is serving 90 years in prison for murdering professional up-and-coming gravel cyclist . It’s a story that drew international headlines because after being suspected of killing Wilson in Texas, Armstrong vanished — seemingly into thin air. The search for the suspected killer sparked what would become an international manhunt — first leading authorities across the United States, and then eventually to the beaches of Costa Rica.
In June 2022, one month after Armstrong disappeared, Deputy U.S. Marshals Damien Fernandez and Emir Perez traveled to Costa Rica. A source told them Armstrong could be hiding out in Santa Teresa. They knew finding Armstrong in the small, tourist-filled village was going to be a challenge — along the way, Armstrong used multiple identities and changed her appearance — even.
They hit dead end after dead end. After many intense days of searching for Armstrong with no luck, the U.S. Marshals decided to try one last tactic, hoping that her love of yoga would pay off for them.
“We decided we were gonna put an ad out … or multiple ads for a yoga instructor and see — what would happen,” Perez told “48 Hours” contributor Jonathan Vigliotti.
But after almost a week of hunting, even that didn’t seem to be working. Perez and Fernandez were about to head back to the States, when suddenly they got a break.
CYCLIST MO WILSON WAS FORGING HER OWN PATH
In March 2022, up-and-coming pro gravel bike racer –25-year-old Anna Moriah Wilson, known as “Mo” to some, appeared on the “Pre Ride Show,” an online program about cycling.
MORIAH WILSON (“Pre Ride Show interview): So excited to be here. It feels like the first big race of the year so yeah … I’m ready to kick it off.”
Just two months later, Wilson was found murdered — the news shocking the cycling community.
Lisa Gosselin Lynn: I don’t think anybody could really believe it at first. You know, why would anybody wanna hurt or harm or kill this lovely, talented young woman?
Lisa Gosselin Lynn is the editor of Vermont Sports Magazine and Vermont Ski and Ride Magazine. She is also a CBS News consultant.
Lynn had been following Wilson’s career for many months before her tragic death.
Lisa Gosselin Lynn: Moriah was pretty much winning every race that she entered, winning or finishing in the top two. And the races that she entered were top tier.
Lisa Gosselin Lynn: Moriah had the potential to be one of the top bike racers, definitely in the country, and probably in the world.
Remarkably, Lynn says that Wilson was new to the pro cycling world. Her first passion had been downhill ski racing, a love shared by her close-knit family.
Lisa Gosselin Lynn: She was born into a family of really great athletes. Her father Eric had been on the U.S. Ski Team. … and Moriah’s aunt … actually was a two-time Olympic Nordic ski racer.
And it’s no surprise that Wilson was drawn to outdoor endurance sports. She was raised in northern Vermont next to Kingdom Trails, a mecca for skiers and mountain bikers.
Lisa Gosselin Lynn: And that was her playground.
Wilson attended Burke Mountain Academy, an elite ski school that produced Olympic greats like two-time Gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin. Wilson had hoped to make the U.S. Ski Team, but knee injuries eventually ended her skiing career. That’s when she switched sports.
Lisa Gosselin Lynn: She had used cycling as a way for rehabbing and kind of building back her strength. What was fascinating to me was she then went on to Dartmouth. She got an engineering degree. And after doing that, she went to her mother and said, “Hey Mom, I think I want to be a professional cyclist.”
And Wilson told the “We Got to Hangout” podcast that she wanted to do much more than just win races.
MORIAH WILSON (“We Got to Hangout” interview): How can I inspire people? How can I give back to the cycling community? How can I bring more people into the sport? How can I make it more inclusive? … I wanna find meaning and purpose in cycling that goes like far beyond the result.
Wilson eventually moved to San Francisco where she focused on cycling, and quickly rose to the top of the sport.
Lisa Gosselin Lynn: Moriah was forging her own path. … She knew what she wanted to do. And she was working hard to pursue it.
