After months of searching, a truck driver was arraigned Friday on charges of murdering a 17-year-old runaway and dumping her body in Centre County last March.
James R. Cruz, 36, of New Waterford, Ohio, was arraigned in theAkron, Ohio Municipal Court and his bail was set at $5 million. Cruz is accused of killing Dawn Marie Birnbaum and leaving her body along a northbound on-ramp of state Route 26.
Cruz is charged with first-, second- and third-degree murder, kidnapping, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, robbery and theft by unlawful taking. An extradition hearing is scheduled for today.
Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar said the case is considered a capital case and he will argue for the death penalty. Cruz is being held in the Summit County jail outside of Akron.
Authorities are investigating 12 similar crimes in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and New York. The victims' bodies were found in Ohio and other states between June 1985 and November 1990.
The Licking County Sheriff's Department is investigating whether Cruz was involved with these similar homicides.
Agent Randy Cohick of the State College FBI said Cruz was employed for three years as a truck driver by Century Cargo Express in New Waterford, Ohio.
Cruz is married with three children and three stepchildren. His wife is pregnant with their fourth child.
Trooper William Madden of the Rockview State Police said Cruz was first identified by fuel receipts from Dysart's truck fueling plaza in Bangor, Maine and Travelport in Milesburg because both fuel purchases were made on a credit card in the name of Century Industries.
According to the arrest affidavit, both fuel receipts revealed the purchases were made by Cruz. Cruz allegedly told police he falsified the travel log to provide a lawful account of driving time in the event he was stopped by police.
Madden said the investigation included police forces from across the country, as well as from State College.
"We got lucky because most items we investigated checked out," Madden said.
Police were able to trace the victim, Birnbaum, to Maine because of the phone numbers written on her hand. Birnbaum ran away from the Elan School for Juveniles in Poland, Maine, and was last seen at Dysart's on March 22.
Madden speculated that Birnbaum may have been trying to get a ride home to Gary, Indiana, to be with her mother.
"Once she got in the truck, we don't know what happened," Madden said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.