TEMPE, AZ - A cold case homicide detective is hoping a fresh look at an unsolved murder may help determine who strangled and raped an Arizona State University student in her Tempe apartment 15 years ago and left her to die.
The case of Fiona Yu has boggled the minds of many police detectives over the years, and now, Tom Magazzeni has the task of tracking down the killer who has eluded authorities for so long.
"She was brutally murdered, and that stays with an investigator their whole career," Magazzeni said.
He assisted on the original case in August 1997.
Now, the retired homicide detective has been rehired by the City of Tempe to focus on cold cases.
Yu's is a top priority.
"Basically, it's looking at the case all over again from the ground up," he told the ABC15 Investigators.
Yu, a soon-to-be college senior who worked in the ASU Alumni Center, had ridden her bike home from work on the evening she was killed.
It didn't take long for the petite accounting major to pedal home, put her bicycle away inside her apartment near Terrace Road and Lemon Street in Tempe, and gather the mail before the killer trapped her inside her own apartment and took her life on the upper floor of her two-story apartment.
According to Larry Baggs, a now-retired homicide detective who handled the case, the killer had approximately 20 minutes to strangle and rape Yu before her roommate came home.
The roommate started cooking dinner without knowing her roommate was dying on the floor above her.
Baggs said the killer "could have even been in the apartment," when Yu's roommate walked into the apartment.
Eventually, Yu's roommate went upstairs and found her roommate.
"My roommate! I don't know – she's on the floor! I don't know what happened to her," she told police dispatchers when she called 911.
"I just came upstairs and she's on the floor with no underwear – nothing! I called her name. She's not waking up," she said, crying on the phone.
The roommate said Yu was "hot" to the touch.
Yu could not be saved.
"With Fiona Yu – wherever we go after this world – she will be one of the people that I find if there isn't some resolve," said Baggs.
"She's one of the people I'm going to look up, if that's possible, and say, ‘Fiona, what happened?'" he said. "And to say sorry that I couldn't finish the job."
Baggs told ABC15 he thinks the killer was waiting for Yu in her apartment and may have known her.
He may have been infatuated with her, he said.
"Be it someone who knew her or someone who is a predator that watched her and knew her schedule, but there was some affection, some feeling, some emotion there that was the driving force behind this attack, and they took it to the extreme," he said.
Baggs is now a school resource officer in Tempe, but he says he often thinks about the Yu case.
It is the only murder investigation of his that remains unsolved.
COLD CASE DETECTIVE
Magazzeni has been sorting through crime scene photographs and evidence, trying to find the clue that could help solve the case.
"I thought that our original investigation would've produced a suspect and that we would have held that person accountable," he said.
"It breaks my heart," he said. "(Fiona) was a very good person. She lived the right life. She didn't conduct herself in a negative way or be involved in criminal activity. She was a true victim in this. A low risk victim."
"She was one year away from graduating, to start her career, to start her life, and that was snuffed out. That infuriates me," Magazzeni added.
Detectives were able to recover semen DNA from Yu's body, but the evidence has never been linked to another crime.
"We know it's a male," said Magazzeni of the killer.
Detectives haven't ruled out the possibility that the killer could be dead or imprisoned somewhere where DNA is not collected.
"I believe that there are people out there that know what had happened that might have seen something that could blow the lid off this case," he said.
"Back in 1997 they might've felt that they were afraid or just not compelled to talk to police or give the true account, but their situation might've changed."
Anyone with information about Yu's death should call the police or Silent Witness at 480-948-6377.