ANCHORAGE - A Nome police officer has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the August slaying of a 19-year-old woman.
Alaska State Troopers on Saturday night charged Matthew Clay Owens, 28, with killing Sonya Ivanoff, 19, by shooting her in the back of the head with a .22-caliber firearm.
Ivanoff was a star basketball player and honor role student in Unalakleet before moving about a year ago to Nome, where she worked as a secretary.
Ivanoff's body was found naked, except for a sock on her left foot, in willow bushes at an abandoned gold mine inside Nome city limits Aug. 13. She had bruises on her face, neck and chest and blood on her face but did not appear to have been sexually assaulted, according to troopers.
Nome police initially investigated the slaying. Troopers took over Oct. 1 at the request of the Nome Police Department.
According to details of the troopers investigation laid out in the charges, Owens often picked up women in his patrol car.
"Several of these women also stated that Owens would follow them while they were walking and drive ahead of them to cut them off," the charges say.
Two women told investigators they had sex with Owens while he was on duty on more than one occasion and the sex sometimes occurred in his patrol car, according to the charges.
The Nome Police Department has nine officers. Owens was one of two on duty during the early morning hours Aug. 11.
Two witnesses saw Ivanoff get into a Nome police vehicle around 1:30 a.m., according to charging documents. Ivanoff's roommate reported her missing Aug. 12.
Florence Habros, one of the witnesses, told the Anchorage Daily News that she went to Nome Police Chief Ralph Taylor with her observations when she heard Ivanoff was missing. The chief took her report and said he would call, and she never heard from police until three weeks later, she said.
Taylor acknowledged Saturday he took the initial information from Habros, but would not comment on why it took three weeks to get back in touch with her.
Taylor said he had been aware for about a month that Owens was a suspect. Owens had been on leave for actions in other incidents, Taylor said.
According to charging documents, Owens made several peculiar moves during the investigation that raised suspicions. For example, he showed up at the abandoned gold dredges on a four-wheeler with his 4-year-old son when Ivanoff's body was discovered, even though he was not working at the time and no radio traffic disclosed the location.
Later, Owens and another Nome police officer were asked to fly to Anchorage to be questioned by troopers and take a polygraph test. Owens never showed. He told a sergeant that Taylor had told him he could reschedule, a claim Taylor denies, the charges say.
Owens is also accused of lying about a police car theft in Nome on Sept. 23. The marked patrol car was stolen from the department's parking lot early in the morning.
Owens, who was working at the time, said he found the car in a gravel pit and told his superiors that he heard gunshots and dived for the ground, according to the charges.
A few days after the incident, an envelope was discovered in the same patrol car with Ivanoff's identification card and a letter by someone who implied he was Ivanoff's killer. The letter "warned the police that he would kill them if they got too close to him," charges say.
Owens' story about the car theft changed in small ways each time he was interviewed about it, according to the charges. After reviewing those interviews, as well as conversations with other officers, evidence at the scene and the contents of the letter, investigators determined that the theft and recovery of the patrol car was a staged event designed to divert the investigation.
Owens was fired Friday. Troopers arrested Owens at his home Saturday night, said spokesman Greg Wilkinson. Owens was being held on $500,000 bail.
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