Steamboat Springs A man identified as a potential suspect in the vandalism of a Steamboat Springs woman's vehicle earlier this year was arrested for her murder Friday.
Thomas Lee Johnson, 29, was on a Greyhound bus near the intersection of U.S. 40 and Mount Werner Road at about 7:45 p.m. when he was arrested by Steamboat Springs police officers and members of a regional drug task force. After questioning by police throughout the evening, he was booked into the Routt County Jail around 11:30 p.m. on suspicion of the first-degree murder of Lori Bases, and two counts of criminal mischief.
Bases, 31, was brutally stabbed to death in her apartment on the evening of May 11. She was found dead by her roommate, Ron Farmer. Since then, tight-lipped police have, by all accounts, methodically investigated the crime. Aided by lawmen from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, six Steamboat Springs investigators have been working almost non-stop. Their diligence gave J.D. Hays, the director of Public Safety for Steamboat Springs, confidence Friday.
"If I wasn't confident, we wouldn't have arrested him," Hays said.
Johnson arrived in Steamboat Springs Friday from Folsom, Calif., where he had been living for the last two weeks, Hays said. Prior to moving west, Johnson reportedly lived in Longmont.
He and Bases apparently knew each other. Johnson was the boyfriend of one of Bases' friends and had been to Bases' home in Steamboat Springs, police have said. Bases lived in an apartment attached to the back of a house at 1620 Steamboat Blvd.
Hays said Johnson was interviewed by police the day after the murder and again in California on Thursday the day before he boarded a bus for Colorado.
"I would like to know why he was coming back," Hays said. "You'd think he'd want to stay away from here."
Hays wouldn't say specifically what evidence police had that pointed to Johnson as the murderer. He did say that police have yet to get back forensic clues or the potential murder weapon from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Twice in early April, Bases reported that a new Toyota Rav4 sport utility vehicle she had recently bought had been vandalized. A subsequent investigation by police led officers to identify the 6-foot, 190-pound Johnson as a possible suspect.
Johnson's girlfriend, who lived in Longmont, came up to Steamboat and spent the night with Bases on April 8. On the way here, she used Caller ID to screen two cellular phone calls from Johnson, she later told police.
The next morning, Bases discovered that someone had punctured a rear tire and repeatedly slashed all of the seats and the dashboard of her vehicle. Later that day, Bases' friend reportedly saw Johnson's white delivery van drive by Bases' house. Johnson was working for High Plains Distributing at the time.
On April 10, Bases' Toyota again was vandalized, according to police reports. That time, two tires were slashed.
Police investigated the vandalism reports and examined Johnson's cell phone records from early April but didn't have enough evidence to arrest him, until Friday.
Bases is the daughter and step-daughter of well-known local real estate agents Sherry and Bob Mesecher. Hays said that besides authorities, they were the first to know about the arrest Friday.
"They've supported us and they've trusted us to do the right thing," Hays said of Bases' family members.
A man and a woman who identified themselves as Johnson's parents arrived at the police department looking for Johnson late Friday. The man told Hays he had received a call to pick up his son in Steamboat.
After being told that Johnson had been arrested on suspicion of murder, the couple were asked if they knew prior to coming to Steamboat that he was suspected in the killing of Bases. The woman replied that she did.