AURORA, Colo. -- An inmate in a Nevada prison has been charged with murder, felony murder and attempted murder in the deaths of three members of an Aurora family and a Lakewood woman that had gone unsolved for the past 34 years, officials announced Friday.
“There was a great deal of elation in knowing that we possibly had that suspect identity known, and hopefully in custody,” Aurora Police Chief Nicholas Metz said.
Alexander Ewing, 57, is serving a 40-year prison term for two counts each of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the attack of a couple with an ax handle in their bedroom.
On Jan. 10, 1984, Patricia Smith, 50, was found beaten to death with a hammer in her home in Lakewood.
Six days later, Bruce and Debra Bennett and their 7-year-old daughter Melissa were found beaten to death in their Aurora home with a different hammer.
The Bennetts' then-3-year-old daughter, Vanessa, was also attacked and suffered head injuries but survived. Both children were also sexually assaulted, according to the arrest affidavits.
Technology had been limited the past 34 years and the cases had been considered cold despite the similarities in the deaths.
DNA evidence developed in 2010 showed the same person who killed the Bennetts also killed Smith with a hammer.
“Fast forward 2018 in early July, the Nevada state database forensic staff entered buccal swab results for mr. Ewing into the national database, the CBI does a nightly search of the database, to all of our cases, and on the following day, we recognized that a match was made between the buckle swab of convicted offender Mr. Ewing to the forensic samples from the Bennett case," Colorado Bureau of Investigations Director John Camper said.
Ewing has been in a Nevada prison since summer 1984 after escaping there while being taken from St. George, Utah, to Kingman, Arizona, for a court appearance on attempted murder and burglary charges.
His sentence goes through 2037, but he is eligible for parole in 2021.
A jury found Ewing guilty of escaping from the custody of two Arizona sheriff's deputies at a gas station in Henderson, Nevada, on Aug. 9, 1984, and entering an unlocked home and severely beating a woman and her husband with an ax handle in their bedroom.
Two young boys were sleeping in other rooms in the house.
Ewing, then 23, was arrested two days later about 15 miles away by park rangers at Lake Mead.
On Jan. 4, 1984, a couple in Aurora woke up to see a man in their bedroom who hit each of them with a hammer before fleeing. They both survived.
Late on Jan. 9 or early on Jan 10, a flight attendant was beaten, possibly with a hammer, and sexually assaulted after she pulled into the garage of her home in Aurora. She survived.
The next day, Smith was attacked in the Lakewood condominium she shared with her daughter and grandchildren and the hammer was left behind.
The Bennett family was attacked six days later in Aurora.
In Arapahoe County, Ewing has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, three counts of felony murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree sexual assault on a child, one count of first-degree burglary and five violent crime counts for the deaths of the Bennett family.
In Jefferson County, Ewing has been charged with first-degree murder after deliberation, three counts of felony murder and two violent crime counts for the death of Smith.
The extradition process to return Ewing to Colorado is underway, prosecutors with the First and 18th Judicial Districts said at a news conference.
Friends, family and investigators were stunned by the brutal killings that left police puzzled for decades.
“I don’t believe anybody ever, with something like this ever really has closure," Bennett family friend Randy McCoy said. “I just wanted to hear it, hear they found the guy, not just on the news or something, i wanted to be here and hear it.”
The hammer killer is also suspected in at least two other attacks in the metro area during the same time.
Earlier this week, investigators said the cases had reached a "critical stage."
In August 2017, investigators released a composite image of the suspect in the Bennett family homicides that was created using DNA phenotyping.
Anyone who might have had contact with Ewing from 1983 to 1984 is asked to call the Aurora Police Department at 303-739-6400 or the Lakewood Police Department at 303-763-6800.