CHICAGO — After working two years to crack the encryption on a murder suspect’s phone, Chicago police finally gained access and found a trove of Google searches that allegedly showed his efforts to cover up the crime.
“How long does it take for an unburied body to decompose?” the man googled shortly after the slaying.
“Do fire cover up murder?” he allegedly asked Google.
“Arson to cover up other crimes,” read another search.
This week, prosecutors charged the man, Victor Terrell, 35, with first-degree murder, arson knowing a person is present, and arson to conceal death. Judge Charles Beach held him without bail.
Prosecutors told Beach that the 34-year-old victim had sex with others for money, and Terrell was her “employer,” who arranged to provide her services to customers.
The woman was last seen alive by her relatives on October 1, 2020, Assistant State’s Attorney Anne McCord said. Eight days later, GPS data placed her and Terrell at a home in the 5000 block of West Gladys, McCord said.
That afternoon, someone texted a picture from the woman’s phone to a third party that showed her lying face down on the floor, apparently injured.
Around the same time, McCord said, Terrell texted the same third party: “Come get this dead bitch. You got the address?”
Terrell then texted his girlfriend, “I think Stephanie is dead.”
McCord said he also had a video call with a former girlfriend who knew his relationship with the victim. During the call, Terrell allegedly turned the camera to show the victim on the floor, apparently unconscious.
Nearly three weeks later, the incriminating Google searches began, according to McCord.
Using the victim’s phone, someone googled, “How long does it take for an unburied body to decompose?”
On November 8, 2020, Google searches for “how to start a house fire” and “how do people get away with murder” were made from Terrell’s own phone, she said.
After 2 a.m. the next day, Terrell was seen arriving at the victim’s home and then leaving about five minutes before neighbors began calling 911 to report the house was on fire, McCord continued.
The woman, found dead on the living room floor, had been dead for “at least days” before the fire, said McCord, citing medical examiner records. They determined the woman died from blunt force trauma.
Fire investigators determined that the house fire started in two locations and that accelerant was found throughout the home.
The next day, Terrell began googling again, McCord said.
“Fire scene investigation checklist,” one search read.
“Does fire burn evidence?” asked another.
Four days after the fire, there were more searches, including “arson to cover up other crimes” and “Do fire cover up murder?”
Chicago police officers began tracking the victim’s phone, and they eventually found it inside the center console of Terrell’s car, according to McCord. She said investigators seized her phone and Terrell’s, then worked for two years to crack the encryption.
Cops arrested Terrell to face charges this week.
McCord said he has three felony convictions and is required to register as a sex offender due to a 2008 sexual assault conviction in Milwaukee.
He is due in court again on June 7.