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18 years later, police say a murder mystery is solved

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19 2013 3:25 p.m. MDT

Krystal Beslanowitch, 17, was killed in 1995. Her body was found along the banks of the Provo River near Midway. Police believe she was beaten to death with rocks. Joseph Michael Simpson, 46, who already served time in the Utah State Prison in the 1980s for murder, was arrested in Sarasota County, Fla., on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, for investigation of murder in her death. (Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office) Krystal Beslanowitch, 17, was killed in 1995. Her body was found along the banks of the Provo River near Midway. Police believe she was beaten to death with rocks. Joseph Michael Simpson, 46, who already served time in the Utah State Prison in the 1980s for murder, was arrested in Sarasota County, Fla., on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, for investigation of murder in her death. (Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office)

HEBER CITY — Todd Bonner was a sheriff's deputy when he was dispatched in the cold, morning hours of Dec. 15, 1995 to the scene of a dead body on a bank of the Provo River.

The nude body of Krystal Lynn Beslanowitch, 17, was lying face down in the rocks, bloody and broken. For two years Bonner served as the lead investigator of a team that went all over the state in hopes of solving the Salt Lake teen's murder.

But the trail went cold.

"It's a case that's haunted me for almost my whole career," Bonner said Thursday, announcing that nearly two decades later, an arrest had been made. "It's closure for me, as well. I'm very thrilled of the outcome, but it has taken a lot of time, and it has taken a lot of work."

The investigation

Bonner moved on in his career, never forgetting about the dead teenager and rekindling hope when the case was reopened in 2006. New technology at the state crime lab and Sorenson Forensics had made it possible to examine DNA evidence from the apparent murder weapon he helped collect years earlier — those large, granite rocks — as well as from under Beslanowitch's fingernails.

Joseph Michael Simpson, 46, who already served time in the Utah State Prison in the 1980s for murder, was arrested in Sarasota County, Fla., on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, for investigation of murder in the death of Krystal Beslanowitch, 17. Her body was found along the banks of the Provo River near Midway in 1995. Police believe she was beaten to death with rocks. (Sarasota County Jail) Joseph Michael Simpson, 46, who already served time in the Utah State Prison in the 1980s for murder, was arrested in Sarasota County, Fla., on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, for investigation of murder in the death of Krystal Beslanowitch, 17. Her body was found along the banks of the Provo River near Midway in 1995. Police believe she was beaten to death with rocks. (Sarasota County Jail)

Two full-time detectives were assigned to the case in 2008, forensic technology kept improving and Unified Police were brought on board. More DNA was extracted off the rocks found near the girl's body.

Bonner was elected Wasatch County Sheriff in 2009, but he regularly checked in on the case that had followed him for years.

"It's always in the back of your mind, all the investigators that I still associate with that were a part of this, it's always in the back of their minds," Bonner said. "Everytime we get together, we talk about it, we have for 17 years."

In January, the CODIS database returned a match for the DNA: Joseph Michael Simpson, 46, who served time in the Utah State Prison in the 1980s for murder, and now resided in Sarasota County, Fla. Simpson previously lived in Clearfield.

More forensic evidence from the scene was tested, providing an even stronger match for Simpson, but the Wasatch County Sheriff's office needed more. With the help of law enforcement in Sarasota County, Bonner and another Utah detective tracked down Simpson, who was living with his mother, and set up surveillance.

On Aug. 25, they followed him to a smoke shop, where he smoked a cigarette and tossed it aside. Bonner now had the DNA investigators needed.

It was a match.

Bonner, flanked by detectives from Wasatch County and Florida's Sarasota County, was the one who put handcuffs on Simpson at his home Tuesday, telling him "he was under arrest for the murder of Krystal Lynn Beslanowitch."

The suspect

Simpson was booked into the Sarasota County Jail for investigation of aggravated murder. Investigators expect authorities to return him to Utah within the next few weeks.

This won't be Simpson's first time facing a murder charge in Utah.

Simpson was arrested in August of 1987 by Clearfield police and was convicted of murder in a Farmington court a couple of months later, according to court records. Simpson first arrived at the Utah State Prison in November of 1987.

He was first paroled in April of 1995. In June of 1997, he received a travel permit while on parole, according to Department of Corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke. He went to Nevada where he was arrested on a drug-related charge.

Simpson spent a short time in jail in Nevada before being extradited back to Utah to serve his sentence at the Utah State Prison in June of 1997, Gehrke said. Simpson was paroled again in September of 1997, and completed parole in 2003.

Simpson has been living in Florida for 13 or 14 years, the sheriff's office said. But Utah state court records show that Simpson was in Utah as recently as 2010 when he received a minor traffic citation in Syracuse.

Until the DNA connection was made, Simpson had never been considered a suspect in the case, Bonner said. Investigators believe Beslanowitch dissappeared from North Temple, but offered few details about how she encountered Simpson or ended up in Wasatch County.

The victim

Beslanowitch grew up in Spokane, Wash. Her mother, Linde Toreson, told the Deseret News in 1996 that her daughter was involved with drugs and was prostituting by age 15.

"Every time she came home she had her arms spread out wide and a big smile on her face. I never refused her. I always loved her,'' Toreson said then. "Whatever she was doing (she thought) was more important than living a normal life.''

Beslanowitch and her boyfriend had moved to Utah from Spokane just a few months earlier. He reported her missing two days after she failed to return from a late-night trip to a Salt Lake convenience store.

This week, Bonner made a phone call 18 years in the making, to a mother and her husband, concerning a daughter.

"(They were) very relieved, very emotional, very happy that this is moving forward," he said.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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