your sweet article about Margot and Kent. With all the horror and sadness surrounding my husband's death, Margot and Kent's mother finding each other was a blessing. Because we had two cats, she went to live with Kent's parents. She was much loved, and she especially loved Kent's mother, who just called her "Kitty". After going to her new home, she never wanted to go outside again. She stayed with my in-laws until her death a few years ago. Just wanted to let you know.

Thanks again,

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