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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Stephen Cooke Jr. Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2000, Heidi Louise Bernadzikowski, a 24-year-old employee of a health insurance company, lived in a Dundalk, Maryland townhouse with her boyfriend, 29-year-old Stephen Michael Cooke Jr. Baltimore County police officers, on April 20, 2000, responded to a 911 call made from the townhouse by Cooke. Upon arrival, officers found Cooke sitting on the living floor holding his girlfriend in his arms. They were both covered in blood.

     Heidi Bernadzikowski had been murdered. The killer had strangled the victim then slashed her throat. There were no signs of forced entry into the dwelling and no evidence that anything had been stolen. The victim had not been sexually assaulted.

     Detectives in search of a motive for the brutal murder became suspicious of the victim's boyfriend when they learned that a month before her death he had purchased a $700,000 insurance policy on her life. Because Cooke had an alibi that eliminated him as the killer, detectives suspected that he had hired a hit man to do the job. But without proof, they could not arrest him.

     Heidi Bernadzikowski's parents, in 2004, sued Stephen Cooke Jr. under the so-called "slayer's rule" for the $700,000 life insurance payout. The slayer's rule prohibits anyone who intentionally caused the death of the insured to collect life insurance benefits. The civil action was settled out of court when Cooke agreed to pay the plaintiffs $575,000. Detectives working on the murder case considered the settlement a tacit admission of guilt.

     In January 2012, a Baltimore County prosecutor charged Alexander Charles Bennett, a 32-year-old resident of Greeley, Colorado, with the murder of Heidi Bernadzikowski. Three months earlier, Bennett had been connected to the Bernadzikowski murder scene through a DNA match. Moreover, detectives had placed Bennett, a man with a history of burglary and car theft, in Baltimore the month before the murder.

     While homicide detectives theorized that Bennett had been hired by Cooke to kill the victim, the investigators had no evidence linking the hit man to the suspected murder plot's mastermind. In January 2012, police officers booked Bennett into the the Baltimore County Detention Center on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge denied the suspected hit man bail.

     Early in March 2014, just hours before the commencement of his murder trial, Bennett, pursuant to a plea deal, confessed to murdering Heidi Bernadzikowski. According to the hit man, he and a friend from Denver, Colorado named Grant A. Lewis had been hired over the Internet by Stephen Cooke Jr. who wanted someone to murder his girlfriend. Bennett said he flew to Baltimore in March 2000 to meet the murder-for-hire mastermind during which time Cooke offered Bennett and his accomplice a piece of the life insurance payout.

     According to the murder-for-hire plan, Grant Lewis would play the role of intermediary between Cooke and the trigger man. That March 2000 meeting would be the last time Bennett and Cooke communicated with each other directly.

     Alexander Bennett's version of the murder went like this: On April 20, 2000, the day of the killing, Bennett let himself into the Dundalk townhouse with a key left for him by Cooke. On that day, Cooke dropped Heidi off at the townhouse knowing that the killer was inside waiting for her. The moment Bernadzikowski walked into the dwelling, Bennett ambushed and choked the victim until she either passed out or died. To make sure she was dead, Bennett slashed her throat with a knife.

     A Baltimore County prosecutor charged Stephen Cooke Jr. with conspiracy to commit murder. On March 20, 2014, fourteen years after Bernadzikowski's violent death, detectives booked the Pasadena, Maryland suspect into the Baltimore County Detention Center. At his arraignment hearing, Cooke's attorney urged the judge to grant his client bail. The judge denied the request.

     On March 20, Baltimore homicide detectives arrested Grant A. Lewis, the 35-year-old murder-for-hire middle-man. Officers booked Lewis into the county jail on the charge of first-degree murder. Although Lewis had not bloodied his hands in the case, the judge denied him bail.

     On October 30, 2014, a jury found Grant A. Lewis guilty as charged. Baltimore County Court Judge Kathleen Gallogly-Cox, on February 2, 2015, sentenced him to life in prison.

     On June 18, 2015, a Baltimore County jury, after hearing the testimony of hit man Alexander Charles Bennett, found Stephen Cooke Jr. guilty of first-degree murder, solicitation of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     In August 2015, the judge sentenced Alexander Charles Bennett to 30 years. Had the hit man not testified for the prosecution against Cooke, he would have been sentenced to life.

 

11 comments:

  1. That fat, hideous mouth breather should have been thanking his lucky stars that a cute girl like Heidi would have anything to do with him. I hope he enjoys the rest of his rotten life in the slammer. And his goofy sister needs to salvage whatever dignity she has left and keep her mouth shut--she knows damn well this cretin is guilty.

