Metro-East News

3/11/2006: Chief denies print was identified; bloody thumbprint was in Cooney car

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the Belleville News-Democrat on March 11, 2006

Police Chief Dave Ruebhausen denied news reports Friday that police have identified a bloody thumbprint found inside a sport utility vehicle belonging to a hairdresser who was murdered with two clients last year.

Ruebhausen wouldn’t comment directly about evidence in the murders of Michael Cooney, 62, and sisters Dorothy Bone, 82 and Doris Fischer, 79.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that a thumbprint in blood from the crime scene was found inside Cooney’s Nissan Pathfinder and belonged to a 16-year-old St. Louis boy who police questioned for hours the day after the murders.

“It was information from an anonymous source, and it wasn’t accurate,” Ruebhausen said. “That information hurts what we are trying to do.”

The day after the murders, Cooney’s SUV was found in the 900 block of Maple in St. Louis near Wellston, Mo. Police removed evidence from an apartment at 934 Maple after the vehicle’s discovery.

At the time, investigators said the Pathfinder had been abandoned near North Sarah Street and Page Boulevard in St. Louis only a few hours after the killings, which is where the youth and several of his associates stole it.

Former Police Chief Terry Delaney called Samuel L. Johnson, 40, the “prime suspect” in the murders, although he has not been charged in them.

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Robert Haida has declined to charge Johnson with the murders because the bloody fingerprint in Cooney’s car and DNA left at the crime scene did not match Johnson’s. Haida has said he must be able to explain that evidence before he can prosecute.

Johnson was convicted last year of kicking in the door of Cooney’s home in December 2003, then lying to police about his name. He is serving an 11-year prison sentence in Menard Correctional Center.

Ruebhausen declined to name any suspect in the case until charges are brought.

With no one charged with the highly publicized triple homicide, Ruebhausen activated the St. Louis Area Major Case Squad — a year after Cooney, Bone and Fischer were found stabbed to death March 2, 2005, in Cooney’s home-based salon at 7813 W. Main St.

Ruebhausen, formerly the Granite City police chief, specially requested some of the members to serve on a Major Case Squad task force, including his former chief of detectives, Granite City Police Lt. Jeff Connor.

“Obviously, I know many of the detectives who work with the Major Case,” Ruebhausen said. “I worked very well with some of them, especially Jeff Connor.”

The other detectives come from the St. Clair and Madison County sheriff’s departments and the O’Fallon and Troy police departments. There are also two St. Louis Police Department homicide detectives working the case, Ruebhausen said.

The Major Case Squad is usually activated for five days, but can be extended.

“He has asked that he have permission to extend if necessary,” said St. Clair County Sheriff Mearl Justus, who heads the Major Case Squad. “I don’t anticipate that will be a problem. He has our full support.”

The investigators may change if an extension becomes necessary, Ruebhausen said.

“We may bring in new players, as time goes by,” Ruebhausen said.

Belleville detectives continue to work leads in the case.