Idaho prisoner Thomas Creech, convicted of 5 murders, suspected in California cold case

Idaho death row prisoner Thomas Creech claimed for years to have killed dozens of people but, as of a week ago, said the real number was fewer than 14. California law enforcement now thinks they’ve confirmed yet another of his victims.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday that Creech is suspected of the shooting death of Daniel A. Walker Jr. in 1974. The sudden revelation would seem to solve a nearly 50-year-old cold case — the Southern California county’s second-oldest.

The Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that after years of being unable to “develop any workable leads,” its cold case team resumed its investigation into Walker’s murder last week after obtaining “additional information related to the murder.” The Sheriff’s Office offered no details about the source of that information or how it inspired investigators to take another look at the cold case.

Detectives were recently able to “corroborate intimate details from statements Creech made regarding Daniel’s murder” while working with the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, the release said.

Ada County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Emily Lowe declined to comment Wednesday or respond to a list of emailed questions seeking specifics on what implicated Creech in Walker’s murder. She instead directed the Idaho Statesman to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office and San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.

Neither Sgt. Justin Giles nor Detective Justin Carty, listed as the Sheriff’s Office cold case team investigating Walker’s murder, were available for questions about the case, a member of the department’s specialized homicide investigations division told the Statesman by phone. Sheriff’s spokesperson Mara Rodriguez told the Statesman in a follow-up email that the department is not accepting interviews on the case.

San Bernardino County district attorney spokesperson Jacquelyn Rodriguez did not respond to a question from the Statesman about whether prosecutors will file charges against Creech or attempt to bring him to California for a possible trial. She confirmed in an emailed statement only that the office is “in receipt of the reports” and is in ongoing contact with the Sheriff’s Office and the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office “regarding the pursuit of justice in this matter.”

Creech, 73, has been convicted of five murders, including three in Idaho. County prosecutors last week detailed to the state’s parole board during a clemency hearing why they believed he committed no fewer than 11 murders and probably dozens more. And they disclosed for the first time that detectives in San Bernardino settled on Creech as Walker’s killer in just the past week.

A 24-year-old Creech shot Walker, 21, three times with a shotgun through a vehicle window, Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Jill Longhurst alleged at last week’s hearing. Law enforcement has positively identified Creech as the murderer, she said, providing no specific evidence.

“After law enforcement’s thorough investigation, they determined Mr. Creech had murdered Daniel A. Walker in October 1974,” the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office said in a news release following the hearing.

Creech’s attorneys assail ‘false and irresponsible’ allegations

Creech’s attorneys with the nonprofit Federal Defender Services of Idaho said Wednesday in a statement that the announcement that their client is a suspect in the Walker murder “only underscores how false and irresponsible it was for the Ada County prosecutors to claim at last Friday’s clemency hearing that the case was ‘closed’ and Mr. Creech was guilty.”

In the statement, Deborah A. Czuba, supervising attorney for the legal nonprofit’s death penalty unit, said the announcement lacks “any real evidence” against Creech and instead “relies entirely on unspecified ‘intimate details’ provided by Mr. Creech a long time ago” yet revealed only now for unexplained reasons decades later.

“These details somehow now make Mr. Creech a new suspect in a crime that has never been tied to him,” Czuba said, “despite several efforts to link it to him as far back as 1975, when teams of federal and local law enforcement officials were determined to prove the fantasy that he committed 50 murders.”

Idaho death row prisoner Thomas Creech, pictured here in November 2020, was convicted of three murders in the state and one each in Oregon and California between 1974 and 1981. Now 73, he has been incarcerated in Idaho for nearly 50 years and has requested he be spared of execution.
Idaho death row prisoner Thomas Creech, pictured here in November 2020, was convicted of three murders in the state and one each in Oregon and California between 1974 and 1981. Now 73, he has been incarcerated in Idaho for nearly 50 years and has requested he be spared of execution.

Police described two suspects in Walker’s October 1974 murder — a 5-foot-8 man with sandy blond hair and a 5-foot-5 man with dark brown hair. Law enforcement has looked for them ever since but “exhausted all leads at that time,” the Sheriff’s Office news release said.

Creech had dark brown hair and stood nearly 6 feet tall.

One of Creech’s murder convictions came after a man was strangled to death in Sacramento, California, in June 1974, and another after a man was shot in the heart with a rifle in Portland, Oregon, in August 1974. Creech arrived in Idaho by November 1974 and shot and killed two men, Edward T. Arnold, 34, and John W. Bradford, 40, in Valley County.

At that time, their deaths were the county’s first murders in 27 years. Creech was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and has been incarcerated in Idaho ever since, which dates back to President Gerald Ford’s administration.

Creech’s preferred weapon was a .44-caliber magnum revolver, state prosecutors said last week. In none of Creech’s known murders did he use a shotgun — except in the newly revealed Walker case, they said.

Victim’s brother speaks out

Doug Walker, the victim’s brother, told the Statesman on Wednesday in a phone interview that, after 49 years, he never believed law enforcement would solve his brother’s murder. He has continued to research his brother’s cold case and published a book about it last year.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office and Ada County Prosecutor’s Office have indicated to him in the past week something he said he long suspected: “The police work back then was less than stellar,” Doug Walker said. “Both entities have admitted that the ball was dropped back in the ‘70s.”

He said he only seeks to know the truth in the case, including whether Creech was responsible, but believes the Sheriff’s Office now considers the case closed. He said the Sheriff’s Office and local District Attorney’s Office have told him new information that is “only something that the perpetrator could know, based on the crime scene and the evidence,” but declined to provide details as he awaits hard copies with proof.

“Whether Thomas Creech was involved or not involved, is put to death or not put to death, it really wouldn’t affect our feelings about the loss of Dan, and it doesn’t offer any closure,” Doug Walker said. “Dan is still dead. … There’s never really any closure.”

Creech remains on Idaho death row after pleading guilty to the May 1981 murder of fellow prisoner David Dale Jensen in Idaho maximum security prison. Creech was convicted of the three murders in Idaho, as well as one in Oregon and California.

He has been incarcerated in Idaho for nearly 50 years, avoiding his scheduled execution 11 times over that period. The parole board agreed to grant Creech a hearing to consider dropping his death sentence to life in prison, which stopped the state’s most recent attempt to execute him last year.

The Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole has yet to issue its decision on Creech’s clemency request.