Reporter helps break Cantu murder case

April 13, 2009 12:03:42 PM PDT
New details are emerging about how the investigation into the murder of an 8-year-old Tracy girl came together. Police say Sandra Cantu was killed by a Sunday school teacher and a mother herself, Melissa Huckaby.

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A reporter for a small town newspaper played a big a role in helping to break the case.

22-year-old Jennifer Wadsworth works for the Tracy Press. She spent 40 minutes last Friday talking to Melissa Huckaby on the phone. She wrote a story about her conversation and Tracy police say inconsistencies between what Huckaby told them and what she told the paper led to the arrest.

Wadsworth never imagined that her coverage of the Sandra Cantu murder case would thrust her into the national spotlight.

"I was trying to put two rumors together. I wanted to find out who owned the suitcase and secondly I wanted to find out who was in the hospital, because someone told me it had to do with the case," she said.

She did more than put two rumors together. Wadsworth called the Lawless home last Friday. When their granddaughter Melissa Huckaby answered the phone Wadsworth started asking questions like, "Who owns the suitcase? Do you know where it came from?"

"Yeah. That's mine," Huckaby told her. "I don't want people to think it's my grandpa's or anything. It was mine and it was stolen."

Wadsworth says Huckaby went on to say Sandra came over to play with her daughter the day she went missing, but Huckaby turned her away because her daughter had to pick up her toys. Huckaby then told her she went to the church and left her suitcase in her driveway and it was stolen.

Wadsworth says she never suspected Huckaby could be Sandra's killer. She said she was just intrigued that she found the owner of the suitcase. Huckaby was arrested just hours after Wadsworth's interview.

"I asked her to describe the suitcase. Normally it's hard to get people to describe things and everything. But she went right ahead and said it's black, it's huge, it's waterproof, it's a rolling suitcase, it has an Eddie Bauer logo on the front. More details than I asked for," said Wadsworth.

Wadsworth, who is working on her college degree and has been with the Tracy Press for just over a year, remains humble while trying to fit in network interviews and continue to cover the case.

Huckaby is in San Joaquin County Jail where she remains on suicide watch. She is expected in court Tuesday afternoon.

Public Grieving Place:
Fry Memorial Chapel
550 South Central Avenue
Tracy, CA
Hours: 10-4 on Saturday, Sunday and Monday

Public Service for Sandra Cantu:
Thursday, April 16, 2009
1 p.m. - People are asked to arrive early since there will be limited parking
Merrill F. West High School
1775 West Lowell Avenue
Tracy, CA

The reward for information leading to an arrest in Sandra's case has risen to over $30,000.

Anyone with information is urged to call the Tracy Police at: 1-209-831-6TIP

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