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4/09/2003 12:11pm,
Nabbed fugitive offers details about slaying of Negersmith

April 5, 2003

By W.F. KEOUGH Staff Writer, (609) 463-6710, E-Mail

Sometime last April, a prisoner in a Florida county jail called a New York lawyer and described specifically and in considerable detail what he claimed was information about the 1990 unsolved murder of Susan Negersmith in Wildwood. The lawyer turned the information over to Kent Negersmith, the father of the victim, who turned it over to Cape May County authorities.

"I won't tell you what it was," Kent Negersmith said on Friday. "But he was very specific in what he was saying. He was telling it like it was." Now, nearly a year later, the inmate, Timothy Yager, remains in custody and faces charges in at least four states. And a North Wildwood man, Joseph Wilkins, 39, is being asked to supply a sample of his blood for DNA testing in the Negersmith case. Authorities won't say whether Yager's capture led to an interest in Wilkins, a former employee at the Atilis Gym in Wildwood, one of the last places Susan Negersmith was seen alive. Negersmith, 20, of New York, was visiting Wildwood when she was raped and strangled. Her partially clothed body was found May 27, 1990, behind a Wildwood restaurant.

"We don't discuss details of active investigations," Cape May County Chief of Detectives Jim Rybicki said Friday. There are questions regarding Yager's reliability. Yager is an alleged con man accused of identity theft, among other things. Until his September arrest in Peoria, Ariz., he was one of Cape May County's most wanted fugitives. At the time of his arrest, he had 28 known aliases. But Yager also holds another distinction. In 1996, he gave police a statement that led authorities to test the blood of Michael Wilkins, Joseph Wilkins' brother. Michael Wilkins had seen Susan Negersmith the night before she died, and according to Yager, had told him he was involved in her death.

A DNA test cleared Michael Wilkins. And in April 1996, several months later, Yager fled the county, skipping a court appearance on a theft charge.

For seven years Yager, a former karate instructor, avoided capture until last April, when he was charged with robbing a Hillsborough County, Fla., man while posing as a bail bondsman.

Yager identified himself to Florida authorities as "Brett Spear," another of his aliases, according to Sally Blevins, a homicide investigator with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office in Florida. Blevins said she became involved in Yager's case after he began offering information on the Negersmith case. Blevins began checking Yager's story with New Jersey authorities and reading the files on the case. "My gut feeling was, he trained at that gym, he knew the players, he's heard things," Blevins said. "When it comes to a murder, you've got to listen to anything. ... He knows something."

Blevins said authorities were interested by Yager's claim, but before they could piece together the clues to his real identity, another jurisdiction released him on $150,000 bail under his false name. Blevins, however, kept tracking Yager and pinning down his identity. Blevins said she contacted his victims and family and tracked down nearly all of Yager's aliases. Her work helped Arizona authorities convince a judge in September that Yager wasn't a good candidate for bail because of his history.

Since then, Yager has been held without bail, the subject of several extradition requests. Wilkins, who has not decided whether to fight or submit to a blood test, suggested Yager has no information that will implicate him. He suggested prosecutors fabricated the statement to seek a blood test.