On August 18, 1981, 51-year-old Jerry Arnold Heath left Fort Worth, Texas, with the intent of driving his 1978 red/white/red Toyota Land Cruiser to his home in Lompoc, California. He called his wife to tell her he was on his way home. On August 24, 1981, Mrs. Heath reported her husband as a missing person to the authorities in Lompoc. On August 26th, Heath’s vehicle was found along the westbound lanes of Interstate 10 in Yuma County. Investigators found human blood on the inside of the vehicle.
On September 7, 1981, a man was driving his family cross country and stopped on I 40 about fifteen miles east of Flagstaff to spend the night in their travel trailer. After dinner, his 16-year-old daughter left the trailer and walked into the brush to go to the bathroom. She found a badly decomposed body which was later identified as Jerry Arnold Heath. During a subsequent autopsy the Coconino County Medical Examiner determined that the victim died as the result of a single gunshot wound to the head.
After the discovery of the crime many possible leads were developed and investigated, however, no suspects were identified or apprehended. Nearly 32 years elapsed with no significant developments in the case.
Joe Sumner, who retired from the National Park Service in 2007 as a criminal investigator, joined the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit in 2008. He reviewed many unsolved homicide cases that occurred in rural unincorporated areas within Coconino County to search for leads and evidence. As items of evidence were inspected many of them were submitted for reexamination using modern forensic technology.
In this particular case Sumner resubmitted numerous latent fingerprints that were collected from the victim’s vehicle to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Quantico Virginia for reexamination. After submission to a national fingerprint database the FBI examiners received an identical match with known prints of Robert Rodriquez Resendez.
Cold Case Detective Sumner developed leads causing him to believe the suspect was alive and possibly somewhere in the area of Medford, Oregon. Officers of the Medford Police Department located the suspect and assisted with the investigation pending the arrival of Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Detectives and Cold Case Investigators. On Thursday, February 13, 2014, Sheriff’s Detectives interviewed Resendez. During the interview Mr. Resendez made statements implicating him in this crime. Detectives are investigating the strong possibility that the victim picked up Resendez as he was hitchhiking and Resendez subsequently robbed and murdered Mr. Heath. The Coconino Attorney’s Office issued a complaint and arrest warrant charging Robert Rodriquez Resendez with the Second Degree Murder of Jerry Robert Heath. This investigation is ongoing and extradition procedures are forthcoming.