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Alyssa Bustamante and the Murder of Elizabeth Olten

Alyssa Bustamante and the Murder of Elizabeth Olten
Murder victim Elizabeth Olten.
45 minutes: That's how long Elizabeth Olten was missing before her mother called the police.
That's how long it took Alyssa Bustamante, 15, allegedly to kill her first murder victim, her neighbor Olten.

The most shocking thing of all? Alyssa Bustamante's youth was trumped by her victim's: Elizabeth Olten was only 9.

According to friends, family and neighbors, Olten was all sweetness and light, a little girl made of sugar and spice and everything nice, who loved cats, the color pink, and was a real girly girl.

Alyssa Bustamante
Alyssa Bustamante
She had long medium-brown hair, wide-set eyes, and was described a shy girl who "was afraid of the dark and would not normally have gone into the woods," according to the AP, making her disappearance more ominous.

Peggy Florence spoke on behalf of the family: "She was somebody special. They call her a girlie girl. She would be outside in the snow or in the mud in her frilly little dress."Looking at photos from Bustamante's now-defunct Facebook page, one sees a girl hardened beyond her years; pale blue eyes rimmed with heavy black eyeliner, straightened bangs hanging in her eyes and a defiant pout, chin stuck out at the camera. Even in two dimensions, she had attitude and charisma to burn. Like many troubled teens, she was labeled a Goth. In an alternate life, she might have been a star; in this one, she may be one of the most shocking teenage murderers, yet.

She's Just a Small Town Girl

The two neighboring communities from which the girls came in Missouri, St. Martins and Jefferson City, epitomize small-town America. St. Martins, where Olten lived, has just over one thousand people. Everyone knows each other. So when Olten failed to make it home on Wednesday, October 21, from a friend's house just a quarter-mile away, there was cause for alarm.

The search began almost immediately. Though there was a two-lane highway that ran the stretch from the friend that Olten had been visiting to her own house, she had oddly taken a shortcut through the woods, curving around and behind neighboring lawns and backyards. By the time the search started, with the aid of hundreds of volunteers, it was dark and cold, and the weather had turnedit started pouringsearching the woodsy terrain turned into a difficult process. Dave Wininger, a volunteer firefighter who joined in the search for Olten, was quoted by the Associated Press as describing the search area as "brushy" and "hilly." "There's a lot of rocks, trees, and brush piles. It's a very rough place to be," he said.

The searchers included dogs, firefighters, police, helicopters, FBI, and highway patrol. They went over and over the area, but were unsuccessful. Olten's cell phone initially gave them a hint, but by Thursday morning, the battery had died.

A Hint, a Suspect

Until this point, the scenario that the community and the police had feared was that an older male predator had snatched up the girl as she walked home alone through the woods. No one suspected that it was a member of the community, much less a teenage girl. But details began to emerge and rumors quickly spread.A teenager was described as a person of interest. The police had gathered some evidence, writings that led to the teenager. Bustamante didn't show up for school the day after the murderher first and only unexcused absence.

Shockingly, the teenager then led the police to the body. It had been in the very woods they had been searching.

"We had been in that area actually more than once. The body was very well concealed," Cole County Sheriff Greg White told the press.

Juvie or Adult — Male or Female?

For a while, there was public uncertainty as to the gender of the person-of-interest.

Because the town was so small, Cole County Sheriff Greg White declined to give more specifics until it was decided how Bustamante was going to be tried.

"I know that it would be cathartic for the public to know exactly what happened, but the difficulty with that is, we have to maintain a prosecutable case," White was quoted in an AP report. "We're not going to contaminate jury pools or anything else."

Because she was a juvenile, there was a question whether or not she'd be tried as an adult, possible under state law which could then make her eligible for the death penalty. But Missouri has an unusual two-pronged system for dealing with young offenders, one that mirrors Canada's.

Missouri is one of 22 states using a "dual jurisdiction" system. If a suspect is found guilty, then the offender can be held until age 21, when a new hearing is held, and it is determined whether the offender has been rehabilitated or should serve the rest of the sentence.

It was ultimately decided that Bustamante would be tried as an adult. Her defense attorney Kurt Valentine expressed disappointment with the decision, saying, "We are throwing away the child and we are signing a death sentence for Alyssa. She is not going to survive her time in the Cole County jail."

As details of the murder came out, though, it became clear this was not child's play-gone-wrong.

A Dark and Troubled Mind Revealed

Bustamante had reveled in her bad girl image. Her Facebook page bore images of her with red smeared lipstick, designed to look ominously bloody paired with black kabuki-style makeup over her eyes. She gritted her teeth, and made faces when she wasn't pouting like a sexpot. She was known around town as a bit of a bully.

Like many teens, she was deeply involved with social media and had pages on Myspace, Twitter, and Facebook.

She had a YouTube account under the name OkamiKage (Japanese for "WolfShadow") and filled out her profile. Under her hobbies, she listed "killing people, cutting."

She had been treated for severe depression and had tried to commit suicide. Her Twitter account stated that she was "somewhere I don't want to be." On the photo of her with smeared lipstick, she is pointing a finger at her head like a gun; many little red cuts are visible on her inner wrist.

A Tweet a few weeks before the murder read: "This is all I want in life; a reason for all this pain."

Her YouTube account featured several videos of her and her brothers, mostly just engaging in horseplay or mimicking Jackass stunts, but one in particular was disturbing, Idiots Getting Electrocuted by Elecrtric Fence. In it, Bustamante and her two younger brothers are standing in front of an electric fence. She gives the camera a grin and grabs the fence as she grimaces. Well aware of the pain it causes, she nonetheless convinces her younger twin brothers, 9, do the same. The screen reads: "this is where it gets goodthis is where we see my brothers get hurt."

