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He Escaped Prison in 2015. Did He Kill a Young Mother Decades Before?

Mr. Bentley helped raise Mr. Matt’s daughter Jamie, who once wrote that the detective “knew my father probably as well as anyone on the outside.” In an interview and text messages, Mr. Bentley, who retired in 2003, acknowledged having had a close relationship with Mr. Matt — whom he used as an informant — bordering on that of father-son.

“I related to Rick: I felt bad for him,” Mr. Bentley said. “You could almost say I loved the kid.”

But he does not believe Mr. Matt — a convicted killer — could have murdered Ms. Meindl, saying, “he was just a punk” and “wasn’t a candidate for a crime like that.”

“Somebody planted the idea about him just to defend Pugh and Lorenzo,” he said.

Mr. Bentley also suggested that Mr. Matt “was known to brag about all sorts of stuff that never existed.”

After Ms. Meindl was killed, suspicion initially fell on her husband, Donald Meindl, who was in his early 30s and a Taco Bell manager at the time. A friend told the police that Mr. Meindl had once sought his advice about hiring someone to kill his wife. “It should be made to look like a robbery,” the friend recalled Mr. Meindl saying, court records show.

Mr. Meindl, who did not respond to interview requests, insisted that he was joking and has always maintained his innocence. Police and court records describe an open marriage and Mr. Meindl’s involvement with a 17-year-old girl who worked for him. He had an alibi: The day of the murder, he was at work getting fired for sexual harassment.

After a tip from an informant, investigators at the time shifted their focus to Mr. Lorenz, a 23-year-old with a history of minor crimes who was in Iowa after being arrested for car theft.

Desperate to return home, Mr. Lorenz concocted a bizarre plan to confess to Deborah Meindl’s murder, according to his defense team, and implicated Mr. Pugh, his sometime burglary partner, thinking it would bolster his story. He told a police officer he was innocent, but was willing to plead guilty to a manslaughter charge, according to a prosecution filing.

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