By: Holly Woerner Basta
Baltimore County Police arrested Stephen Cooke Jr., 43, of Pasadena, this week in Anne Arundel County and charged him with first-degree murder in the death of his former girlfriend, 24-year-old Heidi Bernadzikowski, who was killed in 2000.
The cold case broke wide open recently, when one of the co-conspirators, Alexander Charles Bennett, 34, of Greeley, Colorado — identified Cooke as the man who hired him and another man to murder Bernadzikowski. Bennett is currently in the Baltimore County Detention Center, awaiting trial.
Detectives charged Bennett with the murder in January 2012 after his DNA linked him to the crime, but there was always strong suspicion that Cooke was also involved despite little evidence to prove it.
“We have been seeking justice in this case for a long time,” said Police Chief Jim Johnson. “Our Homicide detectives deserve credit for never giving up on these cold cases. They never forget these victims and their families, and they tirelessly pursue leads over many years. This time, their work has paid off.”
Further investigation revealed that there was also a third conspirator involved in the murder, identified as Grant A. Lewis, of Colorado. Cooke Jr. reportedly met the two Colorado men over the internet and said he wanted to have his girlfriend killed so he could collect on a $700,000 life insurance policy she carried. Investigators believe Lewis was the middle man who arranged for Bennett to travel to Maryland to carry out the murder-for-hire.
Bernadzikowski’s murder is described as a particularly brutal incident that occurred inside the Dundalk home she shared with Mr. Cooke Jr. Detectives say Bennett slit her throat and strangled the woman to death.
Detectives do not believe there are any other suspects involved in the case. Cooke Jr. and Lewis are both being held without bail at the Baltimore County Detention Center at this time.