More than four years after Evelynne Derricott was found murdered in her home, the Tooele City Police Department arrested the man they believe is responsible.
In a press conference late Friday morning, Tooele City Police Chief Ron Kirby said his department arrested Rogelio Diaz, Jr., 23, near his West Valley City home around 7:30 a.m. Friday.
Police took Diaz into custody after they were able to match him to physical evidence and DNA located at the crime scene.
“We’ve made an arrest,” Kirby said. “We’re excited about that, but this is just a point in the investigation. The investigation continues; this is just an important step in it.”
Derricott, 69, was a widow who lived alone on Havasu Street in Tooele. Kirby described her as a mother and grandmother with a small, close circle of friends.
Derricott’s body was found on Oct. 7 by a friend who became concerned after she did not answer her phone or come to the door.
The case was ruled a homicide following an autopsy by the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner, but police did not release the cause of death for years to protect the details of the investigation.
On Friday, a probable cause statement from the Tooele City Police Department shed additional light on the circumstances surrounding Derricott’s death.
According to police, a Stanley hammer was found in Derricott’s home, covered in a red-brown stain. The staining was later determined to be Derricott’s blood.
During the autopsy, medical examiners identified 14 impact wounds on Derricott’s body, which were consistent with the hammer found at the crime scene. Police believe the murder occurred on Oct. 5, but an exact date was never determined.
When police investigated the scene, they found Derricott’s teal 1993 Pontiac Grand Am was missing from her home. The vehicle, as well as her cell phone, was found on Oct. 8, 2011 in a Kearns neighborhood.
While Tooele City police have long suspected Derricott encountered the suspect while he was burglarizing her home, no valuables were noted as missing by family members. Kirby reiterated the department’s belief that Diaz murdered Derricott in a home burglary gone wrong.
“At this point we believe he’s the only suspect,” Kirby said, of Diaz.
The West Valley City and Unified police departments assisted in the arrest of Diaz, who was taken into custody without incident, according to Kirby. He was transported and booked in the Tooele County Detention Center Friday morning.
Despite more than four years passing since Derricott was murdered, the case remained an active investigation and was never considered to be a cold case. The determination of everyone involved in the homicide investigation, including Detective Chris Thompson and Detective Sgt. Lonnie Collings, helped finally track down the department’s suspect, Kirby said.
“As troubling as this case is, it’s very, very satisfying to these officers to reach this point,” he said.
A combination of traditional police work and DNA technology contributed to solving the murder case. Mixed DNA profiles found on both the murder weapon and the steering wheel of the stolen vehicle contained a mixture of Derricott’s DNA and that of an unknown male, according to the probable cause statement.
The Utah Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratory was able to create a DNA profile of the suspect after it met with Tooele City investigators in October 2014, according to Kirby.
Chief Deputy Tooele County Attorney Gary Searle, who will prosecute the case, said the state crime laboratory was able to isolate the unknown male’s DNA and match it to that of a family member already contained in the state’s DNA database.
“They were able to take this sample from the steering wheel, the sample from the hammer, develop those samples, match it against known samples in the database and say, ‘The person you’re seeking, that DNA profile, is related to this person,’” Searle said.
The state crime laboratory was able to determine the suspect was within two degrees of separation from the family member in the database, such as a first cousin, daughter or grandparent. Tooele City police still had to determine which relative could be the suspect based on physical evidence and other factors, before any DNA sample would be taken, Searle said.
“We don’t go out and just get DNA samples from 15 different people,” Searle said. “That would be a violation, obviously, we think, of somebody’s privacy. So they actually had to develop who they thought their suspect was and that’s what took the time to do that.”
Kirby said detectives were able to narrow their suspects down to Diaz based on physical evidence at the crime scene and his connections within close proximity to Derricott’s home and the location the car was dropped off.
“We found those connections and put him at the right place, at the right time,” Kirby said.
On April 22, investigators collected a Rockstar energy drink can and work gloves that investigators observed Diaz discarding, according to the statement. The state crime laboratory found the DNA evidence from the can matched the DNA profile found on the hammer and steering wheel.
Another DNA sample from Diaz was collected Friday with a search warrant following his arrest, according to Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead.
The county attorney’s office hasn’t received a police report yet and Broadhead said charges won’t be filed until early next week, but Diaz is expected to be charged with murder and other crimes.
“This will bring a lot of closure to the Derricott family,” Broadhead said. “This was a great use of technology, but in addition to the technology that we have, we just had great police work that was done and dedicated officers that spent years tracking this down.”