Teen's Body Found Stuffed in Luggage in Wildlife Sanctuary

Teen’s Body Found Stuffed in Luggage in Wildlife Sanctuary

A Missouri man, who in 2020 put a young woman’s body in a suitcase and threw it into an Illinois wildlife sanctuary, will be imprisoned for the remainder of his life, and beyond, a court has decided.

James A. Merritt, 35, is originally from Morehouse, Missouri, a small town located a few miles from the boundaries of multiple neighboring states. The 18-year-old victim of his was from Normal, Illinois, a medium-sized city located about four hours north of Morehouse and a part of the Bloomington-Normal metropolitan area.

According to the Illinois State Police, he was found guilty on one count each of second-degree murder, armed criminal action, tampering with physical evidence, and trafficking with the intent to commit sexual exploitation in January.

Circuit Judge Joshua Underwood sentenced Merritt to life in prison plus an extra 29 years and a $25,000 fine earlier this month.

According to authorities, Decker’s body was discovered on March 26, 2020, in a remote area of Pulaski County, Illinois, in the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Twenty-two days earlier, the adolescent had been declared missing.

According to MissingInIllinois.org, a man strolling with his toddler discovered the tragic discovery. After calling the police, the couple noticed blonde hair emerging from the suitcase. It was discovered by law enforcement that she had been struck in the head several times with a blunt object.

After reviewing records of missing persons from that time period, investigators were certain they had located Decker. The collection of her fingerprints verified the suspicions of the detectives.

Merritt was linked to the young woman by digital evidence.

Eventually, Decker’s cell phone and the data on it were acquired by the investigators. According to state police, the execution of an arrest warrant at Merritt’s home “led to evidence that proved Decker had once lived with Merritt.” Decker had been a sex worker at the time of her death, the investigation also found.

According to the Standard Democrat, the defendant would acknowledge in a police interrogation that he had met his victim online and had taken her to many small towns in the Show-Me State so she could have sex with other men for payment. Additionally, phone records indicated that on January 25, 2020, Merritt and Decker had visited the same location before moving to the wildlife reserve.

Additionally, blood was discovered by the police in Merritt’s home and in his car, where it seemed to have been cleaned up.

ISP Zone 7 Commander Capt. Nicholas Dill stated in a press statement that “the investigative efforts of the ISP agents and forensic scientists involved in this investigation are to be commended.” Additionally, we would like to thank the Missouri Highway Patrol for their assistance with this inquiry. The effective investigation and conviction were the outcome of the cooperation between the state law enforcement authorities located on both banks of the river.

After ninety minutes of deliberation, the jury found the defendant guilty of all charges. Despite Merritt’s conviction by a Pemiscot County jury, his case was prosecuted by New Madrid County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Lawson due to a change of venue.

Lawson declared following the judgment, “I am extremely pleased with the jury’s verdicts in this case,” according to the Democrat.

In her own words, Decker leaves behind a devastating legacy, as does her grieving yet aware family.

“I loved her so much and I feel so bad,” her father, Sam Decker stated to The Register-Mail. “I know she didn’t want to die.”

Outbursts, talking back to adults, and sneaking around were the first signs of trouble soon after her parents divorced. These behaviors eventually led to a forced psychiatric diagnosis, increased drug use, juvenile detention, a sixteen-year-old baby, foster homes, group homes, and a terminal number of treatment facilities.

Even though she once escaped being caught by a Chicago prostitution ring, her life continued to replay the same patterns.

And then there was the somber revelation in the mushroom patch. A woman who had frequently been silent to her family for extended periods of time was now lost to both them and the rest of the world.