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Wa. State Police Eye Old Slay Case

October 26, 2002

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SEATTLE (AP) _ Police in Tacoma are taking a new look at a February slaying after learning sniper defendant John Allen Muhammad knew the family of the victim, a spokesman says.

Keenya Cook, 21, was shot to death Feb. 16, 2002, when she opened the door of her home. Her boyfriend was questioned in the case but cleared, Tacoma police spokesman Jim Mattheis said Friday.

Cook’s family recognized Muhammad from news photos after his arrest and called authorities, Mattheis said.

``His name had never surfaced in the investigation,″ Mattheis said in a telephone interview.

But knowing that Muhammad was acquainted with the victim has sent police back into evidence collected in the case, he said.

Muhammad was in the Army at Fort Lewis near Tacoma off and on starting in 1985, and lived in Tacoma after he was honorably discharged from the Army in 1994.

Muhammad has been charged in Maryland with six counts of first-degree murder in a string of sniper attacks that left 10 people dead and three wounded in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Muhammad, 41, was arrested at a Maryland rest stop Thursday, along with 17-year-old John Lee Malvo. Investigators said a rifle found in their car has been linked to 11 of the shootings.

The arrest has law enforcement officers in Washington state scrambling.

``Every jurisdiction around here is looking at cold cases,″ Mattheis said.

Police in Redmond, east of Seattle, are looking into the unsolved shooting of a woman in late July, police spokeswoman Betsy Cable said.

Victoria Mardis, 49, was shot with a handgun at close range around 11 p.m. the night of July 26, Cable said. Police have no suspect or motive, and no specific reason for thinking Muhammad might be involved, Cable said.

The state attorney general’s office is looking through its files of 5,048 homicides in Washington since 1981 _ 1,372 of them unsolved _ to see if any could be linked to Muhammad, spokesman Gary Larson said.

``We read the newspapers. We’ve taken a look at various things based on what we’ve read,″ Larson said.

He declined to say if any of the unsolved slayings were similar to the sniper slayings.

``Any results would be passed along to the appropriate law enforcement agency,″ Larson said.

In the Tacoma case, Cook’s family had moved her into the Tacoma home of her aunt and uncle _ where the shooting took place _ in the fall of 2001 for protection from an abusive boyfriend.

The victim’s aunt was a bookkeeper for Muhammad’s failing auto repair business beginning in 1995, and became friends with Muhammad and his then-wife, Mildred Williams, Mattheis said. The aunt remained friends with Williams after her bitter divorce and child custody dispute with Muhammad in 2000, Mattheis said.

Cook was home alone with her daughter when she was shot. She was found dead in the entrance of the home around 8 p.m., about an hour after a neighbor called to report having heard a gunshot.

Nothing was taken from the home and it was not ransacked. Cook died of a single gunshot wound. Her baby girl, who was upstairs at the time of the shooting, was not harmed.

There were no witnesses.

A few days before Cook’s shooting, on Feb. 12, Muhammad was ticketed for shoplifting $27 worth of meat and frozen foods from a Tacoma grocery store.

Police suspected that Cook knew the person who shot her, because her family said she would not have opened the door to a stranger, Mattheis said.

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