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Angie Housman's death | How Earl Cox found his victim and how she spent her final days

“This is the prototypical child kidnapping case that you think about, the one you hear your parents warn you about when you're a kid," prosecutor says

ST CHARLES, Mo. — Had Earl Cox’s car not broken down on Nov. 8, 1993, 9-year-old Angie Housman might still be alive.

It’s one of the details the 63-year-old shared with his public defender as part of a confession made to avoid the death penalty.

In exchange for his confession in the 1993 killing, St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar agreed to take the death penalty off the table.

Cox pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and child molestation Thursday inside a St. Charles County courtroom.

Lohmar shared some of the details of Cox’s confession with 5 On Your Side.

“I think ultimately he got himself into a situation that he didn't know how to get out of and in his mind, the only way that he could protect himself at that point was to try to end her life so that she couldn’t tell anyone else what happened and hopefully not get caught in the process,” Lohmar said. “And so I think that's ultimately how she lost her life, because he didn't see any other way out.”

Cox told his attorney he had some trouble with his car on the afternoon Angie vanished, and stopped to see what was wrong.

A few minutes later, he saw a school bus stop. Then, he saw Angie, Lohmar said.

At first, Cox suggested Angie approached him.

“When pressed, that wasn’t what happened,” Lohmar said. “But that’s a typical trait of somebody who is a predator of children.

“In their own minds, they probably have to figure out a way to live with themselves, and so they just have to minimize things and sort of distance themselves from the bad things that they’ve done to these kids.”

Cox said he asked Angie if she was hungry.

“Since she was, she got in his car and they stopped by Burger King and just drove around and the rest, unfortunately, is history,” Lohmar said. “They were in the car for an extended period of time, potentially hours. And eventually he took her back to his residence and that's where he brutally sexually assaulted her for an extended period of time. It was torturous. I can't imagine what was going through this little girl’s mind.”

Cox said he kept Angie hidden in a mobile home where he lived in St. Charles County for days. At the time, he had a live-in girlfriend.

RELATED: Earl Cox pleads guilty in murder of Angie Housman

Lohmar said investigators questioned the woman, who told them Cox forbid her from going into a back bedroom of their home. Lohmar said the woman is from another country, spoke broken English at the time, and told investigators she lived in fear of Cox and worked odd hours.

“I think he was smart enough and conniving enough to manipulate that situation so as not to be exposed,” Lohmar said.

And he believes Cox controlled Angie, too.

“People who are serial child predators, they are skilled at getting cooperation from the child,” Lohmar said. “They are skilled at making the child feel comfortable with them.

“And so, I have no doubt that he pulled those tactics to try to gain her compliance and cooperation.”

Cox could not pinpoint exactly how long he kept Angie in his mobile home, or when he left her for dead in the woods about five to six miles from his home.

It’s one of several questions that Lohmar said remains because Cox had a stroke and that – along with the passage of time – has left gaps in his memory of the crime.

“The combination of his health issues and the fact that it's been so many years, I think that the human mind when you're dealing with something like this, and when you're dealing with the guilt of what you've done to a little girl, you probably convince yourself that certain things happened and certain things didn't happen. And so then the line between what's true and what's your imagination, I think it's blurred. That's me theorizing but I think that's a big part of what we're dealing with.”

Cox did not have any connection to the wooded area where he left Angie to die, other than it’s a remote area just off of a heavily trafficked route, Lohmar said.

At first, Cox suggested he left her there alive hoping someone would find her. But Lohmar doesn’t buy that.

“My theory is that he thought by the time anybody would discover her body, they would never be able to identify the remains because it was that remote,” he said. “It was cold in the wintertime.

“There was snow on the ground. So my assumption is that he just assumed that it'll sit out there for a long time, and nobody will find it until he's long gone.”

Instead, a hunter found Angie’s body. Medical experts believe she died just hours before she was found. She was naked. She had been bound and gagged. She had been tortured and sexually assaulted.

A manhunt went on for months. Hundreds of detectives worked the case. Innocent people were named as suspects.

But Cox had connections to the area where Angie went missing, with relatives who lived in the area. At the time, he already was a convicted child molester, having been court-martialed for molesting young girls he babysat while stationed in Germany. Overland police arrested Cox for molesting a 7-year-old girl at a park behind Angie’s elementary school in 1989 – just four years before Angie’s disappearance.

St. Charles Lt. Ed Copeland and St. Ann Lt. Col. John Lankford discovered the Overland arrest as they dug through the old case files following the DNA hit on Cox in the fall of 2018. He’s now facing charges in that case in St. Louis County.

“St. Louis County and the smaller municipalities had several investigative agencies that were involved in this case … and there wasn’t a system of information sharing back then,” Lohmar said. “We saw in the banker boxes that were full of interviews over the years, we noticed several instances where multiple departments had interviewed the same suspect and they didn't even know about it.

“Had this crime happened today, with the technology that we have not just with the DNA testing but with surveillance, with the information sharing between departments, with Ring doorbell cameras, I have no doubt this case would have been solved in a matter of days.”

Lohmar said he believes Angie was the only victim Cox killed. And, she was the only one he didn’t know before he attacked her, he said.

“This is the prototypical child kidnapping case that you think about, the one you hear your parents warn you about when you're a kid, you know, stranger danger, things like that,” Lohmar said. “In the vast majority of our child molestation cases, there is some sort of connection or relationship between the victim and the perpetrator … but we didn't find that here.

Lohmar stopped short of saying whether he believed Cox felt remorse about what he did to Angie.

“I got the strong impression that this is a man who, rightly so, carries around a tremendous amount of guilt and regret over this and I can't imagine what it's like for a person have to carry that around their entire life,” Lohmar said. “I think this moment for him is liberating in the sense that he finally is able to admit what he did, and that’s up to him and his maker what happens after that.”

The random nature of the crime is what Lohmar said will stay with him.

“Had his car broken down a half-hour later,” Lohmar said. “This wouldn't have happened.

“At least not that day.”

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