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Police release photo of suspect in ‘vicious’ and ‘unconscionable’ murder of woman left on hiking trail

Lauren Heike and suspect in her murder (Phoenix Police Dept.)

Lauren Heike and suspect in her murder (Phoenix Police Dept.)

Law enforcement authorities in Arizona are searching for a man they say killed a 29-year-old woman whose body was found on a popular hiking trail over the weekend. Police say that Lauren Heike was the victim of a “vicious attack,” with her assailant sneaking up on her from behind and killing her.

According to a press release from the Phoenix Police Department, officers responded to a 911 call at about 10:30 a.m. on Saturday about a woman found dead in the desert area near 6500 Libby Street.

First responders say they found Heike, who appeared to have suffered “trauma to her body.” Police said her remains were found where she would not have been “easily viewable by those that utilize the trail.”

Heike, an avid exercise enthusiast, was hiking on the Reach 11 trail just north of Phoenix at around 10 a.m. Friday morning when she was “attacked from behind and died as a result of her injuries,” Phoenix PD Homicide Lt. James Hester said during a Wednesday news conference. Hester described the attack as vicious and unconscionable.

Investigators this week released a video and a still image of an individual initially described as a “person of interest” who is now being referred to as a suspect. The video was captured by a resident’s home security camera.

The suspect is described as male, between 5-foot-8 and 6 feet tall, with a dark complexion. At the time of the attack, the suspect wore a light shirt, dark pants, and a dark backpack. In the grainy 6-second video, he appears to be jogging or speed-walking across the frame of the stationary camera.

Police say that while Heike’s body may not have been easy to spot, they believe the suspect likely would have acted in a suspicious manner that would have been noticeable and memorable.

“We believe someone would have noticed this person either before the attack or after he fled from our scene,” Lt. Hester said. “The behavior, in my opinion, was so heinous that I would imagine that the subject would be displaying symptoms that look out of place.”

When asked about Heike’s cause of death and whether a weapon was used, Hester said that some of the facts in the case are only known to investigators and the killer and that they are “keeping those details close to the vest” so the investigation is not compromised. He also would not comment on whether they believe Heike knew the killer.

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Police personnel were joined on stage by Heike’s family, who also pleaded with the public to come forward with any information that may help them find justice for their daughter.

“She got up, talked to her friends. It was her day off, she got her coffee, and she went walking, and she was happy, happy — that helps us a lot,” the victim’s mother, Lana Heike, said. “We need people’s help to tell us what happened after that.”

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Phoenix Police Department at 602-262-6151 or Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.