by Dennis Dalman
The massive effort to locate the killer or killers of Cold Spring-Richmond Police Officer Thomas Decker took a grim turn last week with the suicide of a man described as a “person of interest.”
The case, however, remains under investigation, and authorities were quick to point out there is no evidence the man who committed suicide is the one who killed Decker.
Now, investigators are requesting anyone who knew the man to call authorities because they are trying to determine Thomes’ whereabouts a week or so before Decker’s death and in the weeks since.
During a Jan. 4 press conference at the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, officials revealed Eric Joseph Thomes, 31, of Cold Spring, had hung himself on Jan. 2. At the time of his death, law-enforcement officers were trying to convince Thomes to come out of an outbuilding where he had barricaded himself several hours earlier. The officers had gone to Thomes’s residence to question him about the Decker case. At that time, Thomes ran from the house and into an outbuilding on the property. After the three-hour standoff, officers entered the outbuilding and found Thomes had hung himself and was dead.
The day of the suicide was the second visit by law-enforcement officers to the Thomes residence. They had returned to talk to him again because he had made contradictory statements about the night of Decker’s murder in downtown Cold Spring.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced a 20-gauge shotgun as the weapon used to murder Decker on the night of Nov. 29, 2012 while he was doing a welfare check in downtown Cold Spring in the back lot of Winner’s Sports Bar and Grill. Decker was shot twice with that weapon and died at the scene. At the press conference, it was announced Thomes had access to the shotgun, which was on some other property than the place where Thomes lived. Officials did not elaborate on the where or why of their statement.
Right after the killing of Decker, a man who lives above Winner’s was arrested and jailed – the man Decker had meant to visit that night because the police department received a report the man may have been feeling suicidal. The man was released four days later from jail for lack of evidence.
The offer of a $100,000 reward for the solving of the Decker murder led to tips that caused authorities to interview Thomes as a “person of interest” in the case. Another tip was a black van or mini-van with a loud muffler that was seen near Winner’s Sports Bar and Grill at about the time Decker was shot to death. Authorities have located that vehicle and have impounded it.
Law enforcement has been contacting people and searching records to learn more about Thomes. He graduated from Rocori High School in 1999, and many people have described him as a nice, likeable individual.
Authorities also revealed Thomes had been arrested one day in 2011 for driving while intoxicated and that he had been jailed several times in connection with that incident. He had been charged with violating the conditions of his parole for the DWI case and had been scheduled to appear in court last week, but the hearing had been cancelled.
Investigators are hoping more information about Thomes’s whereabouts and actions during last November and through the month of December may help lead to more information for a final solution to Decker’s slaying.
Anyone with such information should call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at 1-877-782-5683, the BCA at 1-877-996-6222 or the BCA online at email@example.com.