Suspect in long-unsolved, brutal Aurora hammer murders has been in Nevada prison since ’84

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AURORA | Police and prosecutors say they have solved the brutal 1984 hammer slayings of the Bennett family in Aurora, one of the city’s most-shocking and tough-to-crack cold cases.

Alexander Christopher Ewing, who is serving a prison sentence in Nevada for beating a couple there with an axe handle, has been charged with killing Bruce and Debra Bennett and their 7-year-old daughter, as well as trying to kill their 3-year-old daughter, as well as a charge for sexual assault. He is awaiting extradition to Colorado, police and prosecutors announced Friday.

Ewing, 57, has also been charged with murder for the slaying of a Lakewood grandmother a few weeks prior to the Bennett killings, a crime police linked to the Bennett murders in 2010 through DNA.

Police said in a Friday morning press conference that they linked Ewing to the crimes this year shortly after Nevada authorities uploaded his DNA to a national database.

Prosecutors said they will ask Gov. John Hickenlooper to request Ewing’s extradition today but the process could take weeks or months depending on a host of legal factors.

A hammer was used to kill Patricia Louise Smith, 50, in Lakewood Jan. 10, 1984. About a week later, a different hammer was used to kill the Bennetts and their 7-year-old daughter Melissa in Aurora. A 3-year-old daughter, Vanessa, was injured and survived.

Aurora police Chief Nick Metz said the case has haunted the families involved. When he arrived in Aurora almost four years ago Metz said he spoke to detectives about the city’s cold cases and this one, which he said “shocked the conscience” of the community, stuck with him.

He said the detectives who have worked it over the years, in particular Detective Steve Conner, the department’s cold case investigator, never quit on.

“It was a case that they were not giving up on and were continuing to move forward on,” he said.

The news that the killer had been identified this year left Metz elated, he said.

Ewing has been behind bars in Nevada since the summer of 1984 after he escaped there while being transported to Kingman, Arizona, from St. George, Utah, for a court appearance on attempted murder and burglary charges. His sentence runs through 2037 but he would be eligible for parole in 2021.

Nevada court records show a jury found Ewing, under the name Alex C. Ewing, was guilty of escaping from the custody of two Arizona sheriff’s deputies at a gas station in Henderson, Nevada, southeast of Las Vegas on Aug. 9, 1984, and entering an unlocked home and severely beating a woman and her husband with an ax handle in their bedroom. Two young boys were asleep in other rooms in the house.

Ewing, then 23, was arrested again two days later about 15 miles (24 kilometers) away by park rangers at Lake Mead.

The Colorado killings followed two other attacks near Denver that either involved or were suspected of involving a hammer.

On Jan. 4, 1984, a couple in Aurora woke up to see a man in their bedroom who hit each of them with a hammer before fleeing. They both survived.

Late on Jan. 9 or early on Jan 10, a flight attendant was beaten, possibly with a hammer, and sexually assaulted after she pulled into the garage of her home in Aurora. She survived.

Smith was attacked in the condo she shared with her daughter and grandchildren and the hammer was left behind.

The Bennett family was attacked either the night of Jan. 15 or the morning of Jan. 16. They lived on the other side of the Denver metro area, but their home and Smith’s home were both near a main east-west road, Alameda Avenue, leading investigators to suspect the killer used that route.

Police are still looking for information on the cases connected to Ewing and are asking the public for help. They are asking tipsters who know anything about the Aurora case to call 303-739-6400 and the Lakewood case to call 303-763-6800.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.