N.M. Man Charged With Murdering Missing Coed

A man being held on rape and kidnapping counts in New Mexico has been charged with the murder of a 19-year-old college student who disappeared more than a year ago, police said Tuesday.

Joel Patrick Courtney (search), 39, in custody in Albuquerque, N.M., has been charged with killing Brooke Wilberger (search), who was last seen in May 2004, said Corvallis Police Capt. Ron Noble.

Then 19, Wilberger had just returned from her freshman year at Brigham Young University (search) in Provo, Utah. She was staying with her sister in Corvallis (search), home of Oregon State University. Noble, who refused to say what led police to the suspect, also said that Wilberger has not been found: "We still don't know where Brooke is."

In New Mexico, Courtney is accused of kidnapping a foreign exchange student at knifepoint, forcing her into his car, tying her up with a shoelace and sexually assaulting her, according to the Albuquerque Tribune.

Interviewed for the article, a spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Police Department said: "This guy was a bad dude....We found out he had prior sex offenses in other states."

The incident on Nov. 30, 2004, occurred six months after Wilberger's disappearance. She was last seen cleaning lamp fixtures outside the Corvallis apartment complex her sister managed. Among the only clues investigators found were her discarded flip-flops and a pail of soapy water.

Courtney grew up in the Portland suburb of Beaverton before moving to Albuquerque, where he lived with his wife and children, said his older sister, Dina McBride of Beaverton.

"He has a long history of having been involved with run-ins with the law...and we feel that if he is found guilty that he needs to be held accountable," McBride said. "Justice needs to be served."

Wilberger's disappearance shocked Corvallis, a quiet college town about 80 miles south of Portland, as well as the university she attended in Utah.

"There are still a lot of people that think about her all the time," said Howard Fuller, a bishop at the Mormon church Wilberger attended at Brigham Young. "We still hope that she can be found alive — we all hope that."

Police searched thousands of acres, received more than 5,000 tips, investigated about 60 persons of interest and had a list of 250 suspicious vehicles before Tuesday's developments.

The investigation initially focused on Sung Koo Kim, a man who had been arrested for stealing thousands of women's panties from college dormitories in the Corvallis area and beyond.

Kim's parents and attorney insisted he was innocent in the Wilberger case, saying he was at home the day of her disappearance. Corvallis police ultimately said Kim was no longer a person of interest in the Wilberger case.

Kim's parents were pleased that a suspect was in custody Tuesday. "This is what I was praying for all this year," Kim's mother, Dong Kim, said in a telephone interview.