Fingerprints help capture South Austin murder suspect

Police say Chris Whitmarsh was found dead inside his home on Shadow Bend.
Police say Chris Whitmarsh was found dead inside his home on Shadow Bend. (KXAN Photo/Heather Jackson)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday Investigators said a crime from over the weekend helped them solve a murder case from last November. Using fingerprint matching technology, Austin police were able to identify and arrest 23-year-old Erick Cruz, who is accused of killing an elderly man in his home in November 2015.

Chris Whitmarsh, 72, was found dead with signs of obvious trauma to his body Nov. 18. Detectives said Whitmarsh was strangled inside his home  n the 6300 block of Shadow Bend.

“He was good to everybody,” said a neighbor who asked not to be identified.  She said she’s sick and Whitmarsh would check in on her. “Whoever killed him did an injustice to our neighborhood.”

Police said a friend went to pick up Whitmarsh for a Wednesday evening church service last November.  When she arrived to his home, she saw the front door was slightly open and all the lights were off.  Court records state the woman found clothes and papers all over the home.  She called police for a welfare check around 7:19 p.m.

Investigators said Whitmarsh’s body was on the bathroom floor with his face and body covered by papers and clothes. According to the affidavit, blood was seen on a large portion of the living room floor as well as on the victim’s face and arms. There was also blood on a broken window near the bedroom.  Whitmarsh was discovered without pants or underwear; the affidavit states police believe he was sexually assaulted.

A witness told police Whitmarsh was seen talking to a Hispanic man who was much younger than him two hours before he was discovered deceased.

Chris Whitmarsh was killed in his home in November 2015. (TXDL)
Chris Whitmarsh was killed in his home in November 2015. (TXDL)

A bloody fingerprint left on an envelope was seized from the home as evidence. The prints left on the envelope were processed through an Automatic Fingerprint Identification System.

Police said even though there’s a backlog for fingerprints identification, in murder cases, they can expedite the search.   In this case, investigators said they did, but it came back without a hit.

It wasn’t until Feb. 3 police matched the fingerprint to Erick Cruz, who had been previously charged with criminal trespassing on Jan. 31, 2016.

“On this past Sunday Jan. 31, Mr. Cruz was arrested on a street, one street over from Shadow Bend, Eberheart Lane, for criminal trespassing a residence,” Explained Lt. Justin Newsom with the Austin Police Department.  He said that’s when Cruz “Entered into another stranger’s house, broke in through the window and the resident woke to Mr. Cruz touching him on the leg.”

APD said since Cruz was arrested, his fingerprint entered into the system, which came up with a match to the bloody finger print from the November crime scene.

“We’re confident that we would have solved the crime anyway, because there were still some leads we were following up on, we never stopped ever since Nov. 18,” explained Newsom.  “But that was a huge break and very critical to the arrest.”

Investigators said they don’t know a motive at this time, but say Cruz lived in walking distance of both victims.  At this time, they don’t believe he knew either men, but Newsom said that’s still under investigation.

“We’re still collecting more evidence, now that we know who it is, we can do a search warrant for his DNA to compare to the blood that we found inside the apartment and compare to some other evidence that we’re not talking about yet,” said Newsom.

The Lone Star Fugitive Task Force arrested Cruz Thursday morning and booked him into  Travis County Jail.  Police have not released a picture of the suspect.

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