SAN ANGELO, Texas — It has been 44 years since the murder of Leandra Morales made headlines back in 1978 but the story of her death has lived on in whispers among Angelo State University students.
According to an article from 1978, the story first came to light when a young man by the name of Robert Mark Wagner called the Police Department at 11 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, 1978, and reported having stumbled upon a deceased body in room 200 of the Business Administration building on campus. When officials arrived on the scene it was reported that Morales had been found with her shirt pulled up and having suffered three stab wounds to the upper chest and other injuries indicating that she had been beaten. A pair of bloody scissors was found on campus in relation to the crime.
Wagner’s role in the case soon came into question when it was asked how he had come across the scene. He told the officers that night he had been leaving the photography lab which had been on the second floor of the Administration building when he heard a moan coming from room 200. Upon investigation, Wagner claimed he found Morales on the floor and tried to help her but that she had struggled violently inflicting him with several scratches to his face and neck and then she passed away from her injuries.
Here is where Wagner’s initial story begins to blur — At first he claimed he went straight to the Men’s Highrise Dorm where he lived on the third floor to call the police, but officials said he later claimed to have called a priest first who advised him to call the police. Another piece of the puzzle discovered later was that Morales had died between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. much earlier than when Wagner had called the police.
This piece of evidence although necessary for finding the exact truth of what happened that night was unnecessary for finding Morales’s murderer because early Sunday morning Wagner confessed and was taken into custody.
It was reported that Wagner told officials, ” I started choking her and grabbed a pair of scissors and stabbed her, I don’t know how many times.”
Both students were in ASU’s Air Force ROTC program that year. Morales was also a part of the Mamselles and would have been in their spring fashion show the following Monday night. In the article from 1978 Morales was described as an outstanding student who was a very quiet and personable young girl. She was a well-loved and well-known individual in her community.
Wagner, on the other hand, was less known and was described as being a low-profile student and business-like, “I never even thought of Mark…I didn’t even think of him existing.” said Jeff Palmer, a photographer for the RamBouillet like Wagner was.
Another photographer, John Campbell said, “He didn’t seem like the type to me that would hurt or even think of hurting anyone.”
Although Wagner admitted to police he had killed Morales he pleaded not guilty to the crime during his trial. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison on June 13 in 1978 and released in 2003.
The original newspaper clipping from 1978 can be read here.