For two days Denise Murphy lived in fear while running from police with her boyfriend, Elgin triple-murder suspect Gregory Alvin Cook. Murphy described Cook as kind and gentle but also said he threatened to kill her.
Sheriff's deputies in Thurston County, Wash., put an end Tuesday to the intensive search for Cook when they arrested him at a home near Rainier.
Cook, 42, was wanted in connection with the murders of Shannon McKillop, 51, Frank Scaramuzzi, 50, and Jeremiah Johnston, 28, all of Elgin. The remains of the three victims were discovered near Darr Road in rural Elgin in and around a pond.
Cook seemed to confess to the killings Tuesday when a TV reporter asked him questions as deputies led him to the Thurston County Corrections Facility in Olympia, Wash.
"I'm very sorry," Cook said.
"So are you saying you did it?" the reporter asked Cook, never being specific about what "it" was.
Still, Cook answered.
"I did it," he said, nodding, "and I apologize highly to all the families and everybody who's affected by it."
The video can be viewed at www.king5.com.
The news station also reported that Cook blamed using methamphetamines for the killings.
Union County District Attorney Tim Thompson said he could not comment on the videotaped confession.
McKillop's severed hand was discovered July 24, launching a multi-agency search and investigation. Wallowa County cadaver dogs assisted in the search.
The Union County major crime team found most of the rest of McKillop's body and on Saturday found additional human remains, later identified as those of Scaramuzzi and Johnston.
Thompson said Cook is responsible for all three murders and none of the victims participated in any of the killings.
Thompson said the investigation followed typical procedure. When investigators discovered who McKillop was, they began looking for her associates. Her boyfriend, Scaramuzzi, wasn't around, and Johnston also was missing. When the crime team found the remains of the two men, that left just Cook, Thompson said.
Rumors of dismembered bodies have swirled since the investigation began. Thompson said the only comment he could make was that McKillop's hand was severed and not from animal predation or natural causes. Her body was some distance from the hand, he said.
Investigators also found Scaramuzzi and Johnston about 10 miles from McKillop's body.
"That's why we think the killings were separate," Thompson said.
The 6-foot, 1-inch Cook, who worked as a self-employed house painter in the Elgin area, last lived at 1612 Fifth St. in La Grande. He worked in Wallowa County, most recently painting a deck on July 29 at Mick Courtney's house in Lostine.
Courtney and several others had used Cook as a painter and said they found him neat, professional and thorough.
Courtney said he first learned about the crime while visiting family in Lewiston.
"I got a call from Cook, asking me when I would be home so he could get paid. He was always worried about when he'd get paid," he said.
"I'd left his money in my truck so he could get it. The next day I got a call from his girlfriend and she asked if I'd read about the hand floating in the pond."
"She said, 'Greg did that and he killed two other guys and he wrote a confession saying when he did it, the 17th of July,'" he added. "She said she was afraid because he had said he would kill her, too."
Courtney said the news "floored" him. He said Cook had confessed he'd been in prison and was "his mother's problem child," but Courtney said Cook's claimed his record was for drinking and drugs when he was younger.
"I believe in giving a guy a second chance, and Greg was neat and thorough and I never had a problem with him," Courtney said. "He was nice with us. I knew he had a temper, but he was nice with us. He was nice, and clean, and I couldn't say anything bad about him."
Cook apparently left immediately after the first police reports were released, Courtney said. When he arrived home Sunday, a crime team detective accompanied him as he opened the house but found nothing amiss.
"Greg left in a hurry," Courtney said. "He had left in a hurry, left things in a mess, which was unusual for him, but everything was fine."
Courtney's take on Cook's personality was borne out by Cook's longtime girlfriend, Denise Murphy of La Grande, who described Cook as "kind and gentle and good to me."
A sobbing Murphy said in a phone interview that she was so confused she didn't know how she felt. "I'm so angry right now," she said. "I'm angry at him for doing this to our family."
The family Murphy describes includes Cook, herself and two beloved little dogs.
"This wasn't in Greg," Murphy said. "It was the drugs. Greg was a very kind and gentle man when he was free of drugs. When I first met him he'd been working really hard to stay away from drugs and alcohol and was doing really good."
The Cook she recalled from the good days was nowhere in evidence this last week, however. Murphy tells a tale of kidnap, threats to her life and two days on the run during which she "just tried to do everything right so he wouldn't lose his temper."
He had told her what he'd done and warned her that if she told anyone else, what had "happened to them" would happen to her.
Cook came home Tuesday, July 28, after working on Courtney's porch and ordered Murphy into the Jeep, she said. "He didn't even let me pack a bag," she recalled.
Cook then drove to Enterprise and booked the couple into a motel for the night, keeping Murphy under his eye at all times. The next day Cook tried to finish his painting job at Courtney's, but couldn't.
"He said, 'We got to get out of here,'" Murphy recalled. "I said I didn't want to go, but he made me go."
Cook headed to Elgin, took back roads to the Tollgate Road and then went to Hermiston. The couple stopped in the McDonald's parking lot there around 1:30 a.m.
Cook then got out of the car and let Murphy go.
"He just finally looked at me and put one of the dogs in the rig and said, 'Denise, just go, I love you, angel.'"
Cook also thrust a written confession into her hand, told her to contact his parents and then go with them to deliver the confession to the police the following morning. Murphy didn't look at the folded paper, she said. She just stuffed it in her purse.
"I didn't read the letter; I didn't want to read it. He had told me the day it happened, but he wouldn't let me tell anyone, he listened to everything I said."
The "day it happened," she said, was Friday, July 17.
Police in La Grande stopped Murphy on Friday, July 29, just a few blocks from her home.
"He (the police officer) was following me for some time but was waiting for backup because they didn't know if Greg was in the Jeep," Murphy said.
Once in the care of the police, she told them to look in her purse, she said.
Even then, she didn't feel safe as long as Cook was at large.
"They had me in a safe house until they caught him yesterday," she said. "The detectives have been just . . . I couldn't ask for better. I thank them all for being so kind to me."
She is not sure yet what she will do when Cook goes to trial. She is not sure she will visit him in jail. None of this seems real, she said.
"I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and this is just a nightmare," she said, and began crying again.
Thurston County jail staff are transporting Cook today to Union County.
Thompson has charged Cook with murder in McKillop's death and with one count each of aggravated murder for Scaramuzzi and Johnston.
A murder conviction carries a potential sentence of life imprisonment with a 25-year minimum. Aggravated murder could bring the death penalty, life imprisonment without parole or a 30-year minimum for each count. Aggravated murder means prosecutors think the suspect killed several people during the same criminal episode.
The East Oregonian also contributed to this story.