On May 10, 2022, just one week before her 26th birthday, Wilson arrived in Austin, Texas, to prepare for the Gravel Locos bike race — a race she was favored to win. Wilson stayed with a close friend in her Austin apartment. But the next evening, just before 10 p.m., the friend returned home and discovered Wilson, who had been shot multiple times. She called 911.
CAITLIN CASH | 911 call: … she’s laying on the bathroom floor and there’s blood everywhere.
Wilson’s friend tried CPR, but it was too late.
Det. Marc McLeod: It sounded like it started off near the door … and went backwards. Like she was trying to get away or there was some sort of struggle.
Austin Police Officers Marc McLeod and Jonathan Riley worked the case from the beginning.
Det. Marc McLeod: Whoever shot her at that point stood over top of her and shot her at least once.
Investigators wondered who could have murdered this promising young athlete. As they canvassed the immediate area, police discovered a possible clue. Wilson’s expensive racing bicycle had been discarded in the bushes.
Det. Jonathan Riley: So, at that point … OK. Is this a burglary, a robbery gone wrong?
But that theory was quickly dismissed because there was no sign of a break-in. Then, police learned that just hours before Wilson was found murdered, at around 8:30 p.m., she had been dropped off by another professional bike racer named Colin Strickland.
Det. Marc McCloud: So, obviously the focus would be … who’s this Colin Strickland?
Lisa Gosselin Lynn: Colin Strickland was a very good gravel racer. … He was at the top echelon.
Colin Strickland, who was 35, was considered a pioneer in the sport. He had won some of the most prestigious races and was sponsored by the industry’s top brands, like Red Bull.
In 2020, he appeared in an online video called Wahoo Frontiers about his long and successful career.
COLIN STRICKLAND (Wahoo Frontiers video): My name is Colin Strickland and I’m a bicycle racer and a general entertainer.
Chris Tolley: Pretty early on I looked up to Colin when I was coming up on the scene.
Chris Tolley is friends with Strickland. They met on the racetrack.
Chris Tolley: He was the one to beat. … He loved to kind of create a show around bike racing — kind of selling bike racing. He was really passionate about it.
And Tolley said although his friend had been popular with women, he eventually became serious with a woman named Kaitlin Armstrong. However, in a social media post after the crime, Strickland wrote that about six months before Wilson’s murder, during a short breakup with Armstrong, he did have a “brief romantic relationship” with Wilson that “spanned a week or so.” He said that it ended, and their relationship had turned into a “platonic and professional one.”
Chris Tolley: He just wanted to be friends with, like, someone who was going to do great things in cycling.
The day after Wilson’s murder, police visited and spoke to Strickland at his home.
Det. Marc McLeod: My … my personal take was he was being very cooperative, being very forthcoming. Um, obviously he was in shock.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Being very transparent.
Det. Marc McLeod: Very transparent. Yeah.
And investigators say, when he agreed to go down to the police station to be interviewed, he didn’t seem to hold back when telling them about the day he spent with Wilson — a day that would end up being her last.
That day in May was hot, in the 80s. And this story started with a swim at a local outdoor pool. Strickland told detectives he took Wilson there on the back of his motorcycle to cool off.
Det. Marc McLeod: They went swimming, then they got food.
Wilson and Strickland are seen on the restaurant’s security camera.
Jonathan Vigliotti: I know he’s being transparent at this point during this questioning, but what he’s saying is starting to sound a lot like a date.
Det. Jonathan Riley: Yes.
Det. Marc McLeod: Oh yeah. A hundred percent.
Investigators had a lot of questions and their prior visit to Strickland’s home had raised even more. On the night of Wilson’s murder, police discovered an important clue on video from a neighbor’s security camera. The video was taken just one minute after Wilson was dropped off.
Det. Marc McLeod: There’s a video from a Ring doorbell camera that clearly shows like a black SUV with a bike rack. … You can’t see the license plate because of the bike rack on it.
Det. Jonathan Riley: So, it was obviously … we need to focus on this.
And a vehicle that fit that description was outside Strickland’s house. Who was driving the black Jeep SUV with the bike rack? The answer would lead directly to another woman.
