New suspect in 1994 Palisade slaying lived near scene of killing
He lived down the street.
Investigators in recent months learned 39-year-old Douglas Thames Jr. in 1994 rented an apartment on the opposite side of the street “two to three buildings down” from where 19-year-old Jacie Taylor was discovered raped and murdered June 4, 1994.
“You could throw a baseball” from one building to the other, an official involved in the investigation observed.
“Douglas Thames was not contacted nor identified as a suspect or a witness in the original 1994 to 1996 investigation,” reads an arrest warrant affidavit for Thames, which was issued last week in connection with Taylor’s murder.
“In the 1990s, law enforcement had identified over 120 lay witnesses who had either been directly interviewed or who had been identified as potential witnesses,” the affidavit said. “The name ‘Douglas Thames,’ however, was unknown to investigators until (CBI) Agent Woods’ December 20, 2011 report.”
Among other reasons Thames might have been discovered by authorities in the mid-1990s, witnesses told investigators over recent months that Thames’ girlfriend at the time was friends with Jacie Taylor and that Thames and his girlfriend socialized with Taylor, according to the affidavit.
An arrest warrant for Thames for suspicion of first-degree murder after deliberation, felony murder and first-degree sexual assault, was signed last week by District Judge Brian Flynn.
The 25-page affidavit in the case explains the same process of DNA testing that exonerated 51-year-old Robert Dewey also allowed investigators with Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, Colorado Bureau of Investigation and Palisade Police Department to zero in on Thames.
Thames is currently serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for his conviction in the 1989 rape and murder of Susan Doll in Fort Collins. Thames was arrested in August 1995 by the Fort Collins Police Department, convicted at trial, and sentenced in June 1996.
State prison records indicate he’s housed currently at the Fremont Correctional Facility. Dewey most recently had been serving time at the Limon Correctional Facility. It wasn’t immediately clear if the men were ever at the same facility, at the same time, over the past nearly 16 years.
Dewey told an investigator he didn’t recognize Thames’ photo, but said he might have heard the last name.
Investigators were eyeing Thames after a CBI agent’s December 2011 report, which exonerated Dewey but matched Thames’s DNA profile to semen on a blanket found in Taylor’s apartment, according to the affidavit. The “hit” on DNA happened after a biological sample from the blanket was entered into an offender database.
The report said Thames was a potential contributor to DNA found underneath Taylor’s fingernails and a dog leash used to strangle her, in addition to pieces of soap inserted into her body, the affidavit said.
Officials sought a court order to extract a fresh DNA sample from Thames to get harder evidence.
An investigation team has met weekly since January.
Thames was no stranger to Mesa County Sheriff’s Department deputies in the mid-1990s, according to the affidavit.
Sheriff’s Department records showed he was contacted several times by deputies between October 1990 and August 1995, when he was arrested in Mesa County in connection with Doll’s murder, the affidavit said.
According to CBI records, Thames was jailed by Mesa County deputies in November 1990 on suspicion of trespassing a vehicle, second-degree burglary and larceny. The records said he was arrested again in February 1992 on suspicion of aiding escape and trespassing by Grand Junction police. The records also said he served a stint, with time frames for incarceration and release unclear, in Colorado’s Youthful Offender System.
Digging up records from a July 1994 interview in an assault case in which Thames was a witness, investigators learned Thames provided an address of 870 Inness Court, Unit 3, in Palisade. Thames had a live-in girlfriend, Becky Golden, who was also interviewed.
Investigators found records showing Thames was evicted from the apartment in September 1994, three months after Taylor’s murder.
Girlfriend knew victim
This past April, a CBI agent’s report detailed results of testing DNA from Thames against a series of items from Taylor’s apartment.
Focusing on a semen-stained blanket, the analysis found Thames and all of his paternal male relatives are not excluded as potential donors.
But 99.9 percent of Caucasians could be ruled out, according to the affidavit.
“(CBI) Agent Wood stated to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, Douglas Thames is the source of the semen stain on the blanket,” the affidavit said.
A similar statistical probability was found matching Thames’ DNA on soap found inside Taylor’s body, as well as material found underneath Taylor’s fingernails, the affidavit said.
A DNA profile couldn’t be developed from a mysterious silver ring, presumably placed by the killer on Taylor’s abdomen, the affidavit said.
Interviewed in prison this past February, Thames said, “I don’t know why my DNA would be in that apartment,” the affidavit said. He denied knowing Taylor, or ever meeting her, but acknowledged his girlfriend at the time, Golden, knew Taylor because they attended classes together at Palisade High School.
Thames said they had a dog at their Inness Court apartment, but he never took it for walks and never had a leash for the dog.
Golden, while confirming she and Thames lived together at the 870 Inness Court apartment, identified Taylor’s photo but said neither she nor Thames associated with her, according to the affidavit.
Other witnesses, however, put Thames and Golden either inside Taylor’s apartment or possibly together at “kegger” parties in the desert north of Grand Junction, the affidavit said.
“I’m sure they (Golden and Taylor) crossed paths because her and Becky were friends,” one witness, Kim Lohrer, told investigators.
Another witness recalled Taylor showing up at Thames’ and Golden’s apartment one night, while another witness reported “for sure I know it was Doug and Becky” who were among a group who “met up” at Taylor’s apartment one night to go to another location. The latter encounter reportedly happened within a week of Taylor’s slaying, the affidavit said.
Another witness, Amber Hodgman, said Golden confided to her one day recently a need to “call the Sheriff’s Department” after it had become clear authorities were looking at Thames in Taylor’s slaying.
“(Hodgman) described Becky as being upset ... because she remembered Doug not being home. Becky told Ms. Hodgman that an investigator asked whether she knew if Doug was in her bed every night. Becky told her there was one night she found him gone and she smashed all his trophies because she was mad.”
“According to Hodgman, Becky had told her, “It was probably the night he was across the street killing our friend,” the affidavit said.