Detectives discovered a blood-stained hammer and records of online searches for body- disposal techniques in the possession of a man accused of killing his friend, a Tuesday court filing said.
An autopsy found that Airman Clinton Reeves, 24, died after he was struck several times in the head with a blunt object, according to a bail memorandum filed by prosecutors in their case against James Thomas. Thomas, also 24 and an airman, now faces charges of murder, robbery and evidence tampering in Reeves' slaying.
While the new court filing does not say exactly how police think Thomas killed Reeves, it includes new details about why detectives suspect Thomas fatally bludgeoned Reeves, a man he called a friend.
Reeves was seen leaving work at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on April 19. More than a week later, after Reeves had still not returned to work, police found a car he'd rented. Police announced that the recently promoted airman was officially missing. On May 9, three women found Reeves' body off the edge of a hillside road in Eagle River, ending a search effort that plastered Southcentral Alaska with thousands of missing person flyers.
Not long before his disappearance, Reeves had received about $4,000 from an insurance company after another driver hit his vehicle, totaling it, said his mother, Judy Davis. Reeves was looking for a new vehicle on April 19, and Thomas was with him, Davis said.
"James told me that," Davis said. "I was texting him the day I was looking for my son. I pulled up one of the numbers on my son's phone, and I just happened to get James."
Investigators soon learned that Thomas was one of the last people to see Reeves alive. The bail memorandum describes Thomas' bizarre account of Reeves' final moments.
Detectives talked to Thomas a few days before Reeves' rented car was discovered. Thomas told them he hadn't seen Reeves since April 19, during the day they were looking at vehicles. Thomas also said Reeves sent him a text message three days later saying he was sick and in the hospital, but the police could not find records of Reeves at any local hospitals.
The detectives found Reeves' phone in his abandoned rental car, detectives said. The phone showed he'd been at Thomas' house the night of April 19, contradicting Thomas' earlier claims. Thomas' story would soon change.
In a May 4 interview, Thomas told the detectives at first that he had no idea what became of Reeves. However, just before ending the interview, Thomas said he'd returned home the night of April 19 to find Reeves and a man he didn't know.
In the meantime, investigators were at Thomas' house with a search warrant, combing the house for clues. According to the bail memo, they found "evidence of a violent incident inside."
Thomas called investigators with the U.S. Air Force and told them more, the memorandum said. The unknown man at Thomas' house held him at gunpoint, ordered him to turn around, and either carried or led Reeves away, Thomas told investigators. He also admitted that he'd destroyed or removed bloody clothes, carpet and a love seat, and moved Reeves' rental car, according to evidence-tampering charges filed a few days later against Thomas.
It's unclear when detectives found the bloody hammer in Thomas' Nissan pickup. Technicians at the state crime lab determined the blood that stained it came from a human and they were still working to test the blood against samples of Reeves' DNA, according to the memorandum.
The detectives also learned that Thomas borrowed a cellphone from a co-worker between May 4 and 6. Records for that phone, as well as surveillance video, showed Thomas driving on May 6 up the same road where Reeves was found three days later.
According to the memorandum, Thomas' own cellphone showed he was researching how to get rid of a corpse and had visited various websites referencing ways to dispose of a body.
Appearing in court Tuesday for arraignment on the murder and burglary charges, Thomas pleaded not guilty.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.