WHO IS KAITLYN ARMSTRONG?
The day after Wilson’s murder, investigators quickly had an answer to who could have been driving that black Jeep that was seen on security cameras shortly before her death.
Investigators had spotted a similar looking Jeep in Strickland’s driveway when they spoke to him.
Det. Jonathan Riley: They see a black Jeep with the bike rack on the back of it. … so at that point we run the license plate, and it comes back that it’s registered to Kaitlin Armstrong.
Kaitlin Armstrong, Colin Strickland’s girlfriend. Tolley says he knew her very well.
Chris Tolley: We connected pretty early on. … Kaitlin and I became friends.
They were both from the Midwest.
Chris Tolley: We kinda had a similar — like, upbringing, and so I think that kind of — you know, help us become, like, even better friends. … She’d come over to parties I would have.
Armstrong had a background in finance and loved yoga.
Chris Tolley: She had a really strong, you know, kind of — you know, love for travel, love — you know, she had spent time pretty much, you know, globe-hopping around the world … really, you know, a kind of interesting person.
Armstrong got certified as a yoga instructor in Bali. After she met Strickland in 2019, she also started getting into cycling.
Chris Tolley: He was very willing to kind of show her, you know, what his passions were and how passionate he was for cycling and, you know, get her involved with it … and she also became … kind of addicted to cycling, along with Colin.
Armstrong even started racing on an amateur level.
Chris Tolley: At the end of the day, like, I feel like they had a pretty, like, normal relationship. They both ride bikes together. They would, you know, do fun stuff. And, you know, then 2020 happened and the pandemic started. So everyone was kind of, you know, forced with – you know, close quarters with their significant others.
The couple eventually moved in together.
Chris Tolley: The moment I — I saw the relationship become more serious is you know, they talked about — that they’d purchased a house recently — together, which I thought, you know, was a pretty big indication that it’s — you know, a serious relationship.
They also started a business together, restoring classic trailers.
Chris Tolley: I think she was helping with the finance side of things. Colin was doing a lot of the operations. … their relationship went from, you know, just a — normal couple to also owning a business together.
But things got bumpy in late 2021.
Chris Tolley: The breakup, I personally didn’t know, like, they were split up at the time. … neither of them mentioned anything to me.
It was during this time that Strickland and Wilson had briefly dated. Although Strickland had said that they had broken it off, Wilson seemed confused in the aftermath. Pilar Melendez covered the case for the Daily Beast.
Pilar Melendez | Daily Beast senior reporter: Around this time, I think Mo was pretty confused about the status of her relationship with Colin. … and she literally wrote:
…This weekend was strange for me…
…If you just want to be friends…that’s cool,
…Honestly…my mind has been going in circles…
Pilar Melendez: it sounds like someone who’s in their early 20s who just wants to know the status of her relationship with someone that’s confusing her. And it seems totally reasonable that she might be confused.
Strickland had a lot to say about his relationship with Armstrong.
Det. Marc McLeod: He starts to portray her as being the jealous type, even saying things like,” I can’t keep people in my phone.” Like “Mo’s not in my phone as Mo.”
Strickland told investigators he kept Wilson’s phone number under an alias in his contacts, and on that evening after he’d been out with Wilson at the pool, he texted Armstrong that he’d been out running an errand and that his phone had died. That was not true.
Investigators say, there were other clues pointing toward Armstrong.
Det. Jonathan Riley: … on the night of the murder, Kaitlin Armstrong’s phone was not connected to a cell network.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Not connected?
Det. Jonathan Riley: Correct. So, whether she powered it off, whether she put in an airplane mode, uh, there’s some something happened that her phone was not communicating with any cellphone towers.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Do you think this was on purpose?
Det. Jonathan Riley: Absolutely … in this day and age, if your phone is off and not connected to a network, you’re either the victim of a crime or you’re probably committing one.
Jonathan Vigliotti: A silent phone speaks louder in some cases than actions.
Det. Jonathan Riley: Oh, absolutely.
