'Person of interest' in Cold Spring officer murder found dead

12:07 PM, Jan 6, 2013   |    comments
  • Tom Decker
  • The outbuilding owned by Eric Joseph Thomes on his property in rural Cold Spring.
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ST. CLOUD, Minn. - Investigators say a person of interest in the November murder of Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker is dead after committing suicide.

Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) Superintendent Wade Setter told reporters Friday afternoon that the man, identified as 32-year-old Eric Joseph Thomes of rural Cold Spring, hung himself in an outbuilding on his property Wednesday, January 2.

Setter says that BCA agents had spoken with Thomes several times after someone identified him in a tip to authorities who were investigating Decker's murder. Investigators had spoken to Thomes a number of times and had discovered inconsistencies in his story.

Agents arrived at Thomes's property in rural Cold Spring early Wednesday to speak with him again, but when Thomes saw them approaching he fled on foot and barricaded himself in a steel outbuilding. The agents tried to talk him out but Thomes refused. After four hours authorities stormed the building and entered, where they found Thomes had hung himself.

Investigators subsequently went to a different property that Thomes had access to. There, they found a .20 gauge shotgun. Tests at the BCA laboratory show it is likely the weapon that killed Decker.

Still, Setter says the investigation into Decker's death is ongoing. Both the BCA and Stearns County investigators continue to work the case, and are asking anyone with information about Thomes's activities in the days following the murder to contact the sheriff at 877-782-5683 or the BCA at 877-996-6222 .

"BCA agents and Stearns County Sheriff's Office investigators continue to work every lead in a methodical and thorough manner," Setter said. "We are determined to fully reconstruct the events that led to Officer Decker's murder."

According to court records, Thomes had been pulled over for drunken driving in the past by Cold Spring officers, but what role, if any that has to do with the case is unknown.

Investigators also found the black van that witnesses saw leaving the scene after the November shooting, but they would not say if the vehicle belonged to Thomes or what connection Thomes had with Decker.

"We're trying to figure out what his role is. A number of things have happened over the last 24 hours and we will be able to answer that question at some point but we're not able to make that conclusion today," said Setter. 

Decker was shot and killed in the line of duty on November 29, responding to reports of a suicidal man.

A man who lived in an apartment above the bar was quickly arrested, but authorities were forced to release him after Stearns County prosecutors decided there was not enough evidence to charge him with murder.

In the weeks since Decker's death residents of his home town have been uneasy, knowing that someone who ambushed a police officer and killed him in cold blood is still on the loose. 

The announcement of a $100,000 reward prompted a flurry of tips, one of which led investigators to Eric Thomes.

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