Murder of teenagers Shawn Cerniglia and Carrie Heiden: Drug criminals wanted to keep them quiet

Police tape

Shawn Cerniglia and Carrie Lynn Heiden, a teenage couple from the outskirts of Denver, Colorado, were last seen on February 5th, 2003. The Dead of Winter examines what happened to this young couple who appear to have got mixed up in gang violence.

Police had wanted to speak to 16-year-old Cerniglia regarding a drive-by shooting at a residence in 2002; they suspected he knew something about the crime which was connected to the drug trade. He was known to associate with Nathanial York, and Caleb Burns, who investigators believed were directly involved in the killing.

Teenage runaways or something more sinister?

Unfortunately, Cerniglia, along with Heiden, vanished before the police had a chance to speak to him. The couple was last seen leaving Cerniglia’s home at about 9 pm; family and friends had no idea where they were going.

Cerniglia’s burnt-out car was found on February 6 in a wheat field in Aurora. Douglas County Officers initially thought they were dealing with teenage runaways. However, as time passed, investigators became suspicious when they failed to reappear. They did not access their bank accounts, and had not taken any personal belongings with them.

Everything changed when their bodies were discovered on May 6th, 2003, in a field east of Aurora close to where the burnt-out car had been found.

Investigators gradually began to zero in on their suspects and build their case. They already had Nathanial York and Caleb Burns in custody for the 2002 drive-by shooting. In September 2003, York was at a preliminary hearing regarding his role in the shooting when he was first implicated in the Cerniglia and Heiden murders.

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Caleb Burns and Nathanial York are charged

Eventually, almost one year to the day after the two teenagers had gone missing, the police charged Nathanial York, then 19-years-old, Caleb Burns, then 20, and a third person Catherine Farnkoff, 18, with murder.

The three suspects were charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. These were followed by more charges, including assault and arson.

At the trial, details finally began to emerge; Cerniglia and Heiden had been bound and gagged, stuffed into a car, and then shot execution-style. They were murdered because York and Burns believed Cerniglia was talking to police about the drive-by shooting.

You can read about other crimes featured on the Dead of Winter, such as the savage murder of young Noel Alkaramla by her stepfather, or the intriguing case of Viktor Gunnarsson; police didn’t know if it was a crime of passion or political assassination.

Catch the details of this disturbing case in the Dead of Winter at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.

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