Crime

Who murdered Maria Honzell? 1977 cold case remains unsolved

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Most people who live in Colorado Springs today have never heard Maria Honzell's story.

Maria was 14 years old when she was stabbed to death while babysitting at an apartment on the north side of the city in 1977.

Many of those who did know her story have likely forgotten it by now, but that's not the case for two determined Colorado Springs police detectives, or for her best friend.

"Cases of this age, you start worrying," said Detective James Isham, a member of the Colorado Springs Police Department's Homicide Unit, Cold Case Division.

"Every second that goes by, evidence is disappearing, statements are changing, and we know that we are running out of time," said Detective J.F. Somosky, the other member of CSPD's Cold Case Division.

It's been 42 years since Maria was murdered.

"This one is especially heinous because, I mean, it's a child," Somosky said. "She had her entire life ahead of her."

She was just 14 years old.

"All those opportunities were taken away in such a violent fashion," Somosky said.

On February 7, 1977, Maria was babysitting two young boys at the Suncrest Apartments off North Nevada Avenue, which at the time was the north edge of town.

"Sometime between 9 p.m. that night and 11:15 p.m., when that woman returned home, the babysitter, identified as Maria Honzell, was murdered inside the home." Somosky said.

Maria had been stabbed several times in the chest, and police said there were signs of sexual assault.

"There was evidence supporting that it was at least sexually motivated," Somosky said.

"Based on the physical evidence at the scene, the lack of forced entry, we can kind of surmise that Maria probably knew her attacker, or at least felt comfortable enough or safe enough to at least answer the door," Isham said.

It's not clear what happened next. According to the boys' mom, nothing was out of place, nothing had been stolen, and nothing had been destroyed. Her two sons had been left alone and were safe.

"Neither child was hurt," Somosky said.

The older brother was able to give police a description of the suspect.

"It was a younger male, described a little bit older than the victim, but a white male, I believe with scruffy hair," Isham said.

Police started looking at Maria's friends, focusing on any boyfriends or romantic interests.

"Several suspects were identified," Somosky said. "One was identified in Rhode Island after being arrested on a similar case where a young girl had been murdered. That person, based on the investigation, was placed in Colorado Springs at the time of Maria's death, leaving shortly afterwards."

However, police didn't have enough evidence to make an arrest.

Detectives Somosky and Isham said a critical piece of DNA evidence was uploaded into the nationwide Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) a few years ago, and they've developed a suspect profile. Now, they are just waiting for a match.

Maria's best friend, Delfina Silva, is waiting too.

"Could it have been somebody that we knew?" Silva said. "I think that's what scary is we don't know, and we don't know if he's walking among us."

Maria and Silva were close friends, and Maria had actually asked Silva to babysit with her the night she was murdered.

"My mother said no because the next day was a school day," Silva said.

A few hours later, her mother would have to break the news to her that Maria was dead.

"It was devastating," Silva said. "I mean, I felt like my heart just sank and everything just started crumbling after that."

To this day, Silva keeps a folder with items inside that remind her of her friend.

"This young lady here, she was just like a sunshine," Silva said. "She always had a pretty smile, and she loved horses."

It also reminds her how lucky she is.

"She should still be here with me, and we would both be 57 years old today," Silva said. "I wish that we could have grew up together. I really wish that I could have got to know her a little bit more as we grew."

Both Silva and the CSPD Cold Case Unit have vowed to never forget Maria Honzell or give up on finding her killer.

"Until I go to my grave I won't stop, and I'll still continue to fight for her, because that's how much she means to me," Silva said.

Detectives Somosky and Isham said they have new leads to follow up on in Maria's case and old suspects to revisit, like the one in Rhode Island.

"That person may or may not be a suspect, but at this point we need to at least eliminate him," Somosky said.

He said since so much time has passed in this case, it's likely that Maria's killer would have told someone something at some point.

Isham said anyone with any information should contact them, even if it's been reported, and even if the information seems small or trivial, because oftentimes that's all it takes to break open the case.


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