The history of an Idaho serial killer who has been on and off death row for nearly 43 years
McKenna King , Doug Lock-Smith, KIVI
Published at | Updated at
BOISE (KIVI) — He’s made claims of killing over 40 people, and he’s been sitting on death row in Idaho for nearly 40 years for the murder of one.
His name is Thomas Eugene Creech, and he’s been on death row in Idaho for over 37 years now for the murder of prison inmate David Dale Jensen on May 13th of 1981, but that isn’t the only murder Creech is convicted of committing and it isn’t the only time Creech was sentenced to death row.
At the time of the murder of David Dale Jensen in 1981, Jensen and Creech were both inmates housed inside the maximum-security prison at Idaho’s penitentiary. Creech was serving time for two murder convictions in Idaho.
“He was convinced to attack and did in fact murder David Jensen, a 22- or 23-year-old young man who was in prison as a car thief,” said Jim Harris, former Ada County Prosecutor who asked for the death penalty against Creech in 1982.
According to court documents, Jensen was partially disabled. Years earlier, in an attempted suicide, he shot himself in the head, resulting in the removal of part of his brain and a plastic plate being placed in his skull, causing impaired speech and motor functions.
Court documents say he and Thomas Creech were not on good terms. Creech was a janitor at the penitentiary at the time, and court documents say Creech and Jensen had argued about Jensen dirtying the floor, something Creech had to clean up.
Because of his janitorial duties, Thomas Creech was the only prisoner who could be out of his cell at the same time as another inmate.
“Both Chuck Palmer and I wrote letters to the penitentiary warden, during that time frame, once he was released, warning the warden and the penitentiary system that this was a very dangerous criminal,” said Harris.
Chuck Palmer was the Ada County Sheriff at the time. He and Jim Harris, Ada County Prosecuting Attorney in 1981, both believed that if Creech were given the opportunity to kill, even while in prison, he would act on it.
That’s what happened on May 13th of 1981. David Dale Jensen was released from his cell for an hour to exercise and shower. Jensen had other plans during that time though. Court documents say David Dale Jensen attacked Thomas Creech with a sock filled with batteries.
Creech was able to take the weapon away from Jensen, and it was that same weapon Creech would later use to beat Jensen to death.
In an exclusive letter to KIVI from Creech he admits to that, again, “…yes…I killed that guy. But he attacked me,” wrote Creech.
Creech went on to claim self-defense in the incident, but the prosecution argued he went above and beyond self-defense.
Following that murder in 1981, Creech was handed the death penalty sentence in 1983 for the second time in his life. You see, that wasn’t his first murder.
“His criminal history started at the age of 16,” said Harris.
Former Ada County Prosecutor Jim Harris said Creech spoke to him about his childhood.
“I think it was potentially the loss of his father at a very young age. Particularly since the man essentially died in his arms. His first enemy. His first attempted murder was the male nurse that failed to get help to his father before he died,” said Harris.
The Journal News out of Hamilton, Ohio wrote that Creech claimed he committed his first murder at the age of 17 by, “drowning a friend in New Miami who he believed was responsible for the traffic death of his girlfriend.” The paper also stated Creech claimed to have killed five people from a motorcycle gang in Ohio for “satanic cult worship rituals.”
In a United Press International article from 1986, writer Steve Green reported that Creech ran away from home and claims to have killed a man in San Francisco in 1965. During that time in San Francisco, sources say Thomas Creech became involved with the Church of Satan before it was officially organized in 1969.
In 1973 Creech married Thomasine Loren White. That same year both of them were wanted in connection of the murder of Paul C. Schrader in Tucson, Arizona.
The Tucson Daily Citizen paper reported on January 4th, 1974 that Paul C. Schrader was stabbed to death at the Downtown Motor Hotel in Tucson, Arizona. Creech was arrested for the murder in Beaver, Utah and taken back to Arizona to face charges, but after hours of deliberation, 23-year-old Creech was acquitted of the Tucson murder.
In 1974, Creech and his wife, Thomasine, moved to Portland.
A United Press International article stated that Thomas Creech spent some time in the Oregon psychiatric hospital in Salem.
After he was released, he moved into the St. Marks Episcopal Church in Portland and began work as their resident maintenance worker.
In the letter Creech sent to KIVI, he said his wife Thomasine was raped by 11 men and tossed out a window 4 stories high that left her “paralyzed and damaged mentally,” wrote Creech.
She later died by suicide in the Oregon State Hospital. His letter to KIVI stated that he killed some of the men who allegedly raped his wife.
Also in 1974, Creech was convicted of killing 22-year-old William Joseph Dean.
An article from the United Press International stated that Dean’s body was found in Creech’s living quarters inside the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Portland.
And later that same year, two traveling painters were found shot to death in Idaho.
Authorities say Thomas Creech and his girlfriend Carol Spaulding were hitchhiking from Lewiston to Donnelly, Idaho when two men by the name of Edward T. Arnold and John Wayne Bradford picked them up in their 1956 Buick. Thomas shot John and Edward then partially buried their bodies off Highway 55 in Donnelly.
The judge in the case, J. Ray Durtschi said Creech denied killing the two in Idaho in court, but admitted to being a mass murderer. Judge Durtschi recorded his recollection of Creech’s original 1975 trial in an audio recording for the Idaho Historical Society before his passing.
“It was verified that they did find some of the bodies that he identified before them and showed them where they was. That was his defense in my case. He says my goodness I’m admitting I killed all these other people. I wouldn’t deny this if I had done it,” said Judge Durtschi.
A statement from the Idaho Supreme Court noted, “Creech ‘has admitted to killing or participating in the killing of at least 26 people. The bodies of 11 of his victims who were shot, stabbed, beaten, or strangled to death have been recovered in 7 states.”
And former Ada County Prosecutor Jim Harris said, “They found a large number of skeletons that Tom lead them to in a mine shaft in California.”
Judge J. Ray Durtschi also made this statement inside the courthouse in Wallace, Idaho, “Law enforcement officers were worried about him in the trial. Worried about security because of all the rumors getting around that he had been a member of the Hell’s Angels and they were going to come up her and break him out. And I moved him up to Wallace to try him where there had not been any publicity.”
Judge Durtschi found Creech guilty of the Donnelly murders and sentenced him to hang in March of 1976.
At that time, Idaho’s law stated a first-degree murder charge was a mandatory death sentence. That law was later ruled unconstitutional by the Idaho Supreme Court in 1979, and Creech was sentenced to life in prison.
That didn’t sit well with Sheriff Palmer or Prosecutor Jim Harris.
“In our opinion Creech was a psychotic and he didn’t like inmates and he would probably kill someone if they didn’t supervise him very closely around other inmates. It was a short time after that Creech was allowed trustee status and given full run of several sections of maximum security as a janitor,” said Harris.
That statement was almost a foreshadow of what was to come a mere two years later when Thomas Creech killed again.
The prosecution quoted this statement made by Creech in court, “And okay. I kicked him a couple more times and he was laying there bleeding real bad and breathing real funny.”
By 1982 Thomas Creech was convicted for the murder of David Dale Jensen and he was back on death row.
Then, just a few years later Creech filed a writ of habeas corpus.
And in the midst of appeals, former Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Roger Bourne made this statement in court in 1995, “If the death penalty doesn’t fit this defendant. Who does it fit? This defendant is a mass murderer. He has shown extreme violence while in the penitentiary. If the legislature didn’t intend it to fit this defendant. Who could it fit any better?”
Creech was scheduled for execution, again, in 1999, but on June 14th of that year, the Federal District Court granted a stay of execution, and as of November 1, 2019, no execution date is set.