As police continue to search for the remains of an Altoona woman who vanished more than a decade ago, her former husband said the developments in the case over the last five days have been shocking and tough to explain to the couple's three children.
Aaron Leighty, 39, said it wasn't until Friday that he learned that his dad might have had something to do with the disappearance of Sherry Leighty in the fall of 1999, just days before the couple's divorce was finalized in Blair County Court.
Aaron Leighty's father, Kenneth W. Leighty, 65, of Altoona was arrested Friday on aggravated assault charges after he allegedly rushed a state trooper and Altoona detective at his home at 1225 19th Ave., after he was told he was being detained as part of the investigation into Leighty's possible death.
Mirror photo by Greg Bock
State police and other law enforcement agencies search a 150-acre property in Huntingdon County on Tuesday in hopes of finding the remains of Sherry Leighty, who has been missing since 1999.
"It's very, very hard," said Aaron Leighty, who lives with his parents along with his children. "I've got kids, and they want answers. We don't really know."
It was answers police were after when they reopened the case in August. Search warrants indicate that as the investigation progressed, police allegedly caught Kenneth Leighty in a lie about his whereabouts on Oct. 1, 1999, the last day Sherry Leighty was supposedly seen alive.
Aaron Leighty said he's learned in the last five days there was much his father had hidden from him about Sherry Leighty's disappearance, but he declined to elaborate because of the ongoing investigation.
Court records show Aaron Leighty has helped police in their investigation, most notably by allowing police to listen in on two phone calls he made Friday to his father.
Kenneth Leighty allegedly admitted to killing his former daughter-in-law, claiming it was an accident, before burying her on the family's hunting property in Warriors Mark Township, Huntingdon County.
Records show Kenneth Leighty has maintained that he dropped off Sherry Leighty near her job at Labor Ready the morning of Oct. 1, 1999, before he went to work at Veeder-Root.
Police, however, contend Kenneth Leighty didn't work that day.
Aaron Leighty said he heard rumors that circulated at the time of his wife's disappearance that she moved to Maine with a boyfriend and said for a time, that seemed plausible. But as the years rolled by, the idea that she would not have contacted her three children, the youngest who was just 1 years old when she vanished, didn't sit well with him, he said.
Sherry Leighty turned 23 the day before she disappeared. Her children, two daughters and a son, are now 14, 16 and 20. Not only did she never contact her children, police noted in their search warrants, but there is no trace of her anywhere, not even Maine, since Kenneth Leighty said he last saw her.
"Over the years you just hold out hope that was it, but then you start wondering," Aaron Leighty said. "Part of me, for years, hoped she was just embarrassed, and that is why she didn't come back."
Shelly Nagle, Sherry Leighty's sister, said it's been a long time since her sister's disappearance and the family wants to know what happened.
"My brothers and I just want answers regarding her disappearance. All we want is to find Sherry and bring her back home where she belongs," Nagle said. "It's been way too long, and we all need some sort of closure."
In the search warrants issued for Kenneth Leighty's home, the Huntingdon County property and the pickup he drove in 1999 that is parked on the property, police note talk among Sherry Leighty's family that Kenneth Leighty had groped his daughter-in-law while she slept and had been caught peeping in her window.
Aaron Leighty said he was unaware of anything sexually out-of-line occurring between his father and his wife.
"I heard some people thought it was weird the way he was around her," Aaron Leighty said, adding the most notable behavior being his father rubbing her shoulders. Perhaps it was because he was his father, but Aaron Leighty said he didn't see it that way at the time.
The last week has forced Aaron Leighty to think hard about what happened nearly 14 years ago, and he said it's been difficult remembering things about that time. It's also forced him to come to terms with the idea his own father might be responsible for Sherry Leighty's disappearance.
"If my father did do it, I wish for the family's sake he mans up and admits to it and helps us and the police find her," Aaron Leighty said, his voice straining with emotion. "She deserves a proper burial. She doesn't deserve this."
Police continued to search the Leighty family ground near Warriors Mark Tuesday. Aaron said he doesn't know where Sherry Leighty is, but he is clear about one thing - he didn't have anything to do with her disappearance.
"From what I'm hearing, it's possible she's there, and I hope they do find her," said Aaron Leighty. "We all need closure."
Huntingdon County District Attorney George Zanic said Tuesday there are no new developments in the search. Seven cadaver dogs and their New York State Police handlers have helped in the search of the mostly wooded property, Zanic said, noting investigators are focusing on several areas.
Zanic said searchers have mapped out the areas and begun excavating, but as of Tuesday afternoon the whereabouts of Sherry Leighty remains a mystery.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.