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Montauk man arrested in 20-year-old slaying case

Fugitive Thomas Solheim was arrested Tuesday night at

Fugitive Thomas Solheim was arrested Tuesday night at this house at 80 Essex St. in Montauk. (July 14, 2010) Photo Credit: Doug Kuntz

In a true-life cold case from the files of NCIS, a 53-year-old Montauk man was arrested in connection with the brutal sexual assault and killing of an upstate sailor almost 20 years ago near a former Navy base in Charleston, S.C.

Thomas Solheim, of Essex Street in Montauk, was arrested Tuesday night on a warrant from Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents, Suffolk Cold Case Squad Det. Sgt. Thomas Groneman said.

Solheim's arrest was carried out by Suffolk police with assistance from East Hampton Town police and follows the arrest of another suspect earlier this week in Missoula, Mont., in connection with the case. The victim, James Alan Horton, then 22, was sexually assaulted, struck in the head with a blunt object, shot in the chest and then left face down in a ditch in about 4 feet of water, authorities said.

Authorities reopened the case because of advancements in DNA technology since the 1992 killing, the Post & Courier in Charleston reported Wednesday.

"We always kept up hope," Rosaline Horton, 70, the victim's mother, said Wednesday in a telephone interview from her home in upstate Sherburne. "We never gave up."

She said her husband and a daughter had died without knowing what had happened to her son.

Wednesday, Solheim's former co-workers at IGA Supermarket in Montauk said they were surprised by his arrest. Store owner William Clark, 61, of Port Jefferson, said Solheim had worked at the store in the early 1990s as a grocery manager.

Recently, Clark said Solheim came into the store three or four times a week, with his mother. "He got along with everybody he worked with, and everybody who shopped here knew him," he said. "I'm shocked."

Meanwhile, Rosaline Horton said she is grateful for the work of police who may have found her son's killers. The arrests, she said, are a chance at justice for her family.

"They should not be out there enjoying life when they've done something bad," Horton said of the suspects.

Horton's body was found in a ditch on Nov. 14, 1992, not far from the now-closed Charleston Naval Base, the Post & Courier reported Wednesday.

An NCIS spokesman told the paper that Horton, who was assigned to the mine sweeper Exultant at the time of his slaying, had been seen at an ATM on base on Oct. 30, 1992, and was last seen at two local bars.

Groneman said the investigation on Long Island has been going on for "close to a year," following leads developed by NCIS agents and investigated by Suffolk Cold Case detectives.

Investigators said DNA evidence led them to the suspects. It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether investigators believe Solheim knew Horton or if the sailor was a random victim.

Solheim's scheduled arraignment Wednesday in First District Court in Central Islip was postponed after he suffered seizures, Suffolk County district attorney's office spokesman Robert Clifford said. It is not clear what charges Solheim would face.

NCIS investigator Kaylyn Dueker referred calls to a U.S. Navy spokesman, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

With John Valenti

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