DNA of missing US tourist found on tools belonging to murder suspect

Investigators believe body found is that of Denise Thiem, who went missing in April A number of assaults along the Camino de Santiago are now being investigated

Police officers stationed along the Camino de Santiago.
Police officers stationed along the Camino de Santiago.Samuel Sánchez

Spanish police believe they have solved the case of the US tourist who went missing in April as she was walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route by herself.

Denise Pikka Thiem, 41, was allegedly murdered by a man named Miguel Ángel Muñoz Blas, 39. Her decomposed body was located on a plot of land owned by the suspect, and her DNA was found on several tools kept in the same premises.

Her decomposed body was located on a plot of land owned by the suspect

Now, the police are continuing to search the property – located between the villages of Santa Catalina de Somoza and San Martín de Agostedo, in León province – for clues that might shed light on “some other worrisome cases” involving pilgrims at this precise spot along the route.

These cases mostly involve alleged assaults on female pilgrims from various countries who were walking the popular route to Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Saint James are said to be buried.

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Camino de Santiago: trampling the holy path

Tens of thousands of people follow the road from southern France across northern Spain each year, and the ancient route’s popularity has increased in recent times thanks to a profusion of books and movies on the subject.

Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz announced that the remains found on Friday are being analyzed by the Forensic Anatomical Institute in Astorga (León).

On Monday, the DNA will be checked against biological samples requested from Thiem’s family members back in the United States.

Fernández Díaz added that the main suspect in the case “had a record,” but did not provide any further information on the subject.

A search of the suspect’s property last Friday also yielded a saw that still had biological remains of what is believed to be the victim’s body.

It has also been established that four days after the Arizona woman went missing, the suspect changed $1,200 into euros. Some police sources suggested that this man kept a large amount of cash concealed on his property.

Investigators now want to clear up other cases. Between May and June of this year two women, one Dutch and the other American, reported being harassed on the same stretch of the Camino where Thiem went missing.

Civil Guard sources said that according to their report, a man drove up to them, stopped to talk, then tried to push one of them inside the vehicle. The women fought him off with their walking sticks.

Denise Pikka Thiem was doing the Camino de Santiago route by herself.
Denise Pikka Thiem was doing the Camino de Santiago route by herself.

Muñoz Blas had always been the top suspect and was questioned early in the case. On Friday, he was arrested 162 kilometers from his home, in a village called Grandas de Salime (Asturias). He had fled his home, located far from the village center, sometime last week. Upon his arrest, Muñoz Blas displayed a resigned attitude and offered no resistance.

The interior minister congratulated Spain’s law enforcement agencies and the army for their “magnificent operation” and added that the FBI was kept apprised of the operation throughout.

Over 200 people from 20 nationalities were questioned in the case, mostly other pilgrims who saw Thiem at some point along the Camino.

English version by Susana Urra.

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