Strickland also shared that he had bought handguns for Armstrong and himself for personal security
Det. Marc McLeod: He talks about how they purchase guns.
Det. Marc McLeod: And that there are these two guns and that she has a gun, um, they’ve taken lessons and that those — these guns are back at the house. And so few things like that start to paint a picture of like, this could — it could definitely be her
Police worked quickly. That same day, investigators picked Armstrong up on an old warrant for failing to pay for a Botox treatment.
DETECTIVE CONNER: … what were you doing yesterday?
KAITLIN ARMSTRONG: I would like to leave.
Det. Marc McLeod: And she’s just kind of sitting there and she’s not showing very much emotion at all. … typically when we see some interviews going on and if you didn’t do it, this is your, like, you’re going to be like, you know, not me, not it. I want out of this room. What do you want to know? … So that you don’t come back looking for me. And there was none of that.
DETECTIVE CONNER: Is there any explanation as far as why the vehicle would be over there?
KAITLIN ARMSTRONG: I would like to leave …
Det. Jonathan Riley: She was almost completely disinterested in — in hearing what the detectives had to say.
Jonathan Vigliotti: So, it sounds like this is a big red flag immediately?
Marc McLeod: Oh —
Jonathan Riley: Oh, absolutely.
But investigators had to let Armstrong go. There was a problem — Armstrong’s birthdate didn’t match the date on the warrant, so the warrant wasn’t valid, and police didn’t have enough to charge her with anything else.
Two days after that interview, police got an unexpected call. It was from a friend of Armstrong. Police say the caller told them that Armstrong was so angry about Strickland’s relationship with Wilson, that she wanted to kill her. It was yet another indication that they were on the right track. A few days later, an arrest warrant was issued, but when police went looking for Armstrong, she was gone.
ON THE HUNT FOR KAITLIN ARMSTRONG
After Kaitlin Armstrong vanished, U.S. Marshals got the job of tracking her down.
Chris Godsick: Plain and simply the Marshals are man hunters.
Chris Godsick hosts and produces a podcast with the U.S. Marshals Service. His “Chasing Evil” podcast tells stories of some of the Marshals Service’s biggest cases, including the hunt for Armstrong.
Chris Godsick: Nobody thought Kaitlin Armstrong was going to run and she surprised them all. She disappeared.
“CHASING EVIL” PODCAST: Kaitlin Armstrong ran from a murder charge. … But the U.S. Marshals Lone Star Fugitive task force had a different plan …
Jonathan Vigliotti: So take me through this. … Where do you begin when you’re looking for somebody that does not want to be found?
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: You know, it depends on the case, honestly. … we look for friends, sometimes we look for … family.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: One of the things that I did was collect as many photos as I could.
Damien Fernandez and Emir Perez are Deputy U.S. Marshals. They joined Austin Police Officers Jonathan Riley and Marc McLeod on the case. The team, based in Texas, is known as the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force.
With no sign of Armstrong, the task force suspected she may have left town headed for her sister Christie’s place in upstate New York.
Det. Marc McLeod: We were thinking maybe she’s driving cross country. We didn’t know.
Their instincts were right. In upstate New York, another Deputy U.S. Marshal managed to track down Armstrong’s sister.
Jonathan Vigliotti: What did the sister say?
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: The sister ultimately said … that her sister had come to visit her … and stayed with her a couple of days, but that she had dropped her off at the airport in Newark. And last she heard, she was gonna board a flight back to Austin, but then called her back later and said that she decided that she was gonna drive back.
Det. Marc McLeod: … which made absolute — no sense to any of us that you would just drive back.
When the task force checked outbound flights at Newark Airport, no reservations had been made in Kaitlin Armstrong’s name.
Det. Marc McLeod: We never got a hit on Kaitlin Armstrong’s passport.
But the team had a hunch because Christie Armstrong told the Deputy U.S. Marshal in New York that she didn’t know where her passport was. So they checked with their contact at Homeland Security.
