‘I wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.’
With her wavy brown hair, angelic smile, and obsession with anything pink, everyone in the small town of Jefferson City, Missouri, knew 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten. She was a sweet, gentle kid, happy to hang out with anyone. Including 15-year-old Alyssa Bustamante and her half-sister, 6, who lived a few doors down.
Those girls couldn’t have been more different to Elizabeth. Alyssa was a teenage goth – all dark clothes and smudged eyeliner. Their father was in jail, their mother had a history of problems. So their gran looked after them.
But they’d been raised well and Elizabeth’s mother, Patty, had no qualms about letting her daughter pop round their house to play.
But on 21 October 2009, Elizabeth skipped the hundred metres down the road but never came home.
Before long, the town swarmed with police, sniffer dogs and helicopters. The next day, Elizabeth’s cold, wet body was finally found. Half-covered by leaves in a shallow grave, in woods behind her house.
She’d been strangled, blood seeped from knife slashes across her neck, wrists and chest. Gruesome.
Days later, police arrested ‘someone of interest’. The following month they revealed who. Alyssa Bustamante. Everyone reeled in shock, repulsion and disgust. People tried to make sense of it.
Alyssa had a history of mental illness. In 2007 she’d suffered a nervous breakdown, and attempted suicide. Been on Prozac ever since.
In January 2012, Alyssa, now 18, appeared in Cole County Court. She’d gone to the police station the day after the murder and led officers to the body. She’d dug a grave in the woods a week before the killing. She’d dug another one too, in case the first wasn’t big enough.
Her Facebook page had endless photos of her posing with fake blood and her hands pointing like a gun. She’d made a page on YouTube boasting her hobbies were killing people and cutting. Alyssa was obsessed with murder.
She knew Elizabeth trusted her, so she could lure her into the dark woods on her way home. She knew she was too small to fight back.
But she knew that the trail would lead to her eventually. Her DNA on the body, the fact she was the last person to see Elizabeth alive.
‘I just wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone,’ she shrugged.
She still pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and admitted second-degree murder instead. And the clinching detail – a diary entry she wrote hours after Elizabeth went missing, saying how good it felt to kill someone.
Despite being only 15 at the time of the murder, the severity of the crime meant she was tried as an adult, and was convicted of second-degree murder.
She was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole, and ordered to serve a consecutive 30-year term for armed criminal action.
As the verdict was read out, the teen killer apologised to Elizabeth’s family. Far too little, far too late.
By Rachel Tompkins