Ryan Larson was the first person to be accused of killing Cold Spring Police Officer Tom Decker, until he was let go for lack of evidence.
Two and a half months later, the official word is the investigation is "ongoing," but detectives have kept a tight lid on the case, saying only it's very complicated.
That may be an understatement.
Decker's murder has already taken one man's reputation, and led another man to take his own life.
Now Larson says he just wants his life back
"I don't even want to think about it," a tearful Larson told FOX 9. "To get drug out of my bed -- my whole life's changed. Sit in my room, stare at the internet, not that it will make a whole lot of difference. In some people's minds, I'll always be guilty."
November 29, 2012: Officer Decker and his partner, Greg Reiter, are conducting a welfare check on Larson, who lives above Winner's Bar, the local dive on Main Street. Larson's was having troubles in school, and sent a somewhat cryptic text message to his parents.
"I sent my parents a text, 'Tomorrow is going to be a big day,'" he said.
Around 8:00 p.m. Larson said he turned off his cell phone and went to sleep.
At 10:46 p.m., Officer Decker and Officer Reiter arrived in the packed parking lot. Curiously, Reiter stayed in his squad.
Decker stepped out, but never made it to Larson's apartment -- shot twice, at close range, with a 20 gauge shotgun.
Reiter said he only caught a glimpse of the suspect -- a white man in a hoodie.
A bartender was the first to call 911. Within two minutes, Ryan Larson was identified as the suspect. There was report of a black van, with a loud muffler leaving the scene. But no one gets a plate.
Police setup a perimeter, but released all the patron's inside Winner's Bar, allowing witnesses, even a potential killer, to vanish into the night.
It would be a full 90 minutes, 12:15 a.m., before a SWAT team finally enters Larson's apartment. Larson is arrested, but isn't told a cop was dead until he's sitting in an interview room with detectives.
"I don't know how many times I asked them what the hell is going on," Larson said.
Larson said he broke down crying when he was finally told it was Tommy Decker. The two had met on three occasions at Winner's Bar, where Larson would bartend on the weekend. Decker had even helped Larson kick out an unruly customer.
"I was not even concerned about an attorney," Larson said. "There was no way they could have anything on me. I wanted to help. Tom was a good guy, I was trying to do whatever I can do to help."
Larson spent five days in jail before he was released for lack of evidence.
Investigators would search every inch of Larson's apartment, ripping apart walls and tearing up carpet, desperately looking for the murder weapon. But they found nothing.
Then, a month ago, investigators made a startling announcement.
A tip about that black van led investigators to a person of interest: Eric Thomes.
But when agents from the BCA went to question Thomes about inconsistencies in his story, Thomes ran, barricading himself inside a barn and taking his own life.
The person of interest, wasn't talking to anyone.
When detectives finally entered the barn they found Thomes had hung himself. Thomes had borrowed the weapon the year before to go hunting. He returned it after Decker's killing.
"They are well aware who did this," Larson s aid. "They didn't find the gun by luck. They were given a treasure map."
Larson believes the clues were also in the parking lot that night.
"His body is found 65 feet to the southwest, the opposite way (from my apartment)," Larson said.
Larson said Decker parked his squad right behind his own car that night, but instead of walking toward the apartment, Officer Decker walked in the opposite direction.
"I guess one theory is something caught his attention," Larson said. I'm going to say a vehicle or person may've pulled in south entrance that he may've recognized and he came over to talk to that person. You can speculate all you want as to who that person is."
If Officer Decker had seen Thomes in the parking lot, he probably would have recognized him from the drunk driving arrest a year earlier. And if he checked his mobile display terminal, he would have known a warrant had been issued for his arrest for missing a court date.
That chance in encounter could have led to him being locked up in jail. The question is whether that would have been motive for murder.
Investigators say they're still wrapping up the case, still checking possible scenarios. They won't call Eric Thomes a suspect and they won't say Ryan Larson is innocent.
Larson now lives in a short of limbo. With no job, he's turning himself into something of an amateur detective, going over the timeline and details of the case. But search his name on the internet, like he does compulsively, and Larson still looks like a cop killer. He expects he always will.
"People everywhere will always think I had something to do with it. My life changed at 12:15 that morning," Larson said. "It will never be the same. I don't care what anyone says, it will never be the same."
There is still a $100,000 reward in this case.
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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