"It's a case that's haunted me for almost my whole career," said Bonner, now the Wasatch County sheriff. On Tuesday, he put that ghost to rest: he tracked the suspect to Florida and personally put the handcuffs on Joseph Michael Simpson, now 46.
Bonner announced the development at a Thursday press conference, having just flown back from Florida. Beslanowitch's mother and step-father were relieved, the sheriff said. For his own part, Bonner said he was thrilled.
Beslanowitch was originally from the Pacific Northwest, but had been living in Salt Lake City and working as a prostitute, according to a description of the murder on the Utah Attorney General's Office website. When officers found her unclothed body, she was lying face down in granite rocks, and several of the large rocks were covered in fresh blood, according to an affidavit for Simpson's arrest warrant. The rocks appeared to be the murder weapons, the affidavit adds.
After years of dead-end leads, DNA technology improved and last January, investigators finally got a match on Simpson from evidence at the scene.
To corroborate the evidence, Bonner and another detective flew to Florida on Aug. 25 to get a new DNA sample from their suspect without his knowledge. They followed Simpson to a smoke shop, where he smoked and discarded a cigarette, Bonner said.
The test on the cigarette proved another match, so Bonner flew back to get him.
Simpson used to live in Clearfield, but has since been living with his mother and step-father in Sarasota County, Fla., for about 13 years, according to a news release. On Tuesday morning, Bonner, Wasatch County detectives and Florida investigators went to the house, knocked on the door and arrested him without incident.
Simpson's family was "very upset," Bonner said. Simpson would talk to investigators about anything but the case, the sheriff added.
He was booked into the Sarasota County Jail under suspicion of aggravated murder. Simpson has waived extradition and will be transported to Utah within the next few weeks, according to the news release. Bonner expects charges will be filed against Simpson in Utah's 4th District Court soon.
It would not be his first time facing an accusation of murder.
He was charged with second-degree felony murder in August 1987 and pleaded guilty two months later, according to Utah court documents.
Simpson had stabbed a man named Paul J. Helminger 13 times. Police arrested Simpson on Aug. 9, 1987, after Helminger, a 26-year-old police informant, was found face-down on the lawn in front of his apartment at 103 E. Center St. in Clearfield with a butcher knife in his right shoulder.
Simpson claims he killed the man in self-defense, but neighbors saw Simpson chasing the victim and swinging the butcher knife as Helminger cried for help, according to trial testimony.
Simpson cried when his guilty verdict was announced.
He was paroled from the Utah State Prison in April 1995, and was free at the time of Beslanowitch's slaying, according to Utah Board of Pardons and Parole records. He was returned to prison briefly in 1997 for a parole violation and, subsequently, was on supervised parole until June 2003, said parole board spokesman Jim Hatch.
Simpson also was convicted for theft in January 1987 and for traffic-related offenses in 1986.