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Man charged with murder of woman at Parks Highway cabin

James Halpin

A North Pole man stabbed and bludgeoned his female companion to death with a sledgehammer in a booze-fueled rage after accusing the woman -- whose family says she was trying to flee the relationship -- of cheating, according to documents filed in Palmer court Thursday charging him with murder.

Andrew Victor Thomas, 47, was being held Thursday without bail on charges of first- and second-degree murder in the death of 43-year-old Susanna Braden, who was found dead at a cabin near Mile 49 of the Parks Highway on Wednesday.

The slaying follows a series of assault charges and restraining order petitions involving Thomas -- who had allegedly taken a hammer to Braden before -- and came just hours after Houston police were called to a report that Thomas had a rifle and was looking to kill Braden, according to troopers.

Court records indicate that Thomas most recently pleaded guilty on July 14 to assaulting Braden in Fairbanks and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. It wasn't clear Thursday why Thomas was out of jail this week.

Braden, a mother of four, was trying to get the money to go home to her village, Toksook Bay, said Pearl Chanar, Braden's aunt.

"It was not the first time she was violently abused," Chanar said. "She was afraid to leave and she finally decided to leave him this week, while he was in jail, and that was what she was doing -- she was trying to get away from him when this happened."

CAR WINDOWS SMASHED

Thomas allegedly got in a tangle about 9:35 p.m. on Tuesday, a little more than 13 hours before Braden was killed. Houston police were called to a Big Lake home to a report that Thomas was breaking car windows, was armed with a rifle, and was threatening to kill people, according to police.

Bertha Nick, whose Ford was the target of the aggression, said Thursday that three of her windows were broken out after Thomas went into a rage while drinking at a neighbor's home with her and Braden.

"He was drinking and I was trying to help my friend (Braden) from him being mean to her," Nick said. "He was a very, very jealous and controlling person. ... This time she was telling him that it was quits, and he didn't like that."

When police arrived, Thomas was gone and the person who had called police was a landlord who hadn't seen the incident and was relating information from a tenant, said Houston police Officer Charley McAnally. Police found that the tenant was drunk and claiming that Thomas had left hours earlier. No gun had been seen and they weren't sure if Thomas had broken the windows, the police officer was told.

"The only thing he could offer us was a clip with a single bullet in it, and he said he never saw him with a gun," McAnally said. "Pretty much what we had was three broken windows in a car and they believed it was Thomas, but nobody saw it."

MULTIPLE PAST ATTACKS

Braden's body was found lying on a futon at a Land and Cabins building after neighbors called to report a stabbing at 10:44 a.m. Wednesday. A sledgehammer rested across her chest and left shoulder. She had been stabbed and brutally beaten, according to an affidavit filed in court by troopers investigator Mark Granda.

Braden had gone to the cabin after the altercation the night before to stay with a friend, Phillip Cummings, because of the problems with Thomas, Granda wrote. But about 5 a.m., Thomas "came charging into the house," accusing Braden of cheating on him, Granda wrote.

Cummings and another man, Ken Rawson, kicked Thomas out of the home and Cummings told Braden to get a restraining order. Cummings left the cabin about 8:30 a.m. to go to Talkeetna, Granda wrote. Just two hours later, Thomas returned and again started arguing with Braden, who threatened to leave him, Rawson told troopers.

"Andrew started to walk out of the house, stopped at the kitchen counter and grabbed a knife, then turned around and started stabbing," Granda wrote. Rawson told troopers Thomas stabbed Braden about seven or eight times before he got up and ran out of the cabin to a neighbor's to call police.

Moments after the attack, neighbors spotted Thomas walking around with a beer in his hand. He told at least two people in the area that he had killed "his wife" and should be either jailed or shot, Granda wrote. Court documents refer to Braden as his wife, though her family said they had lived together but never married.

Troopers arriving on the scene also found Thomas reeking of alcohol at a neighbor's place. He was arrested and jailed at the Mat-Su Pretrial facility.

According to court records, Thomas has been charged in six assault cases since 1993 as well as with drunken driving, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. Braden got a restraining order against Thomas after a domestic violence assault on April 2, 2007.

"Andrew Thomas punched me in the face, used a hammer on my body," she wrote in the petition. Thomas was charged with felony assault but pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

"Her sisters tried to talk her into getting away from him and every time she was afraid," said Chanar, Braden's aunt. "He always found her and always took her back to North Pole, where she was never around anyone else, so no one could help her."

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.


By JAMES HALPIN
jhalpin@adn.com