The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office has ruled out two potential suspects in the murder of Leila Fowler, an 8-year-old girl who was stabbed in her Valley Springs home Saturday.
Investigators have also scrapped a suspect description provided by a woman who claimed she saw the killer, but then recanted her statements without explanation when asked Wednesday to help a sketch artist.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Chris Hewitt said Thursday that a man who was arrested on kidnapping and burglary charges in Placerville earlier this week is not linked to Leila’s murder.
They eliminated the man as a suspect after interviewing witnesses in Placerville. DNA collected from the Placerville Police Department will still be compared with DNA found at Leila’s home to “wrap up any uncertainties,” Hewitt said.
Detectives also investigated a tip about a bloody hitchhiker picked up in the area. They contacted the driver and hitchhiker, and determined the hitchhiker, who did have an injury, was not a suspect.
Hewitt said the Sheriff’s Office has no information leading detectives to believe any cases outside the area are related to the murder.
He said investigators believe the killer is in the area but reassured that residents are not in danger because of the heavy law enforcement presence.
“The public is safe,” he said, adding, “we do want people to be observant.”
The witness who investigators have deemed not credible had provided descriptions of the murder suspect on two separate occasions, Hewitt said. However, she saw the intruder running in the opposite direction from what Leila’s 12-year-old brother provided.
Leila’s brother was home when she was killed and saw the intruder, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
After recanting her statements and suspect description, the witness refused to provide a new description for the artist, Hewitt said. The sketch was not completed.
“Though this may seem like a setback in the investigation, it is actually a positive result in that it allows the investigators to narrow the scope of their investigation,” he said.
Hewitt said there is a third witness whose description is still being considered.
The Sheriff’s Office continued to provide the following description: a man about 6 feet tall, with shoulder-length gray hair and a muscular build. He was seen wearing a long-sleeved black shirt and blue pants. Hewitt added that the pants may have been painter’s pants with a hammer loop.
He said reviewing surveillance tapes in the area is part of the investigation.
The Sheriff’s Office is still receiving tips and assigning personnel to follow up on the leads.
The Sheriff’s Office has received more than 300 tips regarding the case and eliminating them when possible. Hewitt told the public Thursday that investigators are making progress.
The FBI has reviewed many aspects of the case and offered its resources, including sophisticated equipment for evidence collection, Hewitt said. Investigators are still searching Leila’s home for evidence.
Hewitt said investigators are also looking into whether there have been other calls for service or emergency calls from the Fowler residence.
Leila was pronounced dead at 1:01 p.m. Saturday at Mark Twain Medical Center. She died of shock and hemorrhage due to multiple stab wounds.
Leila’s 12-year-old brother called their parents, who were at a baseball game nearby, to tell them someone was inside the home on the 5600 block of Rippon Road, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The parents phoned 911 dispatchers about 12:15 p.m.
The boy briefly pursued the intruder, who then fled the home, the Sheriff’s Office said.
When the brother went to check on Leila, who had been in a different room, he found she had been stabbed.
Hewitt said Thursday that several knives recovered from the house are still being examined to determine if any of them were the weapon used to kill Leila.
The California Department of Justice is still processing DNA evidence and fingerprints found at the scene, Hewitt said.
The Union Democrat is now online in a Replica E-edition form and publishes Tuesday through Saturday. E-Edition or Print Plus subscribers have full access.
If you are not a current subscriber, subscribe today for immediate access. Circulation: 209-533-3614
Weekly Arts and entertainment guide for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties