DNA has linked a convicted attempted murderer to four cold case murders in Colorado from 1984, including the killings of a couple and their young daughter, authorities said.
Alexander Christopher Ewing, 57, faces charges on multiple counts of murder in a series of gruesome attacks that left a family in Aurora and a woman in Lakewood dead days apart in 1984.
Patricia Louise Smith was 50 years old when she was found sexually assaulted and bludgeoned to death in her Lakewood home on Jan. 10, 1984, police said.
Six days later, the Bennett family was celebrating their daughter Melissa’s seventh birthday when a man armed with a hammer and knife entered their Aurora home, officials said.
Bruce Bennett, 27, was found bludgeoned with his neck slit on the stairs of his home, while his wife, Debra Bennett, 26, was raped and beaten to death with a hammer in their master bedroom.
Melissa was also raped and bludgeoned to death in the bedroom she shared with her 3-year-old sister, Vanessa, who was beaten in the head and face, authorities said.
Bruce Bennett’s mother, Connie Bennett, discovered the carnage and Vanessa, who survived, the next day, officials said.
The killings followed a series of attacks on residents in Aurora.
On Jan. 4, 1984, a man snuck into James and Kimberly Haubenschild’s home and beat them both with a hammer. James Haubenschild suffered a fractured skull, while Kimberly Haubenschild was left with a concussion, but both survived.
That same day, Donna Dixon was attacked by a hammer-wielding man who struck while she was in her home’s garage. Dixon, a flight attendant, was left in a coma, but survived.
Several months later, Ewing was arrested after he battered a man nearly to death with a 20-pound boulder after slipping into the man’s Arizona home through an open door, officials said
Ewing was charged with attempted murder and was transferred out of state to another jail while he awaited trial. He escaped police custody in Nevada while being transferred in a jail van to a hearing, and armed with an ax handle, he entered the Barry family’s home through a back door, the Denver Post reported.
Nancy Barry, who went downstairs in the middle of the night to prepare a bottle for their baby, spotted Ewing and ran to her bedroom screaming. Christopher Barry awoke to Ewing beating him with the ax handle and was left with severe head injuries that put him in a weeklong coma, authorities said.
Nancy Barry reportedly tried to block the blows to her husband and in the process, both her wrists and one arm was broken.
She managed to call 911 during the attack and then played dead as Ewing continued to beat her, officials said.
Ewing was captured two days after attacking the Barry family. He was convicted of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Several weeks ago, Nevada uploaded Ewing’s DNA to the FBI’s national database. DNA evidence left at the scene of the Bennett case was first uploaded to the database in 2001, and in 2010, a DNA profile was developed from the Smith case that matched the Bennett murders.
After uploading Ewing’s DNA, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation allegedly found it matched the DNA found in the Bennett and Smith cases.
“It sent a chill down my spine,” Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz told reporters at a press conference Friday.
Ewing faces three counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, three counts of felony murder, attempted murder after deliberation, two counts of sexual assault using physical force, first-degree assault with a deadly weapon, sexual assault of a child and first-degree burglary with a weapon. Formal charges are expected to be filed this week. He has not yet entered a plea.
"Justice has been delayed, but I’m confident that justice in this case will not be denied," Jefferson County District Attorney Pete Weir said.
Officials said they have not yet determined if they will pursue the death penalty, noting that an extensive evaluation needs to be made first, but said it is not off the table. Ewing will likely be extradited from Nevada, but it was not clear how long that would take.
“Today represents the first public and formal step in what will prove to be a long journey toward justice in this case,” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said.
He noted the break in the cases came only after a change in Nevada state law that previously prohibited obtaining an inmate’s DNA and urged other states to do away with similar restrictions.
“Every state has unsolved cases,” Brauchler said. “If you are one of those handful of states — Montana — that doesn’t have the DNA law that we have — that Nevada now has ... pass this, do this for the victims of those cases that are still hanging out there, wondering if they’ll ever get justice on their cases. Do this for the victims that have gaping holes of crimes that have not been solved.”