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DNA leads police to suspect, an Air Force vet, 25 years after murder of 9-year-old Angie Housman

Sean Patterson, ARP Sciences, LLC, quality management section DNA analyst, checks expiration dates on reagents in the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System – Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory. (Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm/U.S. Air Force)
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Twenty-five years after the abduction, rape and murder of 9-year-old Angie Housman, police believe they know who killed her, sources close to the investigation say.

Forensic scientists found a DNA sample last fall on a piece of evidence from the crime scene that had previously gone undetected. Using recent advances in DNA analysis, scientists matched the sample to a 61-year-old disgraced Air Force veteran, convicted pedophile and international online child pornography purveyor, according to sources familiar with the case.

St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar is expected to announce charges soon against the man, who remains civilly committed at a federal prison out of state, sources say.

In a statement, Lohmar confirmed there have been “new developments” in the case, but did not elaborate on the ongoing investigation.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch typically does not identify suspects until they are charged with a crime.

News of the arrest has come too late for Angie’s mother, Diane Bone. She died of cancer two years ago at age 52. Her family said Diane Bone grieved for her daughter until her own death in 2016.

Her husband, Ron Bone, Angie’s stepfather, said Tuesday that police questioned him about two or three months ago and showed him photographs of a man they thought was responsible for Angie’s death. Bone said he did not know the man.

“That picture, he’s a young kid but I don’t know him exactly by name but the picture looks familiar, face looks familiar but I can’t picture who he is,” Bone told the Post-Dispatch.

Bone is glad police are close to solving the case but faults them for not doing more sooner. “If they got the guy, fantastic.”

The brown-haired fourth-grader at Ritenour’s Buder School was abducted about a half block from her home on Wright Avenue in St. Ann, minutes after hopping off her school bus Nov. 18, 1993.

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Hundreds of police officers and volunteers scoured the area. Ultimately, a deer hunter found her body nine days later tied to a tree in a remote section of Busch Wildlife Area in St. Charles County.

She had been starved, handcuffed, sexually assaulted, and her eyes and mouth were covered with duct tape. Authorities believe she died from exposure mere hours before she was found.

The crime sent local parents into a panic and led to one of the most intense police investigations ever launched in the St. Louis area.

Records show police might have been closer to identifying the suspect than they realized through the years. He had previous child molestation convictions and arrests and connections to the area at the time. His name was included on a list of sex offenders the FBI assembled four years after the murder, but he was never questioned.

Many of the original investigators have retired, or died, making it difficult to determine why the man was not developed as a suspect earlier.

Though police believe Angie was a stranger to the man, he knew the area of St. Ann where she lived with her mother, stepfather and younger brother.

An attorney for the suspect has not responded to a request for comment. Sources say the man has not cooperated with the investigation, so some key questions remain. Why did he pick Angie? Where did he take her? Why did he leave her to die? Did he act alone?

Through the years, numerous officers investigated the case. They heard false confessions. They developed sketches — one of which resembles what the suspect looked like at the time of Angie’s murder. The FBI profiled the killer: a white man age 20 to 45, a loner who might have lost a loved one or a job recently.

They followed hundreds, if not thousands, of leads.

None was solid until March.

It was a fluke that no one saw a thing on the day of Angie’s abduction. A neighbor who usually stood guard at her window to watch children get off the bus did not do so that day. Another neighbor who watched the afternoon drop-offs from her front porch was away tending to her sick father.

At first, an avalanche of tips poured in. Neighbors reported neighbors. Parents even called the police on the police, not realizing unmarked police cars were following school buses.

Schools instituted buddy systems to ensure children didn’t walk alone. Police pulled over dozens of white vans, once described as possibly connected to the crime.

When the body of Cassidy Senter, a 10-year-old girl from north St. Louis County, was found in a St. Louis alley about a month after Angie disappeared, the region was near hysteria. Many feared a serial child predator was on the loose. But Cassidy’s killer — a neighbor — was arrested within weeks and eliminated as Angie’s killer.

At times, police thought they were close to catching Angie’s killer. A Texas auditor was arrested in the attempted abduction of a school girl in Maryland Heights. Another man arrested in Florida confessed to being a child molester and had newspaper clippings about Angie’s death.

Last fall, investigators with a cold case task force planned to send more than 300 pieces of evidence from Angie’s case to a private lab, but sources say they allowed the St. Charles County Crime Lab to comb through the evidence once more before it was sent away.

On March 1, a sample from one of the pieces of Angie’s clothing matched a DNA profile in a national database of criminals, according to the sources.

Since then, investigators have been delving into the man’s past, questioning those who knew him. They’ve looked at the possibility that he had help in Angie’s abduction and murder.

Investigators have questioned Ron Bone, telling him that they found his DNA on the child’s clothing as well. Bone said he realizes relatives are often suspect in child disappearances and deaths, and he said he long ago took lie detector tests and gave police his DNA through hair samples.

“I had nothing to do with this,” Bone said.

Records show Angie’s alleged killer grew up in the St. Louis area. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1975 and became a computer operator. He was dishonorably discharged in 1982 after being convicted in a court-martial proceeding for molesting four young girls for whom he baby-sat while stationed at Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany.

He was paroled in 1985 and returned to the St. Louis area.

He was questioned by police in at least two alleged child molestation incidents — one resulting in his arrest in Overland — in the four years leading up to Angie’s murder.

That arrest in Overland was enough to revoke parole for his crimes in Germany, and he returned to federal custody from January to December 1992.

Upon release, he gave his mother’s address on Wismer Drive in St. Ann — about a half-mile from where Angie disappeared.

Eleven months later, Angie was found dead.

At some point during the 1990s, the alleged killer moved to Colorado. His record there appeared mostly clean until January 2003 when he went to meet someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl whom he had emailed asking her to become his sex slave. She was an undercover federal agent.

After his arrest, police seized about 45,000 images of child pornography from his computer and learned that he was an administrator of an online child pornography ring.

Just before his scheduled release for those crimes in 2011, the suspect was certified as a sexually dangerous person under the Adam Walsh Act. The 2006 law allows authorities to keep someone incarcerated beyond their sentence — a status known as a civil commitment — if a panel including forensic psychologists determine the person is highly likely to re-offend.

The suspect has unsuccessfully appealed the government’s decision to keep him incarcerated, saying, in part, that his poor health makes it unlikely that he will re-offend.

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© 2019 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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