Ex-spouse charged in Largo killing

Published March 8, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

Detectives looking for the person who stabbed Keith Yunk and his wife while they slept in their bed three months ago say they have found the man 2,500 miles away.

Police in Boise, Idaho, arrested Luther Thornton "Luke" Basse Jr., late Friday. They charged the firefighter with murdering Yunk, 31, and said Basse is responsible for the severe wounding of Yunk's 34-year-old wife, Anita.

Basse, 32, is Mrs. Yunk's ex-husband.

The Yunks had gotten married in May. Largo police Capt. John Walker said Basse killed out of "jealousy or a revenge-type motive."

There were hints of violence long before the killing Dec. 15.

Mrs. Yunk's brother, the Rev. David Rawley, said Saturday that the couple's divorce after more than a decade of marriage was far from amicable and that Basse had threatened to kill his ex-wife.

"There were foolish-sounding threats," Rawley said. "They were so serious you wouldn't expect a person to carry them out."

Walker said Basse admitted the killing during questioning. He said police have been able to corroborate much of Basse's story _ the attack, the getaway, what he did with the weapons _ but still have not found the 6-inch knife the killer used.

But on Saturday, after half a dozen previous searches turned up nothing, they recovered another weapon in the northwest corner of Taylor Reservoir in Largo. Walker described it as a roofing hammer with a small hatchet on the back.

That will be added to a collection of physical evidence that includes the bloody ski mask and gloves the attacker discarded at Pinecrest Golf Course.

But none of the physical evidence provided a strong lead to Basse, Walker said.

Instead, it was the holes in Basse's alibi that led detectives to him, Walker said. Basse initially said he had been hunting alone when the killing took place. Police could not confirm it. They remained skeptical.

The case actually stretches back to six months before the killing. One night in June, someone cut the telephone lines at the Yunks' home and tried to pry open a door. Police were unable to find the would-be intruder.

Then, before Christmas, someone cut the phone lines again. This time, the intruder got into the house and went straight to the Yunks' bedroom, police said.

It was about 3 a.m. The Yunks were asleep. In another part of the house slept their children from previous marriages.

The intruder attacked, stabbing Yunk repeatedly and slashing Mrs. Yunk. Walker described it as "a brutal struggle."

Although wounded, Mrs. Yunk ran to the house of a neighbor, who called police.

The oldest child, a 12-year-old boy, awoke during the attack. The boy went to the couple's bedroom and, finding the dying man, tried to help him. He later told police he saw a man fleeing the house.

Initial police reports described the killer as a black man in a jogging suit. But Walker said Saturday that those reports were wrong.

Other witnesses reported seeing a white man running away as police sirens wailed through the neighborhood. At first, Walker said, police didn't connect that man to the crime.

But from the Rawley family's standpoint, Basse was the prime suspect from the beginning, Rawley said.

Basse and his ex-wife had gotten to know each other in a Clearwater church, Rawley said. Basse was from Memphis, Tenn., and led an unsettled life, jumping from job to job, always with a new plan to make money, Rawley said.

There were some good times early on. "He spent time in our homes," Rawley said. "We picnicked together."

But things went bad. The couple went to Mrs. Yunk's father, the Rev. Eugene Rawley, for counseling, and Basse's hostility for his wife showed, Rawley said.

The couple separated in 1990, and Basse moved to Boise. The Rawleys thought he was going to start a new life there. But after Yunk's murder, they remembered his threats, Rawley said.

Three Boise detectives started piecing together Basse's whereabouts around the time of the attack. They confirmed Basse was in Boise both before and after the killing. But they found a gap of a few days in between.

"He gave us his version of where he was _ hunting by himself," said Lt. Bill Braddock of the Boise Police Department. "But there was no way to confirm it."

The time period involved was long enough for Basse to get to Florida and return, Braddock said, so investigators pulled Basse's bank and other records. Braddock would not say specifically what was found, but said it was sufficient for them to call Basse back to the Police Department on Friday.

When they confronted him with the evidence, he confessed, Walker said.

Basse has no criminal record in Idaho. He has been a Boise firefighter since October 1990. He was not suspended from the department during the investigation. No one at the department would discuss Basse's arrest Saturday.

Basse will remain in Idaho until his arraignment Monday. Pinellas County prosecutors then will begin proceedings to extradite him to Florida.

The brutality of the attack shook up even the detectives investigating Yunk's death, Walker said. They were glad to wrap up the case, he said.

"We feel very relieved we could give Mr. Yunk his measure of justice," Walker said.

Shortly after Yunk was killed, six people were killed in Port Charlotte and North Port in two separate incidents that were later linked.

Investigators in Largo noted similarities between the Largo killing and the other two incidents, but never connected them.

Charlotte County Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Gandy, a member of the task force investigating the Southwest Florida murders, said Saturday night that he had not heard of Basse's arrest.

"But we'll examine it, and it's always a possibility that we'll talk to him," he said.