Official: What led to slayings uncertain
Questions remain in Michigan women’s deaths
Sunday, January 30, 2011
PAW PAW, Mich. (AP) — Authorities on Saturday worked to piece together what happened between the morning when a southern Michigan mother apparently left home voluntarily with a family relative and a short time later when she and another woman were gunned down.
Investigators have said they believe 30-year-old Amy Henslee left her home in Hartford Township on Monday with Junior Lee Beebe, her husband’s cousin. Van Buren County sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Schmitt said they don’t know why.
“We don’t know what happened next,” Schmitt said Saturday afternoon.
Investigators believe Tonya Howarth, whom Beebe dated on and off for the last few years, met up with them that morning in a wooded, rural area in nearby Bangor Township. Shortly afterward, Henslee and Howarth were dead of shotgun blasts, Schmitt said.
Beebe, 34, remained jailed without bond Saturday after being charged with two counts of murder and possession of a firearm during a felony on Friday, the day after tracking dogs helped find the bodies of the women, both mothers of two.
Beebe, of Bangor, who was arraigned by video, 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.”
A message was left Saturday with David Hunt, Beebe’s court-appointed lawyer.
The bodies were found buried about 5 feet deep near the front door of a blood-splattered trailer in a wooded, rural area in Bangor Township, about 60 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, on property that authorities said Beebe was trying to buy from his uncle.
It was unclear Saturday whether Henslee and Howarth, 36, knew each other, Schmitt said. But investigators were told by Henslee’s husband that his wife knew Beebe because the family regularly spent time with the cousin.
Beebe and Howarth would live together for stretches of time, said Kimberly Wojciehowski, 27, who lives next door in Bangor. She said Howarth had two teenage daughters, and was looking for a job after studying to be a pharmacy technician.
“I was shocked,” Wojciehowski said of the death of Howarth, a friend since Wojciehowski moved to the street about a year ago. “Beebe in all reality was a very nice guy. They had their issues as a couple. They argued. . But I enjoyed both of them.”
Authorities didn’t initially suspect Henslee was in danger, because it appeared she had voluntarily left her home with Beebe at some point Monday morning. She had locked the door behind her and left her purse inside, though investigators couldn’t say more about how or why she went with him.
Henslee’s family brought in a private canine tracking unit that alerted the sheriff’s office to the trailer. The crime scene was about a quarter mile into the property, which authorities said was accessible only on foot or with all-terrain vehicles.
At some point after women were killed, authorities believe Beebe left the property. He wasn’t there when tracking dogs led investigators to the property, Schmitt said, but he returned Thursday afternoon and was later arrested.
Family friend Wendy Boyd said Saturday during a news conference held at Hartford City Hall that Henslee’s family and friends wish the search for the missing mother would have started sooner and they plan to push for a statewide measure that would require authorities to launch a search within 24 hours when a person is reported missing. She said a 48-hour waiting period is “ridiculous.”
“When a person is missing, everyone knows that the first 48 hours are the key crucial time that that person needs to be found,” Boyd said, adding that police organized a task force between 24 and 48 hours of Henslee being reported missing.
Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department officials did not immediately return calls made by the Kalamazoo Gazette seeking more information about their policies regarding missing person searches.
Autopsy results weren’t expected until Monday, when the sheriff’s department also planned to update information on the case.
Henslee’s husband, James, last saw his wife alive Monday when he left for work from their home in Hartford Township, just south of where the women’s bodies were found. The couple had two sons, ages 10 and 8, friends said.