PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) — It's a tragedy that has been never-ending for a Parkersburg family: a young mother, abducted and murdered more than 35 years ago. Her body was never recovered.
In an Eyewitness News iTeam exclusive, the man convicted of that murder details for the first time where he buried his former girlfriend's remains.
Does hope have an expiration date? After decades of yearning for the seemingly impossible to happen, does the fragile flame of hope finally wither to a spark and die?
"I cried a lot for many years," Mary Brown, mother of Leslie Marty, said.
For Brown, it's a very real question. In July 1983, her daughter was kidnapped from a Parkersburg apartment. She was never seen again.
"She was fun loving and she would help anybody with anything," Brown said. "Especially if someone was having a bad day, she would sit and talk with them until they were feeling better about themselves. She loved to help people."
Angela Kelly, Leslie's sister, described her as "spunky."
"She was the most beautiful girl I knew. I wanted to be just like her," Kelly said. "She was seven years older than me and my mom tells me stories about my sister telling me to 'go play in traffic,' so I guess I was the typical little sister. She was smart, funny and she loved her son so much."
In 1985, Leslie's ex-boyfriend, Mark Hanna, was convicted of kidnapping and was sentenced to life in prison with mercy. He was put on trial again, however, in 1998, this time for murder. The outcome was a conviction and life sentence with no chance of ever getting out.
For 35 years, Hanna has kept the secret of Leslie's final resting place to himself. Repeated attempts by investigators to question Hanna and locate her remains have failed.
But this spring brought a shocking development. Hanna's lawyer contacted Eyewitness News and said the inmate would reveal where he buried Leslie, but only in an interview with the iTeam.
"Well, we're here," Eyewitness News iTeam Lead Reporter Kennie Bass said. "We've been talking about this for several months. You reached out to us and wanted to talk with us about some things. I've got a lot of things I want to ask you, but the floor is yours to get started."
Hanna said the reason he approached Eyewitness News is because of its investigative work with the state Supreme Court.
"I've been trying to tell my story for 20 years," Hanna said.
But getting into the same room and sitting face to face with Hanna to hear what he had to say was no easy task.
Eyewitness News reached out to the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety asking to meet with Hanna, to see what he had to say in an effort to bring closure to Leslie's family. Following a series of emails, our request was turned down. The agency's Director Of Communications Lawrence Messina said, "No one sees any reason to depart from DOC's Inmate Media Access Policy." He went on to say that, "The Wood County Prosecuting Attorney's Office similarly sees nothing to justify an exception from DOC policy."
Despite getting no cooperation from DMAPS, we persevered. Several weeks later, Bass met with Gov. Jim Justice to explain the situation. After hearing about Hanna's offer, he agreed to overrule his cabinet secretary and make the interview happen.
"When you told me about this and the chance, just the chance maybe, maybe we could bring closure to a family it seemed like the right thing to do," Justice said.
Arrangements were made, and Hanna was brought to Charleston under heavy guard. We sat down in a Kanawha County Sheriff's Office suspect interview room to try and learn the secret Hanna has kept for three and a half decades.
"This was a lot different due to the fact that in this case, the convicted killer Mark Hanna, was willing to speak with you, the media, about where the location of the remains of Leslie Marty were at," Lt. Greg Nangle of the Parkersburg Police Department said. "I had not experienced that in my career."
Parkersburg Police Department Chief Joseph Martin said he was skeptical "because I was told before that every time there was a new transition within the prosecuting attorney's office this would happen. I wasn't expecting what he said, to be honest with you. And I recall the trip back to Parkersburg and I told Lieutenant Nangle I believe him, I believe what he said."
During our talk with Hanna, his attorney produced pictures of a private roadside park in Belpre, Ohio.
"Well, I have these photos here. OK, she's buried in Belpre, Ohio," Hanna said.
Hanna explained the exact route to Leslie's remains.
"If you're in downtown Belpre and the bridge going over and you're heading out of town, this is really on the outskirts of town as you're headed out towards Coolville, Ohio," Hanna said. "You go down this road. At that time, this was like a, they had a ball field in this general area. And you went down this road and this was farmland. This has changed up quite a bit over the years. But if you went down this road as far as you could go and then if you, like say you were in your car and you went down this road as far as you could go. And then if you went, as I estimate, probably 30 steps this direction here and that's where the body would be located."
We asked Hanna to mark the exact location with a pen on the map.
"There would have been a cornfield through here, this would have all been a cornfield," Hanna said. "This would be right at the edge and you would have to dig down probably, I estimate 7 or 8 feet."
Hanna said the edge as far as you could go is where the remains should be.
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, Eyewitness News will air the second part of this exclusive series. We travel to that private roadside park, where federal and local officers begin their efforts to look for Leslie's remains. We will show you that search and tell you about their unbelievable discovery.