Det. Jonathan Riley: And within minutes of reaching out to him, he got back to me and he’s like, yeah, we’re showing Christie Armstrong traveled out of Newark, New Jersey, International Airport on a one-way flight to Costa Rica
Jonathan Vigliotti: You knew it.
Emir Perez: I said, there’s no way that the sister left. And we’re looking for her and we can’t find Kaitlin. No, that’s Kaitlin.
The U.S. Marshals suspected that Kaitlin Armstrong has used her sister’s passport to flee. Christie Armstrong later emphasized to authorities that she did not give her sister the passport. She has never been charged with any crime related to the case.
Kaitlin Armstrong landed in Costa Rica, the gem of central America and home to mountains, tropical rain forests and white sand beaches as far as the eye can see.
But she didn’t spend much time in San José. Shortly after arriving, Armstrong disappeared again — and she had a huge lead on the U.S. Marshals. Perez and Fernandez arrived in Costa Rica a month after Armstrong.
Jonathan Vigliotti: This is you guys now on the hunt. How intense is it once you touch down in Costa Rica? What happens?
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: You’re on a timeline.
Jonathan Vigliotti: I hear timeline and I hear the pressure is on —
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: Pressure’s on. I know we were sitting in the plane and we’re talking, what’s the game plan?
Although they would have help from the Costa Rican authorities and U.S. State Department officers on the ground, they knew finding Armstrong was going to be a big challenge.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: We had other intelligence indicating that … she was staying in hostels in Costa Rica. And I don’t know if you know anything about Costa Rica, but Costa Rica has a lot of hostels, a lot, an unbelievable amount of hostels.
The U.S. Marshals wouldn’t tell “48 Hours” exactly how their intelligence gathering worked, but their team back in the States had managed to track down the phone number for an American businessman they believed had connected with Armstrong at some point.
Det. Marc McLeod: We didn’t know what city he was in. So we decided, hey, let’s just cold call him. … So we call him. And we’re on the conference room and he answers. And we’re like, “Hey, it’s the U.S. Marshals. My name is Marc.” And he goes, “I don’t want any,” click just hangs up. Like it’s a — like a —
Jonathan Vigliotti: A telemarketer.
Det. Marc McLeod: Yeah. A telemarketer.
Det. Jonathan Riley: Right. Or a scam call.
After three or four call attempts, the businessman finally stayed on the line to answer the U.S. Marshals’ questions.
Det. Marc McLeod: And we actually ended up sending a picture of Kaitlin … while we’re on the phone with him. He looks at it and he goes, yes, but she doesn’t look like that and she’s not using that name.
Jonathan Vigliotti: And did he tell you her new name?
Det. Marc McLeod: He did.
Det. Jonathan Riley: It was Beth.
Det. Marc McLeod: Beth.
Det. Jonathan Riley: She was going by Beth.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Going by Beth.
And the businessman said Armstrong no longer looked like her photo. She had cut her hair and changed its color.
Det. Jonathan Riley: It was brown hair instead of red.
Emir Perez: Yeah, she dyed her hair.
The businessman told the U.S. Marshals he had no idea that the woman who called herself Beth was actually Kaitlin Armstrong, but he did tell them where they might find her.
Det. Marc McLeod: He’s like, “Well, I met her at a yoga studio in Jacó.”
Jacó is a popular tourist destination known for its nightlife and its beaches and the perfect place to hide. It was the U.S. Marshals’ first real tip, so they rushed there.
They canvassed the area, combed through hours of surveillance video, but could not find a single sign of Kaitlin Armstrong anywhere. It was a bust.
Chris Godsick: … but the Marshals have one more solid lead and that takes them to a beautiful touristy beach town— a one-street town called Santa Teresa.
WAS KAITLIN ARMSTRONG HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT?
One month after Kaitlin Armstrong disappeared, the U.S. Marshals were in hot pursuit of her in another area of Costa Rica. A source had suggested she might have gone to a small village on the Pacific coast.
The U.S. Marshals took a ferry to reach a remote peninsula. Once there, they drove by car through mountains to the tiny town of Santa Teresa. But when they finally arrived, they ran into an unexpected problem.
