A Utah man in prison for stabbing a neighbor with a screwdriver has been charged in the cold case murder of a 60-year-old woman who also lived nearby, authorities said.
Belen Perez was found strangled to death in her home in Provo on May 21, 2014. The 60-year-old woman’s adult son, who lived with her at the time, discovered his mother inside the front door with a power cord taken from a nearby stereo tied around her neck, according to a probable cause statement filed by the deputy Utah county attorney.
Bleach-based liquid drain cleaner and anti-freeze had been poured over Perez’s body, with particular attention paid to her chest, neck and head, investigators said. Her purse was splayed on the couch, an iPod and about $350 in cash missing, the affidavit said.
Earlier that day, Jerad Dale Gourdin was allegedly seen knocking on doors and asking neighbors about odd jobs he could do for money, the affidavit said. Gourdin was staying two doors down from Perez’s home.
Witnesses told police he went door to door for about four or five hours, asking if he could mow or fertilize residents’ lawns as well as asking to borrow equipment to complete such tasks.
One neighbor who lived several doors down from Perez told police Gourdin knocked on her door three separate times asking for work, and that each time she said no, “she felt like the entire time she was speaking with him at the door, he appeared to be looking past her into her home,” the affidavit said.
Perez had last been seen alive shopping at Walmart at 1:06 p.m., surveillance footage from the store showed.
“Gourdin’s activities also seemed to stop in the early afternoon, and he was not seen again by neighbors until later in the evening,” the affidavit said.
Police said Gourdin’s girlfriend at the time told them he took two showers that day, including one in his clothes that lasted about 45 minutes.
By the time he got out of the shower, police had arrived at Perez’s home.
Gourdin allegedly began acting strangely, changing his clothes multiple times and standing on the bed to get a better view of the police activity outside, the affidavit said. When his girlfriend turned on the news to watch coverage of Perez’s death, Gourdin allegedly told her to turn it off and said “they would not be watching anything about that,” according to the affidavit.
Police said Gourdin’s girlfriend also noticed him burning items in a bonfire in the backyard.
Investigators said they had long suspected Gourdin in Perez’s killing.
He was interviewed several times by investigators and allegedly gave several different statements about his interactions with Perez.
In a written statement, Gourdin allegedly said he only talked with Perez while she worked in her yard, but that she didn’t speak English and so he left.
The second time he was interviewed, Gourdin allegedly said Perez brought him to her backyard, but that he hadn’t stepped inside her home. But toward the end of the interview, Gourdin allegedly said he may have stepped inside the doorway and stood on the carpet. He also allegedly noted his DNA might be found on Perez’s home’s screen door, front door and the gate to the fence.
In his third interview with police, Gourdin allegedly admitted that Perez gave him an address book to leave his contact information, and that his fingerprints or DNA might be on that. He also allegedly admitted to stepping far enough inside the home to put the book down on a small sewing table, which was about four feet from the doorway, the affidavit said. Police said Gourdin also told them he shook Perez’s hand.
Perez's clothing and the ligature were processed for DNA, but none was obtained.
The day after Perez was killed, Gourdin stabbed another neighbor with a screwdriver, officials said. He was convicted of aggravated assault in the attack and is serving time at Utah State Prison.
There, he allegedly recently approached another inmate and asked about joining a gang, saying he knew that the initiation required the prospective member to kill someone and would a previous incident count, the affidavit said.
Law enforcement said that inmate told them what Gourdin allegedly said.
“Much of what we had in the beginning pointed to Mr. Gourdin, and at this point we are confident that he’s the individual who committed this offense,” Utah County prosecutor Lance Bastian told reporters on Monday.
Gourdin was charged with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony. A court date for Gourdin has not yet been set.