They dutifully follow, ending on the floor, half laughing, half-shuddering.

The Murder and Confession

When Elizabeth Olten left to go home, she'd been playing with Alyssa Bustamante's half-sister, who lived a few doors down. The six-year old and the nine-year old pals hung out, and then, when Olten started her journey home, she was allegedly diverted by Bustamante who called Olten on her cell phone, and redirected her back to Bustamante's house.

Allegedly, Bustamante had then led Olten into the woods. Olten, who was afraid of the dark, would have trusted the older teenthey played together and were friends. But, Olten couldn't have anticipated that she would be brutally killedslashed on the neck and arms and then fatally stabbed.

The young girl's body was found in a grave; Bustamante admitted to digging two graves a week before the murders, giving rise to speculation that her twin brothers were the original intended victims. But a detail from the press conference gave people further pause. When Cole Country prosecutor Mark Richardson was asked why there were two graves, and whether one or both graves had been used for Elizabeth, he said only: "No, I can't tell you that right now."

The autopsy revealed that Olten had been strangled, her throat and wrists had been slashed and she'd been stabbed.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. David Rice said that Bustamante's motive was simple and terrifying. "Ultimately," Rice told the AP, "she stated she wanted to know what it felt like."

After the murder, a friend of Bustamante's came forward, saying that Bustamante had told her that she wanted to know what committing a murder would be like.

Jennifer Meyer went on KMOV in St. Louis: "I was at her party, and she kind of just took me off to the side randomly and she's like, 'You know, I wonder what it would be like to kill somebody,' because I guess she was mad at one of her friends there, but it just seemed kind of strange," Meyer said. "But you wouldn't logically think one of your friends would kill somebody."

Teen Girl Murderers

Distressingly, there have been other teenage girl murderers, and if Alyssa Bustamante is convicted, she will join the ranks of other infamous female murderesses.

Diana Zamora killed a romantic arch-nemesis, Adrienne Jones in 1995, at the age of 17.

In Australia in 2006, the 16-year-old "Collie Killers," tried murder just for fun, strangling and suffocating their victim.

One of the earliest known teenage female killers, wasn't even a teenager. Mary Bell strangled a three-year old boy and a four-year old boy just for kicks in 1968 at the tender age of 11.

In 1979, Brenda Spencer, 16, bored of Mondays at school, loaded the semiautomatic rifle her father had given her and blazed away, killing two adults and injuring eight children and a cop.

Still, a female offender as young as Bustamante is rare enough that, had it been ruled that she would be tried as a minor, authorities wouldn't have had the right facilities to handle a convicted violent female underage criminal. She would have likely been put in solitary confinement.

All in the Family

Bustamante may never have had a fighting chance to make anything of herself. Bustamante was born to a teenage mother. Her mother had committed some petty crimes involving drug possession, and had been arrested for driving while intoxicated. Her father was in jail, serving a 10-year sentence for assault.

Bustamante had been living under the watchful eye of a guardian since she was seven. She was part of a religious household and had a reputation as a good student, but her psychological difficulties seemingly became too hard overcome.

The Aftermath

Her internal pain continued in the days following the murder. Once it was determined that Bustamante was to be tried as an adult, she became distraught and was moved to Hawthorn Children's Psychiatric Hospital for evaluation. She had tried to cut herself and expressed suicidal thoughts. Her nails were cut because she'd tried using them to cut herself. Later, she was ordered by the judge to Fulton State Hospital for evaluation.

Here state-appointed lawyer also introduced a motion to move the trial. He cited comments on news articles as well as blogs, Facebook, and Myspace, purporting to come from townspeople, most of whom excoriated Bustamante. In the online world, Alyssa Bustamante was already convicted and hanged.

People wrote things like: "What is a shame is that the Murderer did not die when she tried commit suiside when she tried to in 2007."

And: "From what I've heard this girl has had mental problems for some time and has seen counselors or someone in the past."

And: "Either deport her or send her to the gas chamber. One less sicko wasting our tax dollars."

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Olten got the funeral she deservedthat of a princess. A horse-drawn carriage took her casket to the cemetery, where her friends and family wore her favorite color: pink.

Entering a Plea

On December 8, 2009, Alyssa Bustamante walked in shackles and handcuffs into the Jefferson City courtroom wearing a lime green prison jumpsuit. Her brown hair hung in her eyes. Her chin still jutted, but her defiance had been muted by the events of the previous months.
The circus had come to town: reporters were allowed inside.

Even with a confession, Bustamante entered a not guilty plea.

More than two years later, on January 10, 2012, Alyssa Bustamante pleaded guilty to second degree murder and armed criminal action. Her first-degree murder trial was scheduled to start later in the month; if convicted, she faced life without parole. Now, having entered a guilty plea, she stood a chance of being released. The punishment for murder in the second degree can be life with the possibility of parole, or 10-30 years. The sentence for armed criminal action is three years to life.

After she pleaded guilty, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce had Alyssa describe her actions on Oct. 21, 2009.

"I strangled her and stabbed her in the chest," Alyssa said. When asked if she also cut Elizabeth Olten's throat, she responded, "Yes."

According to her attorney Charlie Moreland, Alyssa decided to plead guilty because "she wanted to take responsibility for it."

On February 8, Alyssa Bustamante was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. During a sentencing hearing, forensic consultant Don Locke read aloud to the court a page from Bustamante's diary, dated the day of the Elizabeth Olten's murder. The entry had been scratched out, but Locke was able to recover it. It read,

"I just f*cking killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throats and stabbed them. Now they're dead. I don't know how to feel ATM. It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the 'Oh My Gawd. I can't do this' feeling it's pretty enjoyable. I'm kinda nervous and shaking though right now. Kay, I got to go to church now LOL."
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