Colorado authorities believe they've finally solved the 7-year-old murder case

Credit: AP (2)

An arrest has finally been made in the case of Paige Birgfeld, a Grand Junction, Colorado, mother of three young children who disappeared over seven years ago – and the alleged killer is a man police first suspected of the crime within days of her vanishing.

Truck driver Lester Ralph Jones, 63, was arrested Friday morning after returning from an out-of-town work trip and faces charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping and second-degree arson.

“We named him a suspect in 2007 and we never wavered from that,” Mesa County Sheriff-elect Matt Lewis tells PEOPLE. Lewis says Jones declined to make a statement at the time of his arrest. Jones has not yet been arraigned or entered a plea.

Birgfeld, who was 34 when she went missing, was known by friends as a “supermom” who juggled several jobs in order to provide for her kids.

“She could carry a baby, cook, talk on the phone and do six other things at the same time,” her friend Riina Stockemer said at the time of her disappearance. “Everyone wanted to be like her.”

But shortly after she vanished on June 28, 2007, detectives learned there was a darker side to Birgfeld. Using the pseudonym “Carrie,” she ran an escort service, Models Incorporated, from her home and a nearby office.

After an exhaustive search, Birgfeld’s skeletal remains were eventually found by a hiker in a ravine in March 2012. Forensic analysis revealed a head injury, but it didn’t appear to be “a fatal one,” says Lewis, who adds: “We still don’t know what killed her.”

But the discovery of her remains – along with Birgfeld’s computer and phone records – helped detectives painstakingly eliminate a handful of other possible suspects. The case against Jones, whose criminal record includes arrests for sexual assault, kidnapping and domestic violence, is “largely circumstantial, but we have a large amount of physical evidence tying them together,” says Lewis.

Some of the evidence linking them was that Jones, who was known to have frequented prostitutes, worked across the street from where Birgfeld’s torched car was discovered. A forensic dog later “hit” on traces of Jones’ scent on the passenger seat of the automobile.

When questioned about a gas can found beside his workstation, Jones told police he had no idea what it was doing there and denied purchasing it. Detectives also found computer data and phone records that connected the two.

Birgfeld’s friends were shocked to learn that Paige was running an escort service in an attempt to maintain her upscale home after her divorce.

“She was a survivor and was doing whatever she could to provide for her kids,” her friend Andrea Land said after her disappearance. “She certainly wasn’t doing it to live the high life.”

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