Affidavit: Renter accused of killing Golden homeowner, torching house had responded to Craigslist ad

GOLDEN, Colo. - Police investigating a Golden house fire Saturday morning found the body of the homeowner, who'd been repeatedly stabbed, in an upstairs bedroom and a suspected trail of blood leading to the downstairs bedroom of a new tenant.

Police said the tenant moved in a week ago after responding to a Craigslist ad about a room for rent.

Golden investigators soon identified the tenant-turned-suspect as 22-year-old Thomas Laperch of Maryland, according to an arrest affidavit. In a fast-moving investigation, detectives tracked Laperch to the 16th Street Mall, where Denver police officers located and arrested the suspect on Sunday afternoon.

Laperch appeared in Jefferson County court Monday where he was advised of his rights. He's being held without bond in county jail on investigation of first-degree murder after deliberation, first-degree murder, arson and criminal mischief for property damage costing more than $20,000, according to jail court records.

The Jefferson County coroner identified the victim as William Burchett, 54. A coroner's official said the cause and manner of death are still under investigation.

Tom Burchett, the victim's brother, told police William Burchett was not happy with the new tenant and they had already argued about rent. William Burchett had told his brother he was going to ask Laperch to leave on Friday, "offering him his rent money back and give him a couple hundred extra dollars to just leave," the affidavit said.

Golden firefighters were called about 10:30 a.m. on Saturday to the fire at Burchett's home at 711 Iowa St. Firefighters saw smoking coming from the roof of the house and thicker smoking pouring from the back porch area.

Searching the interior of the home for victims, firefighters found a man's body lying on its side, face-down on the floor of an upstairs bedroom, the affidavit said. The body had been burned and firefighters told police the fire appeared to have started in the mattress in that room.

Police said the homeowner appeared to have been stabbed in the face, neck and arms. A suspected trail of blood led from the victim's upstairs bedroom to the new tenant's downstairs bedroom, the affidavit said.

In the living room, investigators found a knife that appeared to have been wiped clean and a pair of Nike Air Jordan shoes that were spattered with suspected blood, the affidavit said.

Police said they believe the house was set on fire to cover up the killing.

Detectives found an empty kerosene bottle lying on the living floor, the affidavit said. Investigators said there was a "heavy odor of an unknown accelerant" in the hallway between the two upstairs bedrooms.

Police said the house had been ransacked with closets emptied, drawers opened, chairs tipped over and there were travel bags in the living room.

Burchett's family members told police the victim kept money and expensive jewelry in the home.

In Laperch's bedroom, police found a gun safe containing ammunition, empty ammunition magazines -- but no gun, the affidavit said.

On Saturday, a detective called the suspect's brother, Richard Laperch, in Maryland, the affidavit said. The brother said he last had contact with Thomas Laperch in December. The detective asked the brother to call Golden police if he heard from Thomas.

Richard Laperch called police midday Sunday and said Thomas had just called him. Richard Laperch said Thomas told him he had been "hiking." Richard Lapert told Thomas the police wanted to talk with him, the affidavit said.

Police learned that Thomas Laperch had called from a pay phone on the 16th Street Mall.

Golden detectives went to the pedestrian mall and provided Denver police and RTD transit police officers with a photograph of Laperch, asking them to help look for the man.

At about 2:35 p.m., Denver officers located Laperch at 16th and Market streets. They handcuffed the suspect and handed him over to Golden police.

After being transported to the Golden Police Department, Laperch asked for an attorney. Police could not question the man once he had invoked this right to an attorney.

Detectives, however, had obtained warrants to search Laperch's clothing and body.

During the search, detectives noted Laperch had singed hair on both his wrists, the affidavit said. He also scratches on his right hand, right arm, right rib cage area and the backs of both of his lower legs.

Next, detectives removed the suspect's clothing and placed the items on clean sheets of butcher paper. Then a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent had a certified accelerant dog, named Sadie, sniff the clothing.

Sadie gave an alert for accelerant on the right pocket and left sleeve of Laperch's jacket, the affidavit said. Directed to sniff the jacket a second time, the dog again alerted to the same locations.

The K-9 also twice alerted for accelerant on a sock, a shirt and boxer-briefs the suspect was wearing when he was arrested, the affidavit said.

Neighbors told police Burchett had taken in a new tenant named "Thomas," who had answered a Craigslist advertisement, the affidavit said. The tenant was a white man with dark dreadlocks who had moved to Colorado from Maryland.

Neighbors told 7NEWS reporter Tyler Lopez they heard Laperch discussing financial concerns and the cost of rent.  

"We befriended him. He befriended us," a neighbor, who only wanted to be identified as Jaime, said of Thomas. "Nice kid at first. You know, some maybe a little oddness about him."

People mourned the death of Burchett, a professional musician who sang and played the guitar for The Resonatorz, a Colorado rock-and-roll band.

One neighbor called Burchett a "fantastic guy. Just a genuine, giving person."

On The Resonatorz Facebook page, a fan wrote: "So sorry to hear of this tragedy. RIP Dear William! Your spirit is light now and held in His loving hands. Sing and play in heaven loud so we can hear you. We will miss your big heart and great tales. Blessings to us all ... your grieving family and friends."

"I am totally shocked and saddened," a woman posted. "What a great musician you were my friend.... Thank you for letting me up on stage all those times to sing with you...I will miss you...RIP"

Maryland court records show Thomas Laperch pleaded guilty to illegally having a gun in a car in August 2013. He also had prior arrests for resisting arrest, marijuana possession and alcohol possession by a minor, according to court records.

Golden police detectives said they need the public's help to pin down the whereabouts of Laperch before, during and after the time of the crime. Police ask anyone with information about this case call the Golden Police Department at 303-384-8045.

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