An alert Kansas state trooper who recognized a motorist short on toll money as a murder suspect was credited Monday with capturing an El Toro Marine sought in the slaying of his girlfriend last week in Tustin.
Cpl. Keith Maurice Wroten, 25, was being held in a Kansas jail on a murder warrant in the Dec. 16 multiple stabbing of Marine Staff Sgt. Patricia Blanding, 27, Tustin police said Monday.
By monitoring credit card and ATM transactions, and by reviewing Wroten's service record, Tustin police and Navy investigators tracked Wroten last week from Orange County as he fled toward his parents' home in the Kansas City area, authorities said.
"We knew he was headed eastbound," Tustin police Lt. Mike Shanahan said. "We were able to track him by [monitoring his] gas stops. We assumed he was fleeing back to his family."
Police agencies along the route were alerted. About 9 p.m. Thursday, Wroten stopped at a toll booth just outside Kansas City, Kan., but did not have the money to pay. The toll-booth attendant directed him to a holding zone. It was there that Trooper Terry Berner recognized Wroten and his vehicle, authorities said, and made the arrest.
Wroten was being held on $1-million bail in Wyandotte County Jail. He has waived extradition, Tustin police said, adding that they expect to return him to Orange County the first week of January.
"We are going to prosecute him for murder," Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Lew Rosenblum said.
Blanding's body was discovered by a Marine officer who went to her Tustin apartment to find out why she had not reported for work, authorities said.
Blanding and Wroten worked in Marine Wing Communications Squadron 38 at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Shanahan said the two had been romantically involved for about a year.
An official of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service said Marine Corps authorities had agreed to give primary jurisdiction to Orange County prosecutors because the murder charge carries a more severe penalty than possible violations of military law.
Wroten and Blanding were last seen together during the afternoon of Dec. 15, and his vehicle was parked at her Browning Avenue apartment complex late that night, Navy investigators said.
Blanding died late that night or early the next day, police said, and there were signs of "a significant struggle" in her apartment.
Suspicion focused on Wroten because of the romantic tie and because he also failed to report for work on Dec. 16, authorities said.
Blanding, who was from Virginia, had served in the Marines for nine years.
Wroten has been a Marine for seven years.