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It’s been more than three decades since a 22-year-old Arizona woman was found dead in her apartment in 1989, but investigators now believe they’ve arrested the man responsible for the brutal murder and a separate cold case sexual assault at the same apartment complex the next year.
Thomas Cox was arrested in Colorado Springs and extradited back to Arizona after DNA and fingerprint evidence allegedly linked the 58-year-old to the crimes, according to a probable cause statement obtained by Oxygen.com.
Susan Amy Morse was discovered dead in her Mesa apartment on Oct. 16, 1989 after she failed to show up to work and her concerned parents requested a welfare check, according to the court records and a news releases from police.
The 22-year-old had been beaten, sexually assaulted and asphyxiated with an extension cord. She was found dead in her bed with the covers pulled up around her, authorities said.
The next year, in November of 1990, there was another break-in at the same apartment complex. The 23-year-old woman in that case reported that a man crawled in through a window. She woke up to find the man holding a knife to her stomach, and he told her that “he was not going to hurt her just rape her,” according to the court records. She was sexually assaulted, but survived.
The attacker also stole cash and a VCR from the home.
For decades the cases remained unsolved, until a new investigation led authorities to Cox, whose mother had lived next door to Morse at the time of her murder. He had never been considered a suspect in either case, authorities said.
The break in the case came through genetic genealogy. Authorities used DNA recovered from the crime scene to develop a family tree for the suspect and were able to identify Cox as a likely suspect in the crimes. The DNA match was confirmed after investigators staked out his Colorado Springs home and recovered a Styrofoam cup, lid and straw from the trash, which was discovered to have DNA that matched the crime scene evidence, according to the probable cause statement.
Investigators say they were also able to match a print located on a screen that had been removed from one of the victim’s windows to prints taken from Cox for misdemeanor offenses committed in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Mesa Police Detective Richard Encinas told Oxygen.com that although Morse’s parents have died, police were able to speak to a cousin and aunt of the victim.
“They were obviously relieved that a person was charged after all this time and were hoping that justice will finally be served,” Encinas said.
Mesa Police Sgt. Chuck Trapani told local station KSAZ-TV the surviving victim was also pleased a suspect has been arrested.
Cox was indicted for the crimes in March, according to court documents obtained by KNXV-TV.
He is now facing a total of 16 counts, including first-degree murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, and burglary.
FBI Phoenix also assisted in the investigation and said in a statement to Oxygen.com that “the passage of time does not deter law enforcement’s persistence for truth and justice.”
“The results of this cooperative effort will provide the victims and their families the long-awaited justice they deserve,” the statement continued. “We are always available, ready and willing to assist our local law enforcement partners and bring to bear FBI resources to get bad actors off the streets—no matter how long it takes.”
Cox is currently being held on a $1 million bond.
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