‘Did I act fast enough?’ Missouri man who found one of the I-70 serial killer victims recounts horrific day
RAYTOWN, Mo. (KMOV) - May 7, 1992.
7 a.m.: Sarah Blessing rolls out of bed, feeds her pets, and prepares a breakfast of fresh fruit.
10 a.m.: Sarah drives to visit her ailing friend, Karen Winney, as she does every week. Winney said they talked about heaven and people who had recently passed away.
12 p.m.: Sarah pulls into the Woodson Village Shopping Center to open her store, The Store of Many Colors, a small health store sitting on the very end of the strip mall. The store was owned and operated by Blessing and five friends, selling goods for improving spiritual and physical health. Here you could find herbs, crystals, vitamins, clean water machines, and miniature exercise trampolines. Sarah and her friends would take turns working at the store. They just celebrated their grand opening three weeks earlier. Today was Sarah’s turn to work. Alone.
2 p.m.: Sarah talks to her husband Sonny on the phone. They talk about business at the store, their two boys at home, and of course, the dog and the cat.
5 p.m.: Tim Hickman arrives at his video store, Video Attic, located next to Sarah’s store, relieving his mother and sister who worked the store during the day.
6 p.m.: An auctioneer store owner across from Sarah’s store sees a mysterious unidentified man walk in and out of his store suspiciously. Around the same time, another witness spots a man in a gray sport coat, slacks and dress shoes walk across the large parking lot and toward Blessing’s store.
6:15 p.m.: Hickman looks out the window from his store. “I happened to glance up and I see a gentleman coming across the parking lot. He had on a sport coat, and I thought ‘wow that’s weird.’ He was walking this way. I look up again and he stepped right in front of my door. I looked at him and he looked at me. I think he was a little bit shocked, because if he scoped the store a little earlier, my mom and my sister were here. He looked kind of shocked. He looked at me like, ‘huh, that’s not what I kind of thought it was.’ I looked at his face. He turned left and took off.”
6:30 p.m.: The murderer entered Blessing’s store. “About two or three minutes after I see him leave, I hear a pop,” Hickman recalled. “It sounds like a gunshot. Then I said, ‘that can’t be it.’ I haven’t told anybody this before, but I grabbed my gun and had it behind my back. I jumped through the door. Sarah’s door was just closing, and the guy I saw earlier was going around the corner. I didn’t see his face, but I could tell by his clothes. He was whipping around the corner of the building. It was the same guy. Same clothes. I stood there for maybe 20 to 30 seconds. I said, ‘something is wrong.’ I looked both ways, and he was gone, over the hill. That’s a steep hill. It couldn’t have been more than 30-45 seconds now. I said, ‘where did this guy go?’ I ran back to the store and called for Sarah.”
Hickman told News 4 he looked in through Sarah’s window but didn’t see anything. There was no answer when he called for Sarah. He stepped in further and found her lifeless in a pool of blood.
“I saw her feet sticking out. I called the cops. I said, ‘there’s been someone shot here. I need a police officer immediately.’”
With that, Hickman paused, choking back tears that have been building for nearly 30 years. “I can’t go any further. I’m sorry. It still bothers me.”
Police arrived within minutes. Blessing was dead at the scene. They quickly began canvassing the area. They found a grocery store clerk who was gathering shopping carts, who said they saw the same thing Hickman did: the killer leaving Blessing’s store, heading toward the steep hill leading to Woodson Road. They located another witness who reported seeing the same suspect walking down a nearby busy street around 6:45 p.m.
Sarah Blessing was 37 years old. The former St. Louis resident had just finished writing a children’s book, and had several poems published. Only a small amount of cash was missing from her store.
Chris Shrout can only shake his head. The Raytown Police Department has lost many officers over the years. It’s all they can do to keep up with the crimes of the day. Now, the I-70 serial killer case sits on his young lap.
“A lot of it is tracking down people from 30 years ago. A lot of those detectives are no longer here. A lot of it is me going through thousands of pages of reports.”
He smiles and shakes his head again. “It can be a little overwhelming.”
Shrout has begun putting a fresh set of eyes on the case. Like everyone else, he has questions that seem to have no answers.
“It makes you wonder, what brought him a little farther out?” Shrout asks. The Raytown scene is about three miles off Interstate 70. “Was it because he was comfortable in the area? Did he know somebody here?”
The Raytown case had another oddity from the others. The killer rummaged through Blessing’s belongings. “I don’t know,” Shrout wondered. “maybe he was getting more brave.”
As I prepared to say goodbye to Shrout, we both looked up the steep hill that the killer chose for his getaway path. Yet again, it just seemed an odd choice in a series of bewildering odd choices the killer made in those 29 days.
“I ran up that hill myself,” Shrout said. “Wanted to see what it was like.”
He shook his head again. “You don’t want to be running up that hill.”
Tim Hickman is still haunted by that day in 1992. He wonders what might have happened if the killer struck earlier, while his mother and sister were working in his store. And he wonders if he did enough.
“It’s bothered me for years,” Hickman said, trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears. “Did I act fast enough? If I had not waited so long, they might have caught him. I didn’t want to cause a panic. I just tried to do the best I could.”
I asked Hickman if he thought, after all these years, he could pick the killer out of a police lineup if the case ever got that far. He didn’t hesitate.
The Store of Many Colors never reopened. Sarah’s husband Sonny has passed away, never getting the satisfaction of seeing her killer captured. Hickman returned to his video store the next day.
“I went to open, and there must have been 40 news trucks here. I just kept on driving.”
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