CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Cedar Rapids investigators arrested a 43-year-old man in connection with the arson and beating death of a Cedar Rapids woman.
Authorities charged Onyale Vantress Hughes, 43, with first degree murder in the case. He is at the Tama County Jail currently on a parole violation charge
Firefighters removed Robyn Furmsanski, 62, from her condo at 1218 Oakland Road NE after a fire call on March 31st. Furmanski was later pronounced dead at a Cedar Rapids hospital.
Authorities ruled her death was caused by a combination of blunt force head injuries, smoke inhalation and thermal injuries. It was ruled a homicide.
Investigators determined that the fire at Furmanski’s condominium was deliberately set.
Police believe Hughes and Furmanski knew each other but wouldn’t characterize the relationship.
For friends and neighbors of the victim, word of an arrest on Wednesday was especially welcome news.
Mary Osterkamp says she and her family got close to Robyn Furmanski in the last four or five years of her life. Furmanski was an attendant on a school bus her grandson rode and she visited the Osterkamp home on occasion.
They were so close, when Furmanski gave up her pet parrot about a year ago the Osterkamps provided a new home.
Mary Osterkamp's first reaction to the arrest was relief.
"I've been wanting to be there when they catch the person who killed her. I was very upset. I'm glad they caught him," she said.
Both Mary Osterkamp and her husband Dennis had never heard of the defendant or seen him around the victim before.
But Dennis Osterkamp recalled seeing Furmanski very upset and crying the day before the fire and he wonders now if there was a connection.
"She said she was having a problem and I couldn't figure out what it was and she was bawling and I'd never seen her do that. She said 'my head I can't figure something out' but she wouldn't tell me what it was," Dennis Osterkamp said.
Public safety communications officer Greg Buelow said investigators became aware of Hughes soon after the fire and got a search warrant for where he was living at the time.
During the search, they found some prescription drugs belonging to Furmanski. State lab tests finally determined it was Furmanski's blood found on some of Hughes' clothing.
"Although it's been a couple of months, officers have been on this case from the get-go. We identified a person of interest and working with the Linn County Attorney's office brought charges this morning (Wednesday)," Buelow said.
In addition to the first degree murder charge, Hughes is also charged with Arson in the First Degree and Robbery in the First Degree.
Hughes is expected to return to Cedar Rapids next week for an initial appearance on the murder and other charges.