EVANSTON — The Uinta County Attorney’s Office has filed first-degree murder charges against Mark D. Burns for the July 2001 murder of Sue Ellen Higgins. In addition to the murder charge, Burns has also been charged with attempt to commit aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, possessing a firearm as a convicted felon and larceny.
Higgins was discovered dead in her Red Mountain area home on July 18, 2001, when her husband Sean returned home from work. The couple’s young son, who was home at the time, was uninjured. A medical examiner would later determine Higgins’ death was caused by two gunshot wounds to the head, one of which was from a “hard contact” entry site.
According to court documents, investigators spoke to several individuals who claimed to have seen a man in a suit in the Red Mountain area that afternoon, and Sean Higgins reported his wife’s credit cards, checkbook and a camera missing from the home.
After several years, Sean Higgins was arrested and charged with his wife’s murder; however, those charges were later dropped due to concerns about inconsistent evidence. The case became an unsolved cold case.
In the fall of 2019, Burns was arrested in Utah in connection to multiple violent rapes that occurred in the late 1990s in various locations in Utah and Wyoming. While in custody on those charges, Burns allegedly confessed to Higgins’ murder.
An affidavit in support of the charges states Burns has been interviewed on multiple occasions by Utah and Evanston investigators, as well as the FBI. During those interviews, Burns has allegedly provided numerous details about the events of the day of Higgins’ murder, including the location, the layout of the home, what the victim was wearing and the missing items.
Burns allegedly told investigators he was becoming bored with the rapes and wanted to try a new crime. He planned to commit an armed robbery and decided to come to Evanston from Utah because it was out of state, yet still relatively close. He decided he would wear a suit and carry a clipboard so people would not be suspicious, and he would say he was conducting a survey.
Court documents state he told investigators he looked for a somewhat secluded yet relatively affluent neighborhood and happened to notice a woman pulling into a driveway of a house. He then parked his car down the hill, walked back to the home and knocked on the door, telling Higgins when she answered that he was conducting a Chamber of Commerce survey about things that could be improved in the community.
He then pretended to have lost his pen and asked to borrow one in order to be invited into the home. Burns said once inside, he pulled his gun and told her it was a robbery. He asked if anyone else was at home and she said her young child was taking a nap; Burns claimed he never saw the child while in the home. He claimed he had no intention of killing her and was only going to have her sit down and tie her up, but as she sat down she went to grab a cordless phone and told him she was calling police, so he shot her once and then again from close range.
Burns allegedly then took items from the home, including Higgins’ checkbook, credit cards and a camera that was sitting on a kitchen counter. He said when he returned to the room where Higgins’ body was slumped in a chair, he moved her to the floor because he thought it would be “rude” to let her fall on her face. He claimed he knew he didn’t need to pick up the bullet casings because they would be too small for fingerprint identification and apparently boasted to investigators that he knew this because of his very high IQ.
Court documents indicate Burns told investigators he never attempted to commit a crime in the same fashion again and said it never occurred to him that someone wouldn’t do what they were told or try to call the police with a gun pointed at them. He further indicated the crime wasn’t the thrill he hoped it would be and said he “feels bad about” killing Higgins.
Davis County, Utah, deputies indicated Burns served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was convicted of first-degree rape in North Carolina and was in prison for that offense from 1975 to 1988.
He could be sentenced to life in prison, with or without the possibility of parole, on the murder charge, or prosecutors could elect to seek the death penalty. Attempting to commit armed robbery carries a penalty of 5-25 years, as does the aggravated burglary charge. Possessing a firearm as a convicted felon has a possible sentence of up to three years and the larceny charge a penalty of up to six months.
Burns remains in custody in Utah, where he is facing sexual assault charges. Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas said law enforcement will serve Burns with a warrant, and her office will lodge a detainer in Utah.