(KMSP) - The case file of the murdered Cold Spring police officer, Thomas Decker, is being released by the Stearns County sheriff's office nearly six years after his death.
Despite the case being closed in April, there are still questions about why Decker was killed and if more than one person was involved.
On November 29, 2012 the officer was ambushed in an alley behind Winners bar on Main Street.
“There is several different speculative theories about what happened that night,” Deputy Chief Jon Lentz from the Stearns County sheriff's office told the Fox 9 Investigators.
Decker’s partner, officer Greg Reiter, fled the scene immediately after the killing but put the blame on the man who lived above the bar, Ryan Larson, who was fast asleep with a pistol under his pillow.
Larson was released for lack of evidence three days later, but detectives continued to focus on him, even as a witness said she saw a dark colored van with a loud muffler leaving the scene.
PERSON OF INTEREST
Three weeks after the shooting, “tip 214” came in, with another name: Eric Thomes, who had a dark green minivan with a loud muffler.
According to the closed case file, Thomes was fired the day of the murder from Rotochopper where he was a welder.
His boss said Thomes wouldn’t show up for work, always with a different excuse: “a brain tumor, cancer, depression.”
As detectives questioned him, they became more suspicious as Thomes gave multiple alibis that never panned out.
According to one source: “Thomes blamed Decker for his DWI’s.” Officers Decker and Reiter had arrested Thomes a year earlier, the start of spiral that left him flat broke.
On Jan. 2, 2013, as detectives came to question Thomes one more time, he walked into a shed and hanged himself. Investigators found a short suicide note: “I’m sorry, I can’t handle this anymore.” Later they found the murder weapon on a neighbor's property, a 20-gauge shotgun.
"Because the way this case came to its conclusion ending with a suicide, we were never able to establish a clear motive,” said Deputy Chief Lentz.
STEARNS COUNTY REFUSED TO CLOSE DECKER’S MURDER CASE
Two years ago, the BCA sent an email to former Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner, writing that Thomes was the shooter and there’s no evidence others were involved, indicating the case should be closed.
A follow up note in the file reads, “Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall’s opinion was the file should remain open with the belief that another individual aside from Thomes may be involved in the homicide.”
Over time, the rumor mill in Cold Spring only heated up.
As recently as last year detectives were looking into rumors that there was a drug cartel in Cold Spring and Decker was killed in retaliation. Authorities said there is no evidence for any of it.
LARSON SUING STEARNS COUNTY
As for Ryan Larson, he remains a prisoner of a small town’s suspicions; even with the release of the case file, there is one word he still longs to hear: innocent.
“All I want is my name cleared. It’s unfair to me, it’s unfair to my friends and family,” Larson told the Fox 9 Investigators in 2013.
Larson is now suing Stearns County in U.S. Federal court, claiming false arrest and malicious prosecution. A trial in that case is expected in May 2019.
Decker was a 10-year police veteran and father of four children. He was 31-years old.