Family fighting to keep a Mason woman’s killer behind bars

Gary Heath murdered Vendetta Cox in 1985.
Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 9:53 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - The Ohio Parole Board will soon decide whether convicted murderer Gary Heath walks free, something the family of the woman he killed as well as two county prosecutor’s offices vehemently oppose.

Cresta Eshleman was 13 when Heath murdered her mother, Vendetta Cox, in 1985.

“She was very bubbly actually,” Eshleman said of her mother. “Everybody loved her. She was very athletic, very beautiful.”

Cox, then 33, disappeared from her Mason apartment in October 1985. She was found dead days later.

Heath was Cox’s live-in boyfriend.

“He did strangle her there, put her in a box and took her out in his truck and took her to the field and dumped her,” Eshleman recounted.

Heath was convicted of the murder in Warren County in 1996.

“I do feel better that he is in prison,” Eshleman said, “and I think that’s where he should stay.”

Cox’s murder wasn’t Heath’s only violent crime.

In Hamilton County, Heath was also convicted of shooting a woman, Deanna Louderback, who was his wife at the time. The shooting left Louderback paralyzed.

“Definitely brutal, horrific... I can’t imagine,” Eshleman said. “And that’s what scares me the most, like out of the blue, I could see something happening if he got out.”

Heath has been serving time in the Marion Correctional Institution, but an August parole hearing could presage his release.

Eshleman and some of her supporters are fighting against that with petitions and letters. She says she fears not just for her own life, but for the safety of others.

“If he were to get in another relationship,” she said, “I would feel bad if I didn’t try to do something to keep him in, from hurting another woman.”

Facing what happened to her mother every time Heath has a hearing is not easy for Eshleman, but she says no matter the pain, she will never stop fighting for her mother.

“I hate that she missed my prom, my wedding, giving birth to my kids, but I want her to be proud of me, so I try to do the best I can,” she said. “If we can keep her memory alive by going through this every 10 years or five years or whatever it takes, that’s what I’m willing to do.”

After Heath’s hearing in August, it could be weeks before the board’s decision is made public.

Anyone interested in writing to the parole board regarding Heath’s possible release can do so at the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office or the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please include the title when you click here to report it.

Copyright 2021 WXIX. All rights reserved.