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Colorado Cold Case: 14-year-old babysitter’s family desperate for answers 45 years after murder

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Maria Honzell was just 14 years old when she was robbed of her future. The teen accepted a babysitting job at the apartments across from hers on North Nevada Avenue back in February of 1977. She never made it home.

The killer somehow made it into the apartment after Honzell put the kids to bed. Leaving no signs of forced entry or robbery, the unknown assailant stabbed Honzell dozens of times before leaving the apartment. Despite a handful of leads in the days following her death, nothing ever panned out. The case eventually went cold.

Before her death on Feb. 7, Honzell called one of her closest friends while babysitting. Kathy Moberly remembers the call well.

"She said that 'I love these kids and I'm babysitting.' And then she said, 'I better get going,'" Moberly said. "She said, 'I love you.' And I said, 'You too!' Those were our last words. We loved each other."

Moberly remembers Honzell being full of love and light. She said she always had a smile on her face, even if she was having a bad day. She said she doesn't remember Honzell walking anywhere, she was always skipping.

She also remembers how much the two bonded over their love of children.

"She wanted to be a mama. She wanted kids, lots of kids, and so did I. We talked about a dozen each!" Moberly remembers.

She said Honzell talked about wanting to be a social worker when she grew up.

Honzell was a middle child in a big family. She had seven siblings. Her mother passed away on December 26, 1976, from heart complications. Honzell's little sister, Erica Honzell-Pearson, remembers Honzell stepping up as a sort of mother figure. Honzell-Pearson was just six years old when her older sister was killed.

"Even at such a young age, she had a maternal instinct about her that was ever-present," Honzell-Pearson remembers. "So many people were just drawn to her by her energy and her loving kindness."

Honzell-Pearson said Honzell's loss rocked her entire family. Even 45 years later, the wound is still wide open. Honzell-Pearson said one thing that still sticks in her mind is the day of her sister's funeral.

"The amount of stab wounds that she actually had -- they literally had to have a scarf around her neck, you know, to cover up the wounds. That's incomprehensible," Honzell-Pearson said.

"It scarred us all for life," Moberly said.

Dwight Haverkorn, a retired detective in Colorado Springs, remembers Honzell's case well. He worked dozens of homicides during his time at Colorado Springs Police. Over the years, all of his cold cases were solved, except Honzell's.

"I'm very sorry that we weren't able to solve this thing back at the time it occurred," Haverkorn said. He hopes they collected enough evidence that night to still get this case solved all these decades later.

Haverkorn remembers initially thinking Honzell was much older than she was.

"I know the one thing that was surprised us all is she looked like she was probably mid-20s. At that time, I was about 30. When we found out she was 14, we were just dumbfounded. She was looked very grown-up," Haverkorn said.

During the initial investigation, it became clear that the children Honzell was babysitting had woken up during the commotion. It appears they watched the crime take place. Haverkorn said he's never forgotten about those two little boys.

"That's got to be pretty hard for young children to have to witness something like that," he said. "That's just not right."

The Colorado Springs Police Department declined to speak to KRDO about the investigation, however, a post on social media shared by the department 12 years ago says one of the children gave a description of a possible suspect.

"The caller's young son told police he had gone to bed around 8 p.m. but something awoke him that caused him to go into the hallway. He observed a male holding the victim's mouth. He heard yelling and screaming, specifically 'stop it.' He said the male and Maria then went into his mother's bedroom. He described the male as white, about 17 years of age, six feet tall, with acne, and wearing a 'fluffy' blue down coat, blue jeans, and black sneakers," CSPD's Cold Case Unit said on Facebook in 2010.

It's not clear if those details are still deemed accurate, as the department wouldn't provide an update to KRDO.

As the years went on, the Honzell family continued to mourn Maria's loss and hope for answers. In 1987, Honzell's father passed away. When he died, nobody else could make payments on Honzell's tombstone or her mother's. Both tombstones were removed.

Despite no longer having a grave marker, Moberly continues to bring flowers to Honzell's gravesite to this day. She said she's always wanted to be able to pay for a new tombstone.

"A precious innocent child was stabbed to death, brutally stabbed to death for no reason, and to not have a gravestone is just devastating," Moberly said. "I've been too poor to put one on."

The Honzell family is asking for help, hoping the community might come together to help them purchase a stone.

"It would give us somewhere for the little bit of closure that we do have. I mean, we don't have closure on the case, but at least we would have someplace to go and pay our dues," Honzell's nephew Zach Honzell said. He wasn't alive yet when his aunt died, but he's seen the impact her death has had on his entire family over the years.

What the family wants more than anything, all these years later, is answers.

"She was robbed. We were all robbed. We were all left, you know, with the wound, the wound that is still incredibly wide open, there has been no closure, there is no closure," Honzell-Pearson said.

To learn more about the fundraiser for Maria Honzell's new gravestone, click here.

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Sydnee Scofield

Sydnee is a Senior Reporter and Weekend Anchor for KRDO NewsChannel 13. You can learn more about her here.

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