1993 cold murder DNA, Links Convicted Child Predator.
St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar announced Wednesday that he has charged 61-year-old Earl W. Cox with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sodomy in the abduction, rape and killing of Angie Housman.
The news comes more than 25 years after the fourth-grader from St. Ann was found dead in a wooded area in St. Charles County. Angie had disappeared from her school bus stop in St. Ann nine days earlier.
Lohmar announced the charges at a news conference at the St. Charles County Police Department flanked by members of the St. Ann and St. Charles County police departments and members of the St. Charles County crime lab.
“I never thought we’d solve this case,” Lohmar said.
Lohmar said DNA links Cox to the crime. “Only one in 58.1 trillion unrelated individuals, selected at random, could be expected to have that same profile,” police said in court papers.
Lohmar said it’s too early to say if he will seek the death penalty.
Cox, a St. Louis native, has been in federal custody since he was convicted in 2003 for his role in an international online child pornography ring. His attorney has not returned a phone call seeking comment.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that Cox had completed his sentence in 2011, but the government had deemed him a sexually dangerous person and has kept him incarcerated at the Butner Medium Security Facility in North Carolina ever since.
Cox’s name was on a list of local sex offenders the FBI put together four years after Angie’s death. But he was never questioned about the case, Lohmar said.
Cox was convicted of molesting little girls he babysat while assigned to an Air Force base in Germany. He had relatives living within blocks of Angie’s house at the time of her abduction.
He was questioned in connection with two incidents involving inappropriate contact with children in 1989 and 1991 before Angie disappeared. Court records are unclear on the location and allegation of the 1991 incident, but the 1989 incident involved inappropriate contact with two 7-year-old girls at the movies and a park not far from where Angie disappeared. Angie was 9 years old.
Cox was charged with assault in the 1989 case, but ultimately those charges were dropped, Lohmar said. Authorities have been in touch with St. Louis County prosecutors in recent weeks and plan to apply for sexual assault warrants against Cox for that crime as well, Lohmar said.
Most of the original investigators in Angie’s case have retired or died, so it’s difficult to know why Cox was never questioned, Lohmar said.
Lohmar was a college student when Angie’s case shook the metro area.
The fourth-grader at Ritenour’s Buder School was abducted on Nov. 18, 1993, minutes after her school bus dropped her off about a half-block from her home on Wright Avenue in St. Ann.
Hundreds of police officers and volunteers scoured the area. Ultimately, a deer hunter found her body nine days later tied to a tree in a remote section of Busch Wildlife Area in St. Charles County.
She had been starved, handcuffed and sexually assaulted. Her eyes and mouth were covered with duct tape. Authorities believe she died from exposure just hours before she was found. Her nude body was found partly covered by snow. Her head was wrapped in duct tape, except for her nose.
The crime sent local parents into a panic and led to one of the most intense police investigations ever launched in the St. Louis area.
After being appointed prosecutor in 2012, Lohmar convened a task force to dissect cold cases. Angie’s case, he said, was top of mind for St. Ann officer John Lankford and St. Charles County officer Ed Copeland.
“That’s been the case that’s haunted these guys for years,” he said.
For about two years, the pair worked the case whenever they could. Last fall, they planned to send more than 300 pieces of evidence to a private lab, but the St. Charles County Crime Lab was in the final phase of testing the evidence using new techniques, so they waited, Lohmar said.
Angie’s underwear was among that evidence. Forensic experts checked one of the last places on the underwear that had not been tested for the presence of DNA. On March 1, the sample matched Cox’s DNA profile in a national database, Lohmar said.
“A lot of people are going to wonder, ‘How did this never get found before?’” Lohmar said. “It’s just the advances that have been made in DNA technology, and this was one of the very last places to be checked on this particular item.”
Once they had a name, investigators delved into Cox’s past. He did not make any statements to police who visited him earlier this year, Lohmar said.
Police also have questioned Angie’s stepfather, Ron Bone. Bone said in an interview Tuesday that police told him his DNA was found on Angie’s body. Bone said he’s not surprised that investigators would find his DNA on his stepdaughter, because Angie lived with him and her mother, Diane Bone. Diane Bone died two years ago at age 52 from cancer.
Lohmar declined to comment on Bone specifically. “Here’s what I can tell ya,” the prosecutor told reporters Wednesday. “We have reason to believe that Earl W. Cox was not the only suspect involved in this case.” He said “there could be” more arrests.
The forensic scientists at the St. Charles County crime lab have tested hundreds of pieces of evidence from the Angie Housman case dozens of times since her murder. In the end, one sliver of fabric — about the size of a pea — from her pink Barbie underwear finally cracked the case.
Lohmar said lab director Bryan Hampton told him technology, tenacity and time are the three Ts that helped lead police to a suspect. Specifically, Hampton pointed to advances in DNA technology and the tenacity of forensic scientist Brian Krey.
The dark-pink slice of the banding around her underwear was one of 154 pieces, or “cuttings”, that Krey took from the underwear to be tested for the presence of DNA, Lohmar said.
Lohmar said some people in the forensic science community might “gasp” at the number of samples St. Charles scientists analyzed; most labs, he said, only allow scientists to examine a handful of “cuttings.” But Hampton did not put any limits on how many samples Frey could analyze or the amount of time it took, Lohmar said.
It wasn’t until mid-2017 that technology advanced enough to prevent clothing dye like on the underwear from making it difficult to extract reliable DNA samples, Lohmar said. Hampton, Frey and their lab’s technical leader, Daniel Fahnestick, also knew that the way in which DNA is considered a “match” to a person was expanding, so they waited until both of those advances developed enough to reexamine all of the evidence in the case, Lohmar said.
Lohmar said the forensic team “pumped the brakes” a few times during its research, knowing these advances were coming and not wanting to blow their chances by rendering samples unusable for future testing.
The team was in the final phase of re-testing all of the evidence when they got the match, Lohmar said.
Lohmar emphasized that no outside influence, such as social media groups, that drove investigation of this case. It was simply the desire on the part of police and scientists involved, he said.
Hampton was with the St. Louis County Police lab when the Housman evidence first arrived. Krey has tested the evidence dozens of times throughout his 15 years at the lab. And Fahnestock was told about the case during his first week on the job in St. Charles 10 years ago, Lohmar said.
“They found the needle in the haystack and they didn’t have a magnet to use,” Lohmar said. “This was about good science, good lab work and good luck.”