SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Mona Ulibarri’s lesbian friend denied murdering her partner.
It was 1979 when the unnamed partner was questioned by police about Ulibarri’s murder.
The partner denied any involvement and Ulibarri’s murder turned into a cold case.
“She was obviously in that bar and seen a lot of people that night,” said her brother Frank Ulibarri.
On April 17, 1979, Mona “Heather” Ulibarri was seen at Billy O’s tavern near 900 West in Salt Lake City. She was known to socialize and play pool with the locals. It was the last time anyone saw the 24-year old.
“Mom said ‘she would have contacted me that day or the next to say she wasn’t coming home'” said Ulibarri. “My mother said ‘there’s something wrong’ and so she called the police.”
About a week later, Salt Lake City police found Ulibarri’s body in the Jordan River. The autopsy revealed she’d been asphyxiated and raped.
“It was devastating obviously,” said Ulibarri.
At the time Ulibarri was a known lesbian and lived with her partner at a home in Salt Lake City. The family, along with detectives turned to the partner for information. That’s when they learned of the night at Billy O’s where she met two men.
According to a 1979 police report the partner claimed Ulibarri left the tavern in her car with two men.
“These two men wanted her to do something but she wouldn’t go along with it and beat her up and got rid of her car by burning it and throwing her in the river,” the woman claimed in the police report.
Her older brother recalled the same information after talking with Ulibarri’s partner. He said they tracked down the men and confronted them. But they both denied seeing her that night.
“On the night they were playing pool, they left early because they had to go to work the next day,” the brother said. “And I started in with ‘excuse me? Her car was found behind your house on fire.'”
From the 1979 police report, Ulibarri’s partner told police “the clothes had been taken off and are in the house someplace and possible two male Mexican were involved.”
At the time few details had been released to the public about how Ulibarri was murdered.
Back then the detective also asked her how she knew so much.
“She just had a feeling that this is what happened to her,” the woman said in the police report.
A private investigator with Utah Cold Case Coalition said he met with the woman and asked her about that very same 1979 statement.
“It’s uncanny that her feelings were letter by letter verbatim as to what happened to Mona that night,” said Jason Jensen. “So I don’t believe she was a party to the incident but she had knowledge of it.”
Jensen said the woman denied being a lesbian and a partner with Ulibarri. He said she considered herself a friend who gave Ulibarri a place to stay.
In the 1979 meeting with Salt Lake police, the detective asked her point-blank if she had murdered Ulibarri.
“She said she ‘loved her very much and there is no way she would take the life of Mona Ulibarri,'” the detective wrote in his police report.
The woman’s 1979 statement to police also got the attention of Ulibarri’s brother.
“I don’t know if she was involved,” said Frank Ulibarri.
But he doesn’t believe his sister was killed by someone at the tavern. Instead, he believed the son of Ulibarri’s partner had a motive to kill his sister. He said in 1979 his sister was quite open about being a lesbian.
“She didn’t care what anyone thought about it,” said Ulibarri.
But he said the partner’s son did not like the situation between his mother and Ulibarri.
“He gave her a rough time about it,” said Ulibarri. “I can’t believe he was never interviewed. I don’t recall him being interviewed.”
The son who is now deceased had a lengthy criminal record and served time in prison.
It’s been 41-years since Mona Ulibarri was murdered. Frank Ulibarri said their mother recently died last spring and never got closure.
“My mom, it was a nightmare for her all the way through because we wanted closure,” he said. “Not a day goes by that we don’t think of her.”
Police did collect DNA from the 1979 crime scene. A source said the DNA was resubmitted for testing.