Photo: Leesa Jo Shaner
Note: This is an encore post from 2011. Paula Zahn’s new piece on the case has renewed interest in the killing. William Floyd Zamastil was convicted in 2011 in the killing.
An attempt to resolve one of the nation’s most baffling unsolved crimes is quietly unfolding in federal court in Tucson: The mystery of Leesa Jo Shaner, who vanished May 29, 1973, on her way to the local airport, where she had gone to pick up her husband, Gary, a newly discharged serviceman returning from Okinawa.
Shaner’s father, James Miller, was an FBI agent in Tucson and the bureau quickly took over jurisdiction from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. But despite years of investigation, little progress has been made since her remains were found Sept. 16, 1973, buried on the grounds of Ft. Huachuca, Ariz., a remote military base more than an hour’s drive from the airport, through miles and miles of unoccupied desert.
There have been several tentative suspects in the case. The latest is William Floyd Zamastil, 59, who had been serving a life sentence in Wisconsin in the 1978 abduction and killing of Mary Johnson.
In 2004, Zamastil pleaded guilty in San Bernardino County court in the 1978 killings of Malcolm Bradshaw and his sister Jacqueline of Canoga Park. The Bradshaws’ remains were found 13 miles south of Barstow, where the victims were last seen hitchhiking on their way home from Las Vegas. Zamastil received a sentence of 25 years to life and until he was brought to Tucson for the Shaner case, he had been serving both sentences concurrently in Wisconsin.
Federal prosecutors face a difficult challenge in linking Zamastil to the Shaner case.
California records show that in 1972, Zamastil (age 20) was living at 443 Hartford St., Los Angeles, and working as a security guard. On Nov. 24, he married Ofelia Restrepo, an unemployed divorcee who was 33. Records from the Zamastils’ divorce state that the couple separated Dec. 12, 1973. In other words, public records show that Zamastil was in Los Angeles at the time the Shaner case occurred.
Zamastil’s trial is underway in the courtroom of District Judge Frank R. Zapata. As far as I can tell, the proceedings are being utterly ignored by the local paper, the Arizona Daily Star (where I worked from 1981 to 1988). If a reader is following the case, please drop me a note.