SALT LAKE CITY — A man already serving a life prison sentence for killing a restaurant chef may actually be a serial killer.
Thomas Evan Noffsinger was charged Monday with a 23-year-old cold case murder of a 17-year-old girl. He is also suspected of being involved in the disappearance of a Sandy woman just weeks after the teen girl was killed.
Noffsinger, 44, was charged Monday with first-degree murder for the April 6, 1989, killing of Felicia Pappas. The charge is a capital offense, which means Noffsinger could receive the death penalty if he's convicted.
In 2010, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole told Noffsinger he would serve the rest of his life in prison for the March 3, 1990, murder of Victor Aguilar, who was killed while working at Marie Callender's in downtown Salt Lake City.
Now, investigators say Noffsinger is also responsible for killing 17-year-old Pappas. She was last seen leaving a pool hall at 2865 S. State in South Salt Lake, about 1 a.m. She was alone and supposedly was going to walk to her home in the area of 4600 South and 100 East. Her body was found outside an office building at 4511 S. 600 East. The state medical examiner determined that she'd been raped and strangled.
Noffsinger was also charged Monday with rape and forcible sodomy, both first-degree felonies.
The lead detective behind the investigation is cold case expert Todd Park with the Unified Police Department and a member of the prestigious Vidocq Society, an exclusive organization of just 82 members from around the world who are considered experts in solving cold case crimes.
The Utah State Crime Lab in 2011 analyzed swabs that were preserved from Pappas. In January, the lab matched Noffsinger's DNA profile with samples collected and analyzed from the Pappas killing.
"The UPD detectives need to be commended for their persistence and hard work," said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. "This is connecting the dots. This is about being patient and not giving up."
Gill said the case is an example of the commitment of law enforcers to hold the people who commit crimes accountable for their actions.
"This was an unsolved murder. There is a family out there who suffered a tremendous loss and they didn't have an answer. The community wants to know if we have the person that caused that murder. It's about holding a person accountable for a crime someone has done. It is about bringing answers and closure to the victims and a community," he said. "Those cases aren't just forgotten."
Previously, Noffsinger — also known as Thomas Trujillo — was convicted of stabbing Aguilar five times in the back during a robbery at the restaurant where Noffsinger had previously worked. He and Grant David Stensrud were burglarizing the restaurant, 52 W. 200 South, when Aguilar showed up for work and surprised them. Noffsinger stomped on the victim and then slashed his throat.
During his parole hearing in 2010, Noffsinger was also questioned about another unsolved case, the May 1989 disappearance of 38-year-old Annette Hill. Noffsinger is considered a "person of interest" in that case.
The Sandy woman left her home May 12, 1989, telling her 11-year-old daughter she would be back in a couple of hours, but has not been seen since. Her purse, which had blood on it, was discovered in an apartment that Noffsinger had been evicted from shortly before Aguilar was killed. Police also found a prescription bottle with Hill's name on it in Noffsinger's medicine chest at the apartment where he was living alone when he was arrested for the Marie Callender's murder.
Noffsinger claims he never even met Hill but had simply stolen her purse from a car he burglarized. But in 2010, Utah Board of Pardons and Parole member Clark Harms called that explanation "incredulous."
Sandy police on Monday said they re-opened the Hill case while Unified police were linking Noffsinger to the Pappas killing. The two agencies worked together, but ultimately Sandy Police Sgt. John Arnold said there wasn't enough evidence to file charges in Hill's disappearance.
He noted, however, that Noffsinger is not cleared from that case and is still considered a person of interest. But for now, he said the case is considered "inactive."