The case has drawn scrutiny from the American media because of the Cockayne family's complaints that the Virgin Islands police were unwilling to pursue a vigorous investigation. The Virgin Islands is an American territory that receives about two million tourists a year.
Thomas' arrest late Friday night came almost two months after the June 19 killing. Police in the tiny territory, which has a population of just over 100,000, had made no headway until Cockayne's parents hired a lawyer and private detective in July to pursue their own investigation.
Their research quickly identified two suspects, said the Cockayne family lawyer, Sean Summers.
"Our investigators found all the key witnesses within a short time," Summers said. "The odd thing is, the police had already interviewed them within three or four days after the murder. Yet it was only when CNN came with their cameras that the police did anything about it."
Summers said Cockayne's parents, Jean Gilligan and William Cockayne, were deeply distressed by the police's perceived lackadaisical response.
"We're not talking about a jaywalker here. We're talking about a random act of violence," Summers said. "I have no doubt there is nepotism there."
Police officials in the Virgin Islands could not be reached yesterday for comment. Last week, however, they defended the vigor of their investigation, saying they were working hard.
One reason for media interest in Cockayne's killing is that its aftermath echoes that of another strange Caribbean case, the presumed killing of Natalee Ann Holloway, the Alabama high school senior who disappeared during a graduation trip to Aruba in 2005. Her body was never found, and questions persist about the police handling of her disappearance.
Cockayne had been living in St. John while awaiting working papers from the adjacent British Virgin Islands, where he had secured a job at the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda, his family has said. With little to occupy him, Cockayne spent his free time hanging around the waterfront bars in Cruz Bay, the four-block main town in St. John.
On the night he was killed, Cockayne was drinking in the Front Yard Bar, which the bartender described as "a late-night pool hall, dive bar."
Summers provided the following account:
After having a great deal to drink, and arguing with other patrons, Cockayne was asked to leave. On his way out, he apparently kicked a car belonging to the girlfriend of one of the bar patrons.
The patron and a friend followed Cockayne out of the bar, armed with a two-by-four, Summers said. They chased him up the street, beat him with the board, and then stabbed him seven times. He bled to death on the street. The police picked up his body around 12:30 a.m.
Once it became clear last week that Virgin Islands police were ready to make an arrest, Cockayne's parents flew to St. John, where police briefed them on the investigation.
But according to Summers, the Cockaynes had to be evacuated on Saturday by police to nearby St. Thomas after they were threatened by friends of the suspects. Those friends, Summers said, were still driving the car the suspects had used for their getaway.
"Who would think that on U.S. territory you could experience something like that?" said Summers, who also was evacuated to St. Thomas.
"As far as we know, that car is cruising around Cruz Bay," he said.
Contact staff writer Inga Saffron at 215-854-2213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.