Jonathan Vigliotti: … you get to Santa Teresa. … Was it easy to identify her there from the other people that were there?
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: I think from the get-go we were told … you’re gonna be in for a surprise ’cause a lot of the women in Santa Teresa look just like Kaitlin — a lot of them.
And it turns out, that advice was right. The town was full of foreign tourists. Deputy U.S. Marshals Fernandez and Perez arrived in Santa Teresa after dark.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: So, we get there, and he starts walking down a main strip that’s there, uh, like down the street.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: There’s only one road on — on that town.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: And he sees —
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: Main road.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: He sees a girl and he says, you know, that looks just like her. Well, a couple minutes later, we see another one. And it’s late at night and we’re like, whoa, oh, man, that’s two. … And then there’s another one.
As the U.S. Marshals tried to find Armstrong, they even had one of their female operatives start going to yoga classes to see if they could spot her.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: She actually did three different classes for us.
And they tapped into local contacts.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: Oh, yeah. We made friends with people there that would send us pictures. Oh look, I — I think I saw her at this restaurant yesterday and she’s in the back in the background of a photo that I took, stuff like that.
In fact, people had seen Armstrong at local spots in Santa Teresa, but they didn’t realize who she was. Armstrong was hiding in plain sight using different names.
Jonathan Vigliotti: She had like multiple names.
Greg Haber: Yeah. Um, she came in —
Man in restaurant: Beth?
Greg Haber: Um —
Jonathan Vigliotti Beth?
Greg Haber: It wasn’t Beth.
Woman in restaurant: Ari?
Greg Haber: Ari.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Ari.
Greg Haber: Ari, right. So she came in as Ari.
Greg Haber is an American from the New York area who owns a restaurant called Kooks Smokehouse and Bar in Santa Teresa.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Ari. What did Ari look like? Did she stand out to you?
Greg Haber: Pretty, came in, um, you know, introduced herself as a yoga teacher, which is basically anybody else down here … “hey, I moved here, teaching yoga down the street” … and that was it.
Jonathan Vigliotti: What was her general vibe like?
Greg Haber: She definitely seemed like she was trying to establish roots here. Like this was gonna be her new home.
And Haber says one day he noticed something different about her.
Greg Haber: I saw her on the beach. … I walk my dog on the beach every night for sunset. … And you’re walking through, and you see the bandage on her face. It’s like, “Oh, what happened?” She’s like, “Oh, surfboard hit me in the face.”
Greg Haber: It’s like, well, happens to everybody, right, at least once. So, you wouldn’t even question that story here. Like, you see people all the time.
Turns out that bandage would later prove to be an important part of this story — and one of the reasons the U.S. Marshals say Armstrong was so hard to find.
Jonathan Vigliotti: So, you’re this close to giving up.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: Yes.
Finally, they decided on one last tactic: they turned to a local Facebook page.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: We decided we were gonna put an ad out, for a yoga instructor and see what would happen.
Jonathan Vigliotti: So this is the equivalent of Craigslist.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez Yes, correct. Right. Pretty much.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: A little bit more lively, but yes. … And just saying, hey, we’re at this hostel, we’re looking for a yoga instructor as soon as possible. Please contact us at this number.
But after almost a week of hunting, even that didn’t seem to be working.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: Sunday, we decided we haven’t gotten any response back from anything.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: Nothing. We’re burned.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: So, Sunday we’re like, OK, we’re done. … None of ’em have panned out. So —
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: We’re going back to San José
Now back in San José, the U.S. Marshals were getting ready to head home when suddenly —
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: We got a bite, somebody that, um, identified herself … as a yoga instructor and said they wanted to meet with us at a particular hostel … and we said … “this is, this is our chance!”
Perez and Fernandez rushed back to Santa Teresa just ahead of a tropical storm.
Tourism Police Lieutenant Juan Carlos Solanos’ team helped the U.S. Marshals in their search for Armstrong. They did surveillance on a hostel called “Don Jon’s” where the yoga instructor — the one who answered that online ad — was believed to be.
