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Williamson County Makes Arrest in 1980 Murder

Williamson County Sheriffs Office

Williamson County sheriff's investigators have arrested Steven Alan Thomas, 53, in the 1980 murder of Mildred McKinney, the agency announced Tuesday.

McKinney was 73 when her daughter found her dead in her Williamson County duplex, where she lived alone. She had been beaten, strangled and raped. The murderer stacked a recliner, end table and vacuum cleaner on her head and chest.

The sheriff's office learned that DNA from the nearly 32-year-old murder scene matched Thomas on June 27, and additional testing of DNA collected from Thomas on July 5 also matched the DNA found at the murder scene. Analysis of a fingerprint from the scene of the murder also belonged to Thomas. 

Detectives met with Thomas twice in Dallas and in Austin. He said he did not know McKinney and denied sexually assaulting and murdering her. Thomas was arrested Monday in Austin.

McKinney's grandson, Bob Stapleton, said in a statement that the family was sad that news of the arrest came after the death of his mother, Patricia Stapleton, who had long sought her mother's killer. But, he said the family appreciated the dedicated efforts of police to solve the crime.

"She was a glorious woman who my family and I love and cherish and who will continue to live on in our fondest memories," Stapleton said of his grandmother.

Henry Lee Lucas, confessed to killing McKinney in the 1980’s, but DNA evidence later proved he was not the killer.  

Some had long suspected a link between McKinney's murder and the 1986 murder of Christine Morton. The two women lived less than a mile apart, both were beaten to death, and items were stacked on their bodies. 

After Christine Morton's husband, Michael Morton, spent nearly 25 years in prison for her murder, authorities linked DNA found near the scene of her killing to 58-year-old Bastrop dishwasher Mark Norwood. Morton was released from prison in October after Norwood's DNA was also linked to the 1988 murder of Debra Jan Baker.

But in January, the Williamson County Sheriff's Office reported that DNA from the McKinney murder did not match with Norwood, who is awaiting trial now in Christine Morton's murder.

Brandi Grissom joined the Tribune after four years at the El Paso Times, where she acted as a one-woman Capitol bureau during the last two legislative sessions. Grissom won the Associated Press Managing Editors First-Place Award in 2007 for using the Freedom of Information Act to report stories on a variety of government programs and entities, and the ACLU of Texas named her legislative reporter of the year in 2007 for her immigration reporting. She previously served as managing editor at The Daily Texan and has worked for the Alliance Times-Herald, the Taylor Daily Press, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and The Associated Press. A native of Alliance, Neb., she has a degree in history from the University of Texas.
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