CHICAGO — After two years of work to crack the cell phone code of a murder suspect, Chicago police finally gained access to a ton of information showing the suspect’s alleged attempt to cover up a crime. Found a google search for.
“How long does it take an unburied body to decompose?” the man Googled shortly after the murder.
“Will the fire cover up the murder?” he allegedly asked Google.
Another search said “arson set to cover up other crimes.”
This week, prosecutors charged the man, Victor Terrell, 35, with first-degree murder, knowingly arson, and arson to cover up a death. Judge Charles Beach detained him without bail.
Prosecutors told Beach that the victim, 34, had sex with others for money and that Terrell was her “employer” who arranged to provide services to clients.
According to Assistant State Attorney Anne McCord, the woman was last seen alive by relatives on October 1, 2020. Eight days later, GPS data showed she and Terrell were in a house 5,000 blocks away in West Gladys, McCord said.
That afternoon, someone texted a photo from the woman’s mobile phone to a third party, lying face down on the floor, apparently injured.
Around the same time, McCord said, Terrell sent the same third party a text message that said: Did you get the address? “
Terrell then texted his girlfriend, “I think Stephanie is dead.”
McCord said he also had a video call with his ex-girlfriend, who knew of his relationship. During the call, Terrell allegedly turned the camera around to show the victim lying on the floor, apparently unconscious.
Nearly three weeks later, the incriminating Google searches began, McCord said.
Someone took the victim’s mobile phone and googled, “How long does it take for an unburied body to decompose?”
On Nov. 8, 2020, Terrell said Google searches such as ‘how to start a house fire’ and ‘how to get away with murder’ were made from her own mobile phone.
McCord continued that Terrell was seen arriving at the victim’s home shortly after 2 a.m. the next day and leaving about five minutes before neighbors began reporting that the house was on fire.
Citing coroner’s records, McCord said the woman who was found dead on the living room floor had died “at least a few days” before the fire. They determined that the woman died from blunt force trauma.
Fire investigators determined that house fires had broken out in two locations and that accelerant was detected throughout the house.
The next day, Mr. Terrell started searching Google again, McCord said.
One search said “fire scene investigation checklist”.
“Does fire burn evidence?” asked another.
Four days after the fire, there were more searches for “arson to cover up other crimes” and “does the fire cover up a murder?”
Chicago police began tracking the victim’s phone and eventually found it in the center console of Terrell’s car, McCord said. She said investigators seized her cell phone and Terrell’s, then spent two years trying to crack the code.
Police plan to arrest and charge Terrell this week.
McCord has been convicted of three felonies and said he must register as a sex offender because he was convicted of sexual assault in Milwaukee in 2008.
He is scheduled to appear in court again on June 7.