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Man in burned car was shot in head; suspect jailed

Taylor Wolf (Washington Department of Corrections)
Taylor Wolf (Washington Department of Corrections)

A 20-year-old Spokane man with a juvenile criminal record and a February conviction for domestic violence has been arrested in connection with a burned body discovered in the trunk of a car.

Taylor James Wolf, 20, is accused in the gunshot slaying of Nicholas James Thoreson, 22, who authorities say died of a gunshot wound to the head before his body was burned in the trunk of a Ford Thunderbird.

Wolf was arrested on a second-degree murder charge as he tried to leave his apartment at 13615 E. Trent Ave. in a taxi late Wednesday.

He appeared in Spokane County District Court on Thursday. Judge Donna Wilson sealed a probable cause affidavit supporting his arrest at the request of police and prosecutors, who cited an ongoing investigation.

“There’s information in there we don’t want out just yet,” said Spokane County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Barbieri. “The last thing we want to do is spook somebody who might otherwise talk to us or taint interviews we’re gong to do in the future.”

No other suspects have been named in Thoreson’s death, but detectives still are trying to determine if someone helped Wolf, Barbieri said.

“We don’t have any direct information that there was, but we want to be thorough,” Barbieri said.

Friends and other sources say Wolf has ties to the outlaw motorcycle gang the Hells Angels. Barbieri said the investigation is looking at all aspects of the case, including those rumors.

Wolf is to be arraigned April 26. He remains in the Spokane County Jail on the murder charge, as well as a court-ordered hold for a burglary probation violation and a Spokane Municipal Court warrant for malicious mischief.Wolf’s relationship to Thoreson, who lived in Cheney, is unclear, but Barbieri described them as “associates.”

A motive for the slaying is undetermined, Barbieri said.

“We’ll start working on a motive by doing interviews, because nothing popped out like some of them do,” Barbieri said.

The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy on Thoreson Thursday and confirmed he died from a gunshot wound.

Wolf was spotted leaving his house in a taxi with two other people when police arrived to search his apartment on Wednesday. The two were questioned, but only Wolf has been arrested in connection with the case, Barbieri said.

Detectives served a search warrant at the home about 10:15 p.m. The taxi also was seized as evidence.

The arrest came nearly 22 hours after a driver spotted a flaming car at Forker and Bigelow Gulch roads and called 911.

Firefighters found a body burned beyond recognition in the trunk of the 1987 Thunderbird, which is owned by Thoreson.

Major crimes detectives spent more than 10 hours collecting evidence, in part because they had to wait until daylight to canvass for evidence. Detectives used fingerprints to identify Thoreson.

Interviews with people who knew Thoreson led them to Wolf, Barbieri said.

Now detectives are trying to piece together Thoreson’s activities over the past week and interview those who had contact with him.

“That’s usually how you develop theories on what may have occurred,” Barbieri said. Barbieri said Thoreson apparently had spent time with the mother of his 11-month-old child the days before he died. She is cooperating with police and is not considered a suspect, Barbieri said.

The murder investigation is the county and city’s first this year.

Court records show Wolf pleaded guilty to assault in January, then to assault, domestic violence assault and resisting arrest in February and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. He had a warrant in Municipal Court for failing to show for his arrangement on a malicious mischief charge from October.

Wolf also pleaded guilty in January to felony residential burglary and was credited for 16 days served in jail and given a year of probation. He has a previous domestic violence conviction that was filed in October 2009.

Wolf has been ordered several times to take anger management courses. He was arrested when he was 15 for misdemeanor assault, intimidating a witness, and sounding a false alarm at Rogers High School.

He was given probation but served time in jail after violating court orders to abide by curfew, attend school and stay in contact with his probation officer.

Wolf’s mother attended his court hearing Thursday but declined comment.