She was murdered 28 years ago, stabbed and strangled, seemingly for no reason, the case long since grown cold.
Now authorities say they know the identity of the killer, a man who was a teenager at the time and has lived his entire life in Virginia, Minn., the same small town where 83-year-old Leona M. Maslowski met her end.
Authorities are crediting dogged forensic lab work for the arrest of Bruce Wayne Cameron, 44, who appeared Thursday in St. Louis County District Court, accused of murdering Maslowski on Oct. 5, 1987, when he was 16. Cameron remains jailed with bail set at $1 million.
Key to making the case against Cameron was the ability of analysts to determine that Cameron left two fingerprints on a bedroom doorknob in Maslowski’s lower duplex residence. Cameron had attended a party in the upper unit and investigators say he admitted to going to the downstairs unit in search of liquor.
Maslowski, a widow who lived alone, was beaten, choked and stabbed in the heart, an autopsy found.
Jim Maslowski got news of the arrest Wednesday through a phone call from a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent.
He said the arrest of his mother’s suspected killer brought “a sense of relief and disbelief.”
“It’s hard to imagine after 28 years,” said Maslowski, who lives in Wichita, Kan. “My mind-set was that it would never be resolved.”
Maslowski died at 328 7th St. S. At the time of Cameron’s arrest Tuesday, he was living one block away in an apartment at 328 8th St. S.
“Justice has been a long time in the making in this case,” said County Attorney Mark Rubin, “but we are blessed to live in a community with law enforcement officers who make a tenacious commitment to following through on criminal investigations and seeing to it that perpetrators are brought to justice.”
Assistant County Attorney Brian Simonson, who signed the criminal complaint, said Cameron and others at the party were questioned soon after the killing. Simonson said he believes Cameron has lived in Virginia ever since.
Several years ago, the killing was included with others in a cold case review project using the latest technology to re-examine old DNA evidence, said Drew Evans of the BCA. Investigators also used new latent print technology to find two fingerprints and a partial palm print on Maslowski’s bedroom doorknob, which had been stored with other evidence, said Evans.
Using finger and palm print databases that didn’t exist when Maslowski was murdered, investigators fed the new information into the system and were led to Cameron.
His fingerprints were in the database because of a conviction in a 1992 St. Louis County felony theft case. He also had a 2007 conviction for theft and lesser offenses in 2009 and 2012. A palm print taken from Cameron this spring also proved a match with the prints on the doorknob.
Investigators with the BCA and Virginia police interviewed Cameron in April. He initially denied being in the room where Maslowski’s body was found. On Tuesday, two BCA special agents confronted Cameron with the physical evidence against him, including the fingerprints.
Looking for liquor
Cameron then said he was at a party that night upstairs from Maslowski’s apartment. He admitted he went down the back stairwell to her residence, opened the unlocked door and looked in the kitchen for liquor, according to the complaint.
Maslowski confronted him. He feared she was moving toward a telephone, so he punched her face, pushed her to the floor, struck her with an object and inflicted other injuries, he allegedly told investigators. The knife used to pierce her heart came from her kitchen and was never found, according to the complaint.
Cameron reportedly said Maslowski was on a bedroom floor when he left and that he fled without taking anything.
Maslowski was killed three days shy of her 84th birthday. A native of Eveleth, she was a gym teacher there until she married Adolph Maslowski. They raised four children in the duplex where she was killed. Her husband died in 1981.
Jim Maslowski said he’s “amazed at the persistence and professionalism” that investigators exhibited in making their case after all these years.
He said his older brother, Bill, died 13 years ago without knowing who killed their mother. “He was living in the same home and raising his daughter” where their mother died, Jim Maslowski said.
County Attorney Rubin said Cameron, charged with second-degree murder, became subject to prosecution as an adult after he turned 21.
There is no statute of limitations in murder cases.
Staff writer Matt McKinney contributed to this report.