No murder motive offered yet

Suspect, 29, to be advised of 1st-degree murder charges today in county court

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— Steamboat Springs police are not saying why they think a man arrested Friday killed local resident Lori Bases.

Thomas Lee Johnson, 29, was stopped by police Friday at 7:45 p.m. near the intersection of U.S. 40 and Mount Werner Road after getting off a Greyhound bus at Wendy's restaurant. He was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder and two counts of criminal mischief.

It's not clear if Steamboat was a stop or Johnson's final destination. According to a Greyhound representative, the company doesn't keep track of passengers. Director of Public Safety J.D. Hays said he had no idea why Johnson came to town.

Johnson is scheduled to be advised of the charges against him in Routt County Court today at 1 p.m. His bond will also be decided by the judge. On Sunday, Johnson was being held in the Routt County Jail without bond because he was arrested on suspicion of a crime of violence.

Hays said officials are not ready to release details about a motive in the brutal stabbing death of the 31-year-old Bases, who was found dead in her apartment on Steamboat Boulevard on May 12.

Police believe Johnson went to Bases' apartment intending to kill her but Hays said the motive might not be released until the case goes to trial.

Johnson was the boyfriend of one of Bases' friends and had been to her home, according to a search warrant for his cellular phone records.

Twice in early April, Bases reported that a new Toyota Rav4 sport utility vehicle that 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 to Steamboat and spent the night with Bases on April 8. On the way here, she used Caller ID to screen two cell 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' apartment.

On April 10, the SUV was vandalized again. Police examined Johnson's cell phone records from April and determined he hadn't made any calls in the Steamboat area during the time of the vandalism.

Johnson was interviewed by police the day after the murder was discovered and then he apparently left town.

Hays said police knew Johnson was coming to Steamboat Friday because they had recently been keeping tabs on him in California. Johnson listed a hometown of Orange Vale, Calif., when booked into jail.

Hays said he had no comment when asked whether Johnson had obtained false paperwork such as a driver's license or passport. Hays said apprehending a suspected criminal is much like a chess game where a player wants to make the right move. It's also similar to a game of cat and mouse, Hays said, and police tried to give Johnson a certain level of comfort.

"We knew he was watching the paper. We knew he was trying to get out of here," Hays said. "It's typical that a murderer wants to get the heck gone, but the farther they get, the harder it is to find them."

Police have not determined what weapon Johnson allegedly used to kill Bases. Hays said several items were taken from her apartment to be processed by the laboratory at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in Denver. Hays said it may be months before results are known.

To reach Michelle Bales call 871-4208 or e-mail mbales@amigo.net

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