A man charged Friday with the murders of two women found buried near a blood-splattered trailer in southern Michigan was trying to buy the rural property where the days-old graves were discovered, authorities said.
Junior Lee Beebe, 34, was arrested in the slayings of his cousin's wife, Amy Henslee, and Tonya Howarth, whom Beebe dated on and off for the last few years. Both women were shot multiple times and likely died Monday, the same day Henslee was reported missing, Van Buren County Prosecutor Juris Kaps said.
Investigators didn't initially suspect foul play, because it appeared Henslee had voluntarily left her home with Beebe. But friends in this small town insisted she would never intentionally abandon her husband and their two sons.
The women's bodies were found about 5-feet deep in a wooded, rural area in Bangor Township, about 60 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, on property that Beebe was trying to buy from his uncle, said sheriff's Sgt. David Walker. Investigators don't believe Beebe was living in the nearby trailer.
"There was blood around the outside of the trailer and there was blood inside the trailer," Walker said. "The ground had been disturbed and we received information through interviews with the suspect where we'd be able to find the persons."
Henslee's family brought in a private canine tracking unit that alerted the sheriff's office to the trailer, Walker said. The crime scene was about a quarter mile into the wooded property, whose entrance from a rural two-lane highway was guarded by signs warning of dogs and forbidding trespassers.
It was unclear whether the women knew each other. Autopsies were scheduled for Friday afternoon, but results weren't expected to be released until Monday.
Beebe, of Bangor, was arraigned by video Friday morning on two counts of murder and possession of a firearm during a felony during a hearing in District Court in Paw Paw, the county seat.
Beebe didn't enter a plea, but when Judge Robert Hentchel asked him about whether he understood the charges in Henslee's death, Beebe responded: "Did or didn't? No I didn't."
Beebe told the court he didn't have a job and that he takes care of his father. He was visibly distracted and didn't attempt to stifle yawns during the brief hearing. He was ordered held without bond, and his attorney said he couldn't immediately comment on the case.
Michigan State Police records show that Beebe was arrested seven times between 1995 and 2005, including three times on felony charges that were pleaded down to misdemeanors. Among those charges were felony larceny and a weapons charge. It's unclear if he ever served any jail time.
Henslee's husband, James, last saw his wife alive Monday morning when he left for work from their home in Hartford Township, just south of where the women's bodies were found. Van Buren sheriff's officials said he is not a suspect, and initially did not suspect foul play in Henslee's disappearance.
A man answering the door at Henslee's house on Friday said the family had no comment. The couple's two sons are 10 and 8, friends said.
At some point Monday morning, Amy Henslee left her house, locking the door behind her and leaving her purse inside. Authorities said Friday they think she left voluntarily with Beebe, but can't say more about how or why she went with him.
"I'm still trying to figure out the question 'why?' Why would he do that to Amy? Amy seemed like a wonderful wife and mother," said Brett Smith, 16, who lives across the street from the Henslees.
Smith described himself and Beebe as mixed-martial arts fighters, and said they'd had bouts. The teen said Beebe "didn't seem like a guy who would do this at all."
Smith said Howarth was sometimes at fights and described her as a "down-to-earth person" whom Beebe seemed to care about.
He said Beebe made money selling scrap-metal and wood, and plowing snow from driveways. The teen said Beebe plowed the Henslee's driveway.
"He seemed like a hardworking guy," Smith said.
Walker said some neighbors said they saw two women in Beebe's truck when he was at Henslee's home, but Beebe told detectives that he went to Henslee's house alone and Howarth met up with him later.
Walker said investigators didn't know whether the women were dead when they were buried or if they'd been sexually assaulted.
The court appointed public defender David Hunt to represent Beebe. Hunt said he plans to meet soon with Beebe, but that he likely won't discuss the case until he has reviewed the police reports.