O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — A convicted pedophile who ran an international child pornography ring has been charged with the 1993 abduction, rape and killing of a 9-year-old Missouri girl, after previously undetected DNA found on her clothing implicated him in the crime, authorities announced Wednesday.
Earl Webster Cox, who has been in custody for years because the state deemed him a sexually dangerous person likely to re-offend if set free, is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and sodomy in the death of Angie Housman, St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar said at a news conference.
Angie disappeared after getting off her school bus on Nov. 18, 1993, less than a block from her home in St. Ann, a St. Louis suburb. Her body was found nine days later in the August A. Busch Wildlife area, which is about 20 miles west of St. Ann, in St. Charles County.
Investigators said she had been sexually assaulted, starved and handcuffed, and that she died just hours before she was found. Lohmar said her head was covered in duct tape except for her nose and that she had tried hard to free herself.
“She was dehydrated, she was malnourished and she was alive when she was left out in the woods to die,” Lohmar said, noting that investigators don’t know where she was kept while she was missing.
Angie’s mother, Diane Bone, died of cancer in 2016 at age 52. Her stepfather, Ron Bone, told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday, “I can’t say anything about being happy until he’s found guilty.”
The disappearance of Angie and a 10-year-old girl, Cassidy Senter, the following month caused a panic in the area. Hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officers searched for Angie before a deer hunter found her body. Cassidy, meanwhile, was later found dead in a St. Louis alley.
Investigators feared that a child serial killer was on the loose before determining that Cassidy’s killer was one of her neighbors, who was eliminated as a suspect in Angie’s death.
In late February, St. Charles County crime lab investigators caught a break: They found previously undetected DNA on a pair of Angie’s Barbie-themed underwear that was found at the crime scene that matched a DNA profile in a national crime database.
“They were looking for a needle in a haystack without a magnet and still found the needle,” Lohmar said.
Lohmar said investigators have spoken with Cox about the killing, but he declined to say if Cox acknowledged knowing anything about it. He also wouldn’t say if his office will pursue the death penalty, and that investigators “have reason to believe that Earl Cox was not the only suspect,” though he didn’t elaborate.
Cox, now 61, grew up in the St. Louis area. He was living in another suburb, Ferguson, when Angie was abducted, but he had relatives who lived near her school and not far from her home, Lohmar said.
Cox enlisted in the Air Force in 1975 but was dishonorably discharged in 1982 after being convicted in a court-martial for molesting four young girls for whom he babysat while stationed at Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany. He was paroled in 1985 and returned to the St. Louis area, where he was questioned in at least two reported instances of child molestation in the four years before Angie’s killing.
He was arrested in October 1989 in Overland, which borders St. Ann, after he allegedly had inappropriate contact with two 7-year-old girls. Cox was not charged in that case, according to court records, but the arrest led authorities to revoke his parole for crimes in Germany and he was returned to federal custody from January to December 1992. He got out 11 months before Angie was killed.
At some point during the 1990s, Cox moved to Colorado. In January 2003, he set up a meeting with someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl whom he had asked to become his sex slave. It turned out to be an undercover federal agent.
After Cox was arrested, police seized about 45,000 images of child pornography from his computer and discovered that he led an international online child pornography ring known as the “Shadowz Brotherhood.” The subsequent investigation led to the arrest of about 60 people in 11 countries.
Cox was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Before he was scheduled for release in 2011, Cox was certified as a sexually dangerous person, which allowed authorities to keep him incarcerated even after he completed his sentence because he was considered likely to re-offend. He has unsuccessfully appealed the government’s decision to keep him incarcerated, arguing in part that his poor health makes it unlikely that he would re-offend.
Associated Press writer Margaret Stafford in Kansas City contributed to this report.