The investigation into the slaying of former Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt led police to a car once owned by one of the suspects.
Hours after they arrested Charles Erickson and Ryan Ferguson on March 10, police say they searched a blue 1993 Mercedes-Benz. They found a tire tool in the trunk and trace evidence in both the back and front seats, according to police records. Police also said they recovered vehicle-registration papers in the name of Ferguson’s father, William Ferguson, and an empty package of Marlboro cigarettes.
Heitholt was found dead in the Tribune parking lot in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2001, by co-workers. He had been beaten and strangled. Erickson and Ferguson were arrested more than two years later after police followed up on an anonymous tip.
Police said that Erickson told investigators after his arrest that he struck Heitholt with a tire tool. Police say Ferguson then strangled Heitholt with a belt. Both men, now 19, were 17-year-old students at Rock Bridge High School at the time.
Capt. Mike Martin, investigative commander for the Columbia Police Department, said the tire tool found in Ferguson’s car was not used in the attack on Heitholt. He declined to comment on other evidence found during the search.
According to a police affidavit, Erickson told police the tire tool came from Ferguson’s vehicle and that Ferguson took the tool with him after the crime was committed. Ferguson told police that in September 2003 he sold the Mercedes-Benz to a man he knew only as “Cobra” who was an employee at Sophia’s restaurant, 3915 S. Providence Road.
Detectives went to the restaurant and questioned Cory Gibson, who told police he bought the car from Ferguson, a former Sophia’s employee, for $500, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit says the car, which is impounded in the parking garage of the Columbia Police Department, is owned by Ferguson and his father. Gibson told police he had yet to transfer the title to his name with the Missouri Department of Revenue.
Erickson has been charged with second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. Ferguson has been charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery. Neither man has entered a plea. They are scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing on Friday.