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Saturday December 14th, 2019 11:00AM

Defendant in deadly store attack accused in earlier assault

By The Associated Press
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — A man accused of killing a woman and sexually assaulting two others inside a suburban St. Louis religious supplies store in November was charged Monday with sexually assaulting another woman two months earlier.

Thomas Bruce, 53, is charged with kidnapping, sexual abuse, assault, burglary and harassment in the Sept. 27 attack on a 77-year-old woman at her home near Hillsboro.

Jefferson County prosecuting attorney Trisha Stefanski alleges in a news release that Bruce forced his way into the woman's home, grabbed her in a sexual manner and demanded that she perform a sexual act. The suspect fled after the woman's phone rang and she said her husband was on his way home.

Bruce's attorney, Brice Donnelly, declined to comment about the new charges.

Bruce is a one-time minister from the St. Louis suburb of Imperial, which is about 15 miles (25 kilometers) northeast of Hillsboro. He is jailed without bond on first-degree murder, sexual assault and several other charges in the Nov. 19 attack at the Catholic Supply store near Ballwin, which is another St. Louis suburb.

Authorities say Bruce, who was armed with a gun, forced the three women who were in the store into a back room, where he demanded they perform sexual acts on him. When one of them refused, he shot her in the head, killing her. Investigators say he sexually assaulted the other two women before fleeing. He was arrested two days later.

Although he didn't have a criminal record when he was arrested, authorities said they would look into whether he could have been linked to other unsolved sexual assaults in the area.

In a probable cause statement for the new charges, Jefferson County sheriff's detective Nic Forler said the woman who was attacked in her home recognized Bruce from his photo after it appeared in news reports about his arrest in the store attack.

According to that statement, the woman saw a dark red vehicle driving slowly by her home that September afternoon. A short time later, a man came to the door saying he wanted to ask her questions for a veterans service organization. She declined and told him to leave.

The woman said the man forced his way inside, knocked her to the floor and grabbed her sexually while demanding a sex act. Forler wrote that as the attacker was dragging the woman to a bedroom, the phone rang. The woman told the intruder it was her husband calling to say he would be home in a few minutes.

The suspect threatened to kill the husband once he arrived and put the woman in the bedroom alone. He then took her cellphone and left. The woman suffered knee and elbow injuries.

The woman reported the attack right after it happened and police interviewed several neighbors but had no strong leads. Forler said the victim "instantly" recognized Bruce when his mugshot appeared on TV.

Bruce's red 2017 Kia Forte matched the victim's description of her assailant's car, and cellphone and vehicle tracking device records show that Bruce was in the area of the home at the time of the attack, the detective wrote.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, a death penalty opponent, said Friday that he will seek life in prison with no parole for Bruce. A spokesman for the family of the woman who was killed said the family agrees with the decision.

Bruce, who claimed to be a Navy veteran on his LinkedIn page, operated a nonprofit church in southeast Missouri from 2003 to 2007. He had no criminal record at the time of his arrest.

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