TOWSON, Md. — A Colorado man charged with strangling a 24-year-old Dundalk woman in her home in 2000 was hired to kill her by her boyfriend, who wanted to collect life insurance money, Baltimore County Police said Friday.

Stephen Michael Cooke Jr., 43, of Pasadena was arrested Thursday and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Heidi Bernadzikowski. Cooke is being held without bail.

Bernadzikowski was found dead in the home that she shared with Cooke in April 2000. She had been strangled and her neck was cut.

In January 2012, Alexander Charles Bennett, 34, of Greeley, Colo., was charged with killing Bernadzikowski. Authorities said DNA evidence linked him to the crime. Bennett recently identified Cooke as the person behind the slaying, police said. Bennett is awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge in the killing.

Cooke hired Bennett to kill Bernadzikowski so Cooke could collect on a $700,000 life insurance policy he had purchased on his girlfriend, investigators said.

According to police, Cooke contacted Bennett and 35-year-old Grant A. Lewis of Denver over the Internet and entered into a murder-for-hire pact. Lewis acted as the middle man, authorities said, and Bennett traveled to Maryland to kill Bernadzikowski.

Lewis was arrested this week in Baltimore and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. He is being held without bail.

Online court records do not list lawyers for either Cooke or Lewis.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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