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Gazette Premium Content Man arrested in Cañon City slayings of mother, two young children has record of domestic violence

By Jakob Rodgers and Andrea Sinclair Updated: March 11, 2014 at 7:33 am

CANON CITY - A 31-year-old man arrested at the scene of the slayings of a Cañon City woman and her two young children has a record that includes domestic violence and two child molestation convictions, according to court documents.

Jaacob Harding Vanwinkle was arrested Sunday on suspicion of three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of kidnapping, sexual assault and sexual assault of a child by one in a position of trust, according to Cañon City police.

He was taken into custody after a teen girl fled to a neighbor's house and reported that she had been sexually assaulted and that the assailant remained in her house with other family members, according to police and neighbors.

Those killed were a 35-year-old woman, her 5-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, police said. Their names have not been released.

The gruesome scene was discovered about 8 p.m. Sunday at a home in the 1100 block of Phay Avenue, south of Harding Avenue, according to a statement from Cañon City Police Sgt. Shannon Byerly.

Suzanne Davis, who lives across the street from the house where the bodies were found, said her neighbor told her that a teenager came to her door seeking help. The neighbor told Davis that she called the police, and relayed that the teen's mother and siblings had been tied up in the house.

"I pray for the little girl," Davis said. "Not only was she sexually molested, but now she has no family."

An elderly woman living at the house where the teen fled scolded reporters for converging on the neighborhood, and she declined to talk further.

"We are mourning," she said.

Word of the killings shook the neighborhood. News crews from across the state set up camera equipment along the block, and a few neighbors gathered to talk among themselves.

"It's just horrific," said Patty Ritter, who lives nearby. "You know it's done - you still can't believe it."

Ritter recalled meeting the mother last summer when several neighbors gathered to deal with a few vandals. She often saw the woman in her front yard with the two little children.

"She was just a wonderful mom. she was just a really beautiful spirit," Ritter said.

Extra counselors were called in by Fremont School District Re-1 for teachers and friends of the family.

Superintendent Robin Gooldy said the youngest child attended Starpoint's Spin Preschool and the 9-year-old was a third-grader at Washington Elementary School. The teen is enrolled in an online school, he said.

"One of the first thoughts I think that a lot of people had was that this kind of stuff doesn't happen here," Gooldy said.

Throughout Monday evening, cars occasionally stopped at the house and mourners filed onto the front lawn, eventually kneeling at the base of a tall tree. They left a stuffed dinosaur and teddy bears, bouquets of flowers and three candles - one red, one white and one pink. A pinwheel shaped like a flower spun in the cool breeze.

At dusk, the youngest victim's preschool teacher dropped off a few red flowers and a blue stuffed bunny, each for the boy's favorite colors. He was "always happy," a boy with a cute new Mohawk and lots of energy, she said.

"His energy had to be curbed sometimes," said Mabel Pennington, laughing while wiping tears from her eyes.

Pennington told her students' parents of the killings, but didn't talk about the boy's absence with her students Monday. She plans to do that later this week.

"They won't get details, of course," she said. "They're too young for that."

Meanwhile, details of Vanwinkle's past troubles emerged.

He was sentenced to jail in August 2012 after he pleaded guilty to assaulting his pregnant girlfriend in the Cañon City motel room where he was living, according to court documents.

The woman told police that she went to his room in late July because he had money for her, according to his arrest affidavit. She was pregnant with his child.

As she was getting ready to leave, Vanwinkle grabbed her arm, threw her on the bed and tied her wrists together with black shoelaces, the affidavit said. After holding a pillow over her face, Vanwinkle threatened to rape her.

The woman told police that she convinced him to get off of her, and that she was able to untie her wrists. After mentioning that he reads her texts, he said "I'm not going to hurt you, just promise me that when you leave you call the cops," the affidavit said.

She did just that.

Vanwinkle greeted police officers at his motel room door by saying, "I've been waiting for you." He told an officer on the way to the Fremont County jail that "I just scared her a little bit tonight. she loves me," the affidavit said.

In an April letter to 11th District Court Judge Norman Cooling, Vanwinkle wrote that he was head cook for the jail's breakfast, lunch and dinner shifts, and that he would take classes once released.

"Seriously, I would love to better myself," he wrote. "She was pregnant. so I need to take responsibility once out and at least financially help out."

Police arrested him on suspicion of violating a protection order for the woman, according to court documents. In a December motion, he said that he was giving the woman money to help raise their child, and he asked for a document stating that the order was dropped upon his release from jail in August.

Vanwinkle also was sentenced to four years in prison in 2004 and to two years in 2007 on child molestation convictions in Indiana. He was released from prison in May 2012 for a theft conviction, court records show.

Autopsies for the three Cañon City victims will be conducted Tuesday and a cause of death will be released when the coroner's report is finalized.

Cañon City police, Fremont County Sheriff's Office and Florence police are collaborating on the investigation as part of the Fremont County Combined Investigative Response Team, along with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Anyone with information can call Cañon City police at (719) 276-5600(719) 276-5600.

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Gazette reporters Andrea Sinclair and Lisa Walton contributed to this report.

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