Jonathan Vigliotti (to Solano in Costa Rica): So, there is this massive international manhunt, and of all places in the world, it ends in this very discreet hostel.
Lt. Juan Carlos Solano: Sí, aquí se ubicó, ella estaba hospedada acá. (Translation: Yes, this is where she was staying, she was staying here.)
It was now time for the U.S. Marshals to make their move.
They decided that Deputy U.S. Marshal Perez would approach the woman alone. They didn’t want to scare her off. He would pretend to be a tourist and try to get a really good look at her face.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: So I walked up … and I got in. And I saw two individuals sitting there at a table, off to the left, as soon as I walked in.
He says one was a woman.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: She looked like Kaitlin, but not 100 percent. … So I thought, well, how can I approach her or get close enough where I start asking questions where she doesn’t suspect something, So, I decided that I was gonna speak to her in Spanish. So I spoke to her in nothing but Spanish.
Jonathan Vigliotti: So, you’re communicating, she goes to use her phone for Google Translate and then –
Deputy U.S. Marshal Emir Perez: So, I got a little closer ’cause I saw that she was trying to get to Google Translate on her phone and she’d raised it up to me and I got even closer. … And I noticed that she had a bandage on her nose and possibly her lips were swollen. and I saw her eyes … The eyes are the exact same ones that I saw in the picture. And this is her 100 percent.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: He gets in the car, and he is like, “That’s her. She’s in there.”
Local police moved in to make the actual arrest. And soon the U.S. Marshals discovered why Armstrong had been so hard to find: she had been getting plastic surgery when they first arrived in Santa Teresa.
At the hostel, they found a receipt.
Damien Fernandez: The receipt for, surgery.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Plastic surgery?
Damien Fernandez: Plastic surgery.
In side-by-side photos, you can see that Armstrong changed the shape of her nose. The Deputy Marshals said their female operative — the woman they sent to yoga classes to try and find Armstrong — told them Armstrong’s new look would have tricked her.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: She told me, I think if I would’ve run into her at the yoga studio doing yoga classes, I don’t think I would’ve recognized her.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Wow. It almost worked.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Damien Fernandez: It almost worked.
THE CASE AGAINST KAITLIN ARMSTRONG
The U.S. Marshals took Armstrong back to Texas, where she was charged and held in jail. But just weeks before she was due to stand trial for the murder of Moriah Wilson, Armstrong escaped from custody again.
Pilar Melendez:as they were walking out.
Pilar Melendez from the Daily Beast says Armstrong didn’t get far before deputies caught her.
Pilar Melendez: It was pretty astonishing that she did that given the fact that she had tried to escape prosecution prior.
D.A. José Garza: This was just more evidence of her guilt.
José Garza is Travis County’s district attorney. He says his team of prosecutors — Rickey Jones and Guillermo Gonzalez — were more than ready to try the case.
D.A. José Garza: When we learned that she had tried to escape, it just added to our confidence level in the facts of this case … that we would be able to secure justice for Moriah and her family.
On Nov. 1, 2023, Armstrong’s trial began.
RICKEY JONES | Prosecutor (opening statement): The last thing Mo did on this earth was scream in terror.
In opening statements, Jones told the jury aboutthat
captured the last moments of Moriah Wilson’s life.
RICKEY JONES (opening statement): Those screams are followed by “pow! pow!” Two gunshots. … Kaitlin Armstrong stood over Mo Wilson and put a third shot. Right into Mo’s heart.
Prosecutors said Armstrong had been tracking Wilson by using a sports app.
Pilar Melendez: Kaitlin, prior to the murder, had been following Mo on the Strava app, which is basically an app that athletes use to track their miles, running, biking … And she knew exactly where she was.
And they said that Armstrong, on the night of the murder, was most likely tracking Colin Strickland, as well.
Guillermo Gonzalez | Prosecutor: She did have the ability to monitor his communications. She had access to all of his passwords. She had access to his Instagram account.
