'Zodiac' Letters Tied Suspect to GI's Murder

Father of a fellow soldier's unborn baby allegedly used letters as red herring.


July 30, 2008— -- The Army sergeant accused of killing a pregnant female soldier was the father of her unborn child and wrote letters pretending to be a serial killer to mislead investigators, police said today.

Sgt. Edgar Patino, 27, was arrested Tuesday night and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Army Spc. Megan Touma, a 23-year-old Fort Bragg soldier found dead in a motel bathtub in Fayetteville, N.C., more than a month ago.

Patino, who is married to another woman, is being held without bond and is scheduled to make his first court appearance in Cumberland County later today.

"We feel there is significant evidence that Patino published those letters, mailed those letters with the intent of throwing off the investigators," Sgt. Chris Corcione said at a morning news conference.

Authorities also confirmed that Patino had fathered Touma's unborn child, but would not comment on a specific motive or cause of death. The results of a joint military and state autopsy will be released when the report is complete, police said.

Touma, a divorced dental specialist who arrived at Fort Bragg on June 12 after being stationed in Germany, died inside a Fairfield Inn motel room either late on June 13 or June 14. The key to Touma's motel room was last used the night of July 13.

Patino was transferred to Fort Bragg in December 2007, according to a U.S. Army spokesman in Europe. He previously was assigned as a combat engineer in Bamberg, Germany. Military officials at the press conference said they have interviewed soldiers and acquaintances of the suspect and victim in Europe, but offered little detail about the pair's possible relationship.

It was not clear whether the two soldiers knew each other while in Germany.

Touma's body was not found until June 21, when a maintenance worker smelled a foul odor and ignored a "Do Not Disturb" sign on Touma's motel door. Inside, he found the body of the Cold Spring, Ky., native.

On June 25 and June 26, the Fayetteville Observer newspaper and the Fayetteville Police Department received typed letters from someone claiming to be Touma's killer. The letters bore the symbol of San Fransisco's famous Zodiac Killer and a similar symbol reportedly was found inside the motel room where Touma was killed.

The newspaper originally chose not to publish the letter, but later reported its contents and identified a "person of interest" who was studying psychological warfare and may have sent the letters in an attempt to foul up investigators.

Police would not explicitly say that Patino was the original person of interest, but confirmed that he had been considered a person of interest since early in the investigation and that there are no other suspects.

"Right from the beginning, both the chief and I and the investigators surmised that the letter was sent by the suspect," Corcione said.

The letters were dated June 17, but investigators later determined they were both post-marked June 24 and were sent from inside Fayetteville, police said at the news conference.

"It was a masterpiece," the letter to the newspaper read, referring to Touma's murder. "I confess, that I have killed many times before in several states, but now I will start using my role-model's signature. There will be many more to come."

Authorities determined that Patino had purchased a typewriter the day before the letters were postmarked. The machine was seized when a search warrant was executed on Patino's home.

Corcione described Patino's initial interview with investigators as "deceptive" and said that they had very little contact with him again "until we put handcuffs on him last night."

Patino did not confess to the murder, Corcione said, but admitted to being in Touma's motel room that night of June 13.

Touma is the third servicewoman stationed at North Carolina military bases killed in recent months. In all three cases, the murder suspects are male GIs in some type of intimate relationship with the victims. In two of the cases, the victims were pregnant.

Authorities found Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, 24, dead in a wooded area near Camp Lejeune after a suspicious fire at her Fayetteville apartment. Her husband, Marine Cpl. John Wimunc, who allegedly had the help of an accomplice, has been arrested and charged in her death.

Wimunc, a nurse at the Womack Army Hospital whose family is now referring to her by her maiden name, Holley James, was memorialized in Dubuque, Iowa, this week. The couple was reportedly in the middle of a bitter divorce when the soldier was killed.

In January, the burned body of eight-month-pregnant Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, was found in a shallow grave in a back yard fire pit at the home of a former co-worker she had accused of rape.

Cpl. Cesar Laurean managed to flee to Mexico, leaving behind a note in which he denied killing Lauterbach but admitted to burying her remains. He was arrested on April 10 and is awaiting extradition.

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