Boyfriend of victim charged in April 2000 murder
Wednesday, 26 March 2014 14:07

Police: killing arranged for insurance money

by Bill Gates

When Baltimore County police arrived at the townhouse in the 2000 block of Codd Avenue on April 20, 2000, they found Stephen M. Cooke Jr. rocking the body of his dead girlfriend, Heidi Bernadzikowski, his clothes covered with her blood.
    Cooke told police he had returned to the home he shared with Bernadzikowski and found her dead, strangled and with her throat cut.
    Police and Bernadzikowski’s family believed from the beginning Cooke was responsible for Heidi’s murder, but they did not have any proof.
    Now, it seems, they do.

Cooke, now 43 and living in Pasadena, was arrested last week and charged with first-degree murder.
    He is being held without bail at the Baltimore County Detention Center.
    Police said Cooke conspired with two other men to murder Bernadzikowski  in order to collect on a $700,000 life insurance policy he had taken out on her months earlier.
    The break in the case came when the alleged killer, Alexander C. Bennett, 34, of Colorado, identified Cooke as the one who planned Heidi’s murder.
    Bennett was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in January 2012 after DNA evidence linked him to the murder scene.
    Baltimore County homicide detectives had learned in September 2011 that DNA evidence recovered from the scene matched a speciman in the FBI’s national database.
    A subsequent investigation revealed Bennett had been in the Baltimore area at the time of Bernadzikowski’s murder.
    Maryland Transportation Authority Police found Bennett walking along the Batimore Harbor Tunnel Thruway on March 30, 2000.
    Bennett was arrested in Colorado and extradited to Maryland.
    According to charging documents, Bennett reportedly gained access to Bernadzikowski’s townhouse through a key Cooke allegedly left in the back basement stairwell of the house.
    Bennett waited inside the door of the house as Cooke dropped off Bernadzikowski, then allegedly attacked her once she entered the house.
    According to police documents, Bennett strangled Bernadzikowski, who was 24, then cut her throat.
    Another Colorado man, Grant A. Lewis, 35, was also arrested last week and charged with conspiracy to commit murder in connection with Bernadzikowski’s death.
    According to charging documents, Cooke contacted Bennett and Lewis through the Internet and entered into a murder-for-hire agreement with them.
    Lewis was allegedly the middle man, remaining in Colorado and coordinating Bennett’s actions.
    “We have been seeking justice in this case for a long time,” Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson said last week. “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 paid off.”
    Bernadzikowski’s family sued Cooke in 2004 in an attempt to keep him from collecting the insurance money under a rule that prevents anyone who intentionally causes the death of an insured person from collecting the benefits.
    In a settlement, Cooke reportedly agreed to give Bernadzikowski’s family $575,000 from the insurance payout.
    There remains three high-profile cold cases involving Dundalk.
    Bernadette Caruso was 23 when she disappeared on Sept. 27, 1986, after leaving her job at Eastpoint Mall.
    Police have never found Caruso or her car.
    Teresa “Terry” Schmansky was found dead in her Holabird Avenue apartment on Sept. 23, 1989, and Violet Vandevander, 47, was killed in her Pinewood Road home on Dec. 18, 1980, during what appeared to be a robbery.