Rickey Jones: I believe that when Mo sent Colin a text letting him know the address where she was. I believe that Kaitlin Armstrong was at home on Colin Strickland’s laptop. … She saw that message.
After murdering Wilson and before leaving the scene, Jones told the jury that Armstrong took Wilson’s bike and discarded it in the bushes just yards away from where her Jeep was parked.
Rickey Jones: Our belief is that she maybe staged it to look like a robbery or something. Or, another theory is, Mo Wilson’s bike is a tool of her trade. It might have been like the bullet shot in the heart. I’m going to shoot you in the heart. I’m going to throw away your bike.
But they said Armstrong made one big mistake: she left her DNA behind on the handlebars and seat of Wilson’s bike. And that’s not all the evidence prosecutors had against Armstrong. There was that receipt that showed Armstrong had received plastic surgery while hiding out in Costa Rica.
Rickey Jones: Everything she does … it’s all consistent with trying to evade the authorities.
But when it was the defense’s turn, attorney Geoffrey Puryear told the jury there was no direct evidence — including security footage — that actually showed Armstrong was at the scene of the crime.
GEOFFREY PURYEAR (in court): Not one witness saw Kaitlin Armstrong allegedly commit this murder.
Then why would Armstrong flee and hide from authorities? Defense attorney Rick Cofer pointed the finger at Colin Strickland.
RICK COFER (in court): Was she scared? What do you think? Do you think that she may have been concerned a little bit that her boyfriend had killed someone? … Fear results in fight or flight and it was flight.
But Jones said, there was a big problem with this theory because Strickland had nothing to do with the murder of Wilson.
Rickey Jones: In fact, at the time of the murder, he was actually on the phone speaking with someone. … it wasn’t Colin Strickland.
Armstrong’s defense team did not respond to “48 Hours”‘ request for an interview.
After a two-week trial, it took the jury around two hours to decide Armstrong’s fate.
JUDGE (reading verdict): We the jury find the defendant…
Rickey Jones: As a prosecutor, the first row right behind you is the family … you began to feel their pain and their desire for a just outcome for their loved ones.
One day after her conviction, Armstrong was sentenced to 90 years behind bars.
But before the case came to an end, Judge Brenda Kennedy allowed Caitlin Cash — Wilson’s close friend whose apartment she had been staying at and who had found Moriah’s body – to take the stand and speak directly to Armstrong.
CAITLIN CASH (in court): So many people in this room have lost so much. … I’m angry at you, at the utter tragic nature, at the senselessness at not being able to hear Mo’s voice again. … I feel deep sadness for the road ahead.
Then it was Moriah Wilson’s mother’s turn.
KAREN WILSON (in court): I hate what you did to my beautiful daughter. It was very selfish and cowardly that violent act on May 11th. It was cowardly because you never chose to face her woman-to-woman in a civil conversation. She would’ve listened. She was an amazing listener. She would have cared about your feelings.
But despite the pain, Karen Wilson closed with words of love and optimism, because she said that’s how Moriah would have wanted it.
KAREN WILSON (in court): You killed her earthly body, but her spirit is so very much alive, and you can never change that.
Today in Kingdom Trails in northern Vermont, a place that was sacred to Wilson, a trail was built in her honor. It’s called “Moriah’s Ascent.”
Lisa Gosselin Lynn: Moriah was a Vermonter. She was giving. She was hardworking. She was honest. She was caring. And she came from a wonderful family. And that family really wants that legacy and all of her good qualities to inspire others …
To honor Moriah, the Wilson family created the Moriah Wilson Foundation that promotes healthy living and community building.
Produced by Chuck Stevenson and Chris Ritzen. Hannah Vair is the field producer. Alicia Tejada is the coordinating producer. Ryan Smith, Jenna Jackson and Cindy Cesare are the development producers. Matthew Mosk is the senior investigative editorial director. Wini Dini, Mike Baluzy, Grayce Arlotta-Berner and Joan Adelman are the editors. Lourdes Aguiar is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.
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