Unsolved 1974 California desert slaying linked to Idaho serial killer

Unsolved 1974 California desert slaying linked to Idaho serial killer

Doug Walker said he had long ago given up hope that the merciless shotgun killing of his brother in the San Bernardino County desert in 1974 would be solved until he received a surprising message on his phone last week from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department cold case team.

Investigators told Walker that they had linked serial killer Thomas Creech, a 73-year-old death row inmate in Idaho, to the slaying of 21-year-old Daniel Ashton Walker.

Walker, speaking from his home near Missoula, Montana, on Wednesday, Jan. 24, said he figured the killer was either dead or in jail and would never be discovered.

“I pretty much said to myself, ‘No way,’ ” said Walker, who was 15 at the time of his brother’s death and is now 64. “I do believe that the weight of my brother’s murder accelerated my father’s demise, but as far as my sister and I, we went on with our lives.”

But he added: “Nothing shocks me after somebody shoots your brother in his sleep.”

Daniel Walker is shown in an undated photo provided by his brother, Doug Walker. Daniel, 21, was shot to death on Oct. 1, 1974, as he was parked alongside the 40 Freeway in the San Bernardino County desert. Thomas Creech, on death row in Idaho, was named as a suspect by the Sheriff’s Department on Jan. 24, 2024. (Courtesy of Richard Menzies) 

On Oct. 1, 1974, Daniel Walker parked his  Volkswagen van alongside the 40 Freeway some 60 miles west of Needles so his passenger, hitchhiker Ken Robinson, 18, could rest. Someone showed up and fired on Walker several times as he begged for his life, inflicting fatal injuries. Walker’s van keys and money were ripped from a pants pocket, but other valuable property was left behind, a sheriff’s official wrote in a letter to the family.

Robinson, who was asleep in the back of the van, escaped notice and was able to flee unharmed.

Despite Robinson’s description of the suspect and his car, investigators could not develop any leads over the years, the Sheriff’s Department said in a news release Wednesday. Cold case detectives pulled the case file in 2010 when Doug Walker came to the Inland Empire and retraced his brother’s steps, but they made no headway.

Then on Nov. 15, 2023, the cold case team resumed the investigation. The Sheriff’s Department did not say what prompted the renewed interest, other than it “obtained additional information,” but it happened about a month after Walker self-published a book on Amazon titled, “Daniel My Brother: Mystery in the Mojave.”

Walker discusses the investigation and publishes related documents on the website danielmybrother.com

Walker said he devoted two chapters in the book to his brother’s character. In their father’s last letter to Daniel, he wrote: “Everyone speaks so highly of you, always and without exception.”

Walker said he did not write anything that would have led investigators to Creech, and he was reluctant to say what the Sheriff’s Department told him about how they made the connection. They did interview Robinson two months ago, Walker said.

“They convinced me that they were not going to pin something on someone just to solve a cold case. They assured me that they had hard evidence,” Walker said.

The Sheriff’s Department said that while working with the Ada County District Attorney’s Office in Idaho, cold case detectives were “able to corroborate intimate details from statements Creech made regarding Daniel’s murder.”

Robinson and Walker had kept in touch over the years as Walker investigated the case himself. Walker said he spoke last week to Robinson, who said investigators had asked him to keep quiet about the interview until they officially named Creech as a suspect.

“He said it was a giant pressure off his shoulder that I knew (about Creech) and now he could talk to me,” Walker said.

Daniel Walker is shown on a playground in an undated photo provided by his brother, Doug Walker. Daniel, 21, was shot to death on Oct. 1, 1974, along the 40 Freeway in the San Bernardino County desert. Convicted serial killer Thomas Creech was named as a suspect by the Sheriff’s Department on Jan. 24, 2024. (Courtesy of Tom Wiznerowicz) 

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Creech has been convicted of five murders: three in Idaho, one in California and one in Oregon. But he has confessed to perhaps dozens of killings that his attorneys believe he did not commit.

“He is a serial killer who is established to have killed an additional six victims and has admitted to killing upwards of 40 people,” the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office said in a news release.

That release was issued on Jan. 19 after a hearing before the state Commission of Pardons and Parole, where Creech’s defense attorney sought to have a death sentence for the 1981 murder of an inmate in Idaho commuted to life in prison. Creech was serving four life sentences at the time of the killing. The Prosecutor’s Office brought up the San Bernardino case that day in its opposition to the commutation.

Deborah A. Czuba, an attorney with the nonprofit Federal Defender Services of Idaho, said in a statement Wednesday that the announcement that the San Bernardino County case has been solved lacks “any real evidence” against Creech and instead “relies entirely on unspecified ‘intimate details’ provided by Mr. Creech a long time ago” yet revealed only now for unexplained reasons decades later, the Idaho Statesman reported.

Jonah Horwitz of the Federal Defender Services office said during the hearing that Idaho’s longest-serving death row inmate is a positive influence on younger inmates and has gone 28 years without any disciplinary offenses, Idaho Reports wrote.

The Commission has not made a ruling, the Idaho Statesman reported Wednesday.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office would not say Wednesday whether it planned to extradite and prosecute Creech.

“We are in receipt of the reports and are in continued contact with Ada County District Attorney’s Office and our San Bernardino County investigative team regarding the pursuit of justice in this matter,” spokeswoman Jacquelyn Rodriguez said.

For Doug Walker, justice does not necessarily include putting Creech to death.

“As long as they can prove whoever did it, did it, that’s fine with me. Whether they die or not, that’s not my decision. That’s above my pay grade,” Walker said.