Suspect confesses, blames meth for murders

Suspect confesses, blames meth for murders

ELGIN, Ore. (AP) - Police in Washington state on Monday captured an Oregon house painter wanted for the slayings of three acquaintances, including a woman whose severed hand was found by a child catching goldfish, authorities said.

Acting on a tip from Oregon State Police, Thurston County, Wash., sheriff's deputies surrounded a rural house between the towns of Rainier and Yelm on Monday morning and arrested Gregory Alvin Cook, 42, said Chief Deputy Jim Chamberlain.

While being escorted into jail in Olympia, Wash., Cook was recorded on video by Seattle television station KING-TV confessing to the slayings and blaming methamphetamine. Asked by a reporter if he did it, Cook said, "I did, and I apologize highly to all the families and everybody.

"Methamphetamines were largely responsible," he said. "It changes who you are as an individual when you're under the influence of that stuff for days and weeks at a time."

It was not immediately clear how long Cook had been at the house or how he knew the woman who lived there. Authorities said he was last seen in Hermiston on Friday, when he was believed to be hitchhiking. Union County District Attorney Tim Thompson said their investigation led them to believe Cook would be in the area, and would not elaborate.

On Saturday, a search party discovered the bodies of two of the victims on private timberland north of Elgin. No details were released concerning the deaths of Frank Scaramuzzi, 50, and Jeremiah Johnston, 28, both of Elgin.

The investigation began July 24, when a child netting goldfish in a small pond southwest of Elgin found a severed hand, which led investigators to the nearby body of Shannon McKillop, 51, of Elgin.

Thompson said all four knew each other, and the three victims were unemployed.

Chamberlain said Thurston County, Wash., deputies first got word Cook was in the area Sunday night, and went to the house, but saw nothing to make them believe Cook was there. Afraid the woman who lived there might be in danger, they returned Monday morning with a half-dozen deputies and local police. He added the woman has not been charged.

Chamberlain said they are still looking for the clothes Cook had on when he was last seen in Oregon: white painter paints, slippers, a long-sleeved shirt and a white T-shirt.

Cook is charged with murder in the death of McKillop, and aggravated murder in the deaths of Scaramuzzi and Johnston, Thompson said. He added that no decision has been made on whether to seek the death penalty on the aggravated murder charges, which were brought under a provision covering multiple victims.

Criminal records indicate Cook was sentenced to 25 months in prison on a 1994 charge of assault with a weapon from Colville, Wash.


(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)