The Denver District Attorney's Office has made cracking cold cases a special mission, and it just reached a significant benchmark.
The arrest of Hector Bencomo-Hinojos for the 1981 slaying of Patricia Beard marks the 100th cold case the DA's staff has heated up -- and the specifics in this incident are particularly shocking. Look below to get details of the crime and the clues that led to Bencomo-Hinojos, as well as to see more photos.
Because the supporting affidavit for an arrest warrant in the case contains information about an East Denver facility that continues to serve at-risk adults, we're not posting the document in its entirety. But the narrative spells out a terrible discovery that took place there just shy of 3 p.m. on March 27, 1981.
That's when Patricia Beard, age 32, was found dead inside her apartment, on the first floor of the building. She was lying face up on her bed, with her pink robe open, her blue panties around her right ankle, her slip pushed up above the genital area, and a used tampon nearby.
An autopsy revealed a laceration on Beard's left breast, a bone fracture and extensive hemorrhages along the neck. The coroner concluded that Beard had been strangled to death.
Also noted by the original officers was what appeared to be the killer's manner of entry -- through a window, probably after using a brick on the exterior of the building as a foothold.
That's a lot of evidence, but it didn't lead to an arrest for a very long time. Indeed, more than three decades passed before a day in August 2011, when a detective with the Denver police cold-case unit discovered a post-mortem kit affiliated with the Beard case. (It survived, but much of the other material taken from the scene was gone, having been tossed in 1994.) He subsequently met with a forensic scientist, who revealed that a vaginal swab had tested positive for sperm.
The detective asked that the swab be tested for DNA, and it was -- but this effort didn't lead to a swift conclusion. It wasn't until earlier this month, on July 11, that a match was scored with Bencomo-Hinojos. The same proved true of DNA found on an oral swab from the Beard post-mortem kit -- meaning that traces of sperm had also been found in her mouth.
Bencomo-Hinojos was easily found, since he was living at a prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Last week, a DPD rep quizzed him, but he didn't prove to be especially forthcoming. He conceded that he'd lived in Denver for about fifteen years beginning in 1977, a year before he married. But he said he didn't recognize a photo of Beard and insisted that he had never had sex with an African-American woman.
The denials continued even after Bencomo-Hinojos was told his DNA had scored a hit with the vaginal and oral swabs. Indeed, the affidavit maintains that Bencomo-Hinojos went so far as to claim he didn't understand either the concept of oral sex or the meaning of the word "murderer."
Meanwhile, a detective tracked down Bencomo-Hinojos's wife. She painted him as a physically abusive lout who would slap her face if she didn't have his clothes ironed by the time he got home. But she also identified at least six occasions when he came home with what appeared to be stolen goods, suggesting that he had been involved in burglaries during the period of time that Beard's killing took place.
This info tied into the manner of entry at Beard's apartment, thereby giving police and prosecutors confidence that Bencomo-Hinojos was responsible for Beard's death. He now faces extradition on suspicion of first-degree murder -- one that seemed likely never to be solved.
Here are a pair of Bencomo-Hinojos mug shots from 1994.
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More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Francisco Carbajal busted in cold-case strangulation of Julia Abarca."