Sex offender arrested in triple homicide in Cañon City after teen girl reports sexual assault

CANON CITY, Colo. - The suspect in the killing of a mother and her two young children and the sexual assault of a teenage girl at a Cañon City home is a convicted sex offender who was also questioned in the 2011 death of his landlord in Indiana.

Cañon City police say the 35-year-old woman and her two children -- a 5-year-old boy, a 9-year-old girl -- were found dead in the home on Sunday night after the teenage girl called 911 to report she had been sexually assaulted.

Officers arriving shortly after 8 p.m. found the suspect, 31-year-old Jaacob Harding Van Winkle, inside the home in the 1100 block of Phay Avenue. Police said he was arrested without incident.

Van Winkle was a friend of the mother's and had been living at the house, police said. The victims' identities have not been released.

Investigators say they are still putting together the sequence of events, but at some point the teen girl ran to a neighbor's house to call 911, according to the Cañon City Police Department.

According to court records, Van Winkle is being held without bond being on investigation of first-degree murder after deliberation, two counts of first-degree murder of a victim under age 12 by a person in a position of trust, sexual assault on a child under age 15 involving a pattern of abuse, sexual assault involving force or threat and kidnapping. He had his first court appearance on Monday.

“The possible penalty is life without parole or if the district attorney chooses, to seek the death penalty it is punishable by death, but the DA will not have to make that decision until later in the case,” Judge David Thorson advised Van Winkle at his first appearance on Monday.  The judge ordered Van Winkle held without bail.

Van Winkle was convicted of child molesting and vicarious sexual gratification in Johnson County, Indiana in 2004, according to the Indiana Department of Corrections. He was sentenced to four years and five months in prison on the child molesting count and 18 months in prison on the sexual gratification count.

In 2007, Van Winkle was sentenced to an additional two years and nine months in prison on the same child molesting case, according to the Department of Corrections said.

In September 2011, Van Winkle was questioned in the death of his 50-year-old landlord in Whiteland, Indiana, according to the Brown County Democrat newspaper.

Johnson County sheriff's deputies had been searching two weeks for the landlord, 50-year-old Michael Eaton, but -- after receiving a tip -- investigators found his decomposing body buried under clutter in his home, the newspaper reported. Eaton had been renting a room to Van Winkle in the same home.

Investigators found Van Winkle living in a tent in the woods and arrested him on a parole violation, the newspaper reported. Sheriff's officials questioned him about Eaton's death, but it doesn't appear he was ever charged in that case.   

At the time, authorities were having difficulty confirming how the landlord died, because an initial autopsy was inconclusive, the Brown County Democrat reported.

Van Winkle soon moved to Colorado and quickly was in trouble with the law here.

Van Winkle, whose name is spelled "Vanwinkle" in some court records, was arrested on domestic violence charges in Fremont County in July 2012, court records state. He was initially charged with three misdemeanor counts -- assault, false imprisonment and reckless endangerment -- but he pleaded guilty to assault and prosecutors dismissed the other charges.

He was sentenced to six months in jail.

On Nov. 6, 2013, a 22-year-old Adams County woman obtained a protection order prohibiting Van Winkle from contacting her, court records state. The woman also filed a civil complaint against Van Winkle for child support.

Van Winkle was charged with violating the protection order in November. He was wanted in warrant for failing to appear in court in that case at the time of his arrest in Fremont County killings.

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