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  2. Murder for hire of a "loved" one is so sick. Cooke is a pathological liar and crook. That his family supports him, is a sorry indication of the kind of household they were brought up in. No one becomes a monster overnight! This is a cold, calculated person who should rot in prison.

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  3. I just don't think he was in on it. The stories of the "hitmen" have slowly evolved over time and with a promise of, if you tell us more we will take life off the table. The murderer had plenty of time to make up the story and the murder was publicized so he could easily have seen a picture of Cooke in the paper after the murder. This was supposedly a connection made online yet the couples computer was NEVER seized for examination. This guy keeps saying he attacked her as she came in but her keys and hand bag were found across the room on a table. They couldn't even produce the plane ticket for the murderer. So dod the ever check phone records? And if this was a murder for hire where was the 'upfront' payment they spoke of? Did they even check financial history on any of the suspected men? One says something about placing an ad in the paper about house cleaning, was this tracked down to see who placed it and when and how was it paid for?
    I hate to think there is an innocent man in prison and i dont understand how he was incarcerated on the word of two men who where offered lighter sentences if the rolled on another person. These men didnt even know much about insurance either and in most cases I've seen the person who wants to hire someone usually divulges how much the payout is. From what i heard these guys never even qupted how much they were supposed to be paid.

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    1. You can write long detailed explanation and give reason after reason but it doesn't go by what you understand.
      It goes by facts.
      The sister has the same sick genes in her . any other person who justify this monster is notlogic nor rational.

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    2. Read the rest of the story he tried to have the witness eliminated take a look at the new charges

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    3. Agree with Barbara Lawson...this case left me just not believing the disgusting slob of a criminal. I truly think he is not as dumb as he looks. He is a schemer. Him saying he just wanted to tell the truth and relieve the family is garbage. He knew if he could pin this on the boyfriend, he would get a lighter sentence. Heidi's family even knows it was her idea to get the life insurance. I just want to know why anyone is trashing the sister. I feel just like she does about this. Doesn't make me a horrible person. It's not justification of the boyfriend...it's believing an innocent man is serving life while the violent killer is probably out in less than 30 years. Grant also never admitted to any of this, so where is the proof? Also, dropping the ball on collecting the computer was extremely poor police work and I do believe they should feel terribly that an innocent man may very well be in prison because of that.

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    4. What you all are missing is that Grant Lewis testified in his own trial where he pled not guilty. He never received any deal at all. Grant Lewis testified that he did in fact communicate on line with Cooke who hired him and Bennett to kill Heidi so he could collect the insurance money. Lewis never denies his or Bennett's involvement just that he said Bennett was never supposed to kill Heidi rather that Bennett was supposed to travel to Baltimore to get up front money from Cooke and then they were going to report Cooke to the FBI for trying to kill Heidi. He said Cooke sent him mapquest maps for Bennett to use once he got to Baltimore so he could find Heidi's home and place of employment. Bennett intended to make the murder look like a botched robbery when she left work and went to her parking garage. Then after realizing her garage was right in the middle of the harbor, he realized killing her there in broad daylight was not a good idea so he later killed her at her house. Bennett and Lewis both testified that Cooke hired them to kill her and again, Lewis never received any deal at all. Later in jail, Cooke tried to hire someone in the detention center to hurt Lewis to the point wherein he would not testify against Cooke. The informant in jail wore a body wire and verified through conversation that Cooke wanted Lewis hurt so he wouldn't testify. Trust me Cooke is guilty. Ask the people from Pigtown who knew him best, not his relatives, they were not shocked at all by any of this.

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  4. What were Bennett and Lewis's motives? They never robbed or raped her.

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  5. What were Lewis and Bennett's motives then? They never robbed or raped her did they? This wasn't their home base and they didn't even know her prior.

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  6. A $700,000 insurance policy on a $25,000 a year worker? If you deal with a reputable insurance company they would never write that policy. It stinks to high heaven. I applied for a $1MM policy with a net worth of $4MM and I almost got turned down because the AA rated companies look at what is an acceptable policy amount based on income and assets, etc. THEN she is murdered by people who don't know her? Baloney. Grow up and smell the roses...blantant ! AND the guy is 20 years older and a major loser. Hope the family donated the $500,000 plus to a charity.

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  7. Exactly, Bennett and Lewis didn't know her, she wasn't robbed or raped. Every murder has a motive. In this case there was only one person to benefit for her murder and that was Cooke.

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