(MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Pa.) — The “supposed friend” and business partner of a Pennsylvania mother found dead two weeks after he reported her missing has now been arrested for her murder, authorities said.
Jennifer Brown, 43, of Limerick Township, was reported missing on Jan. 4 by Blair Watts when she failed to pick up her 8-year-old son from the bus stop, according to Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele.
Watts, 33, reportedly told police he saw the mother the previous afternoon and had watched her son that night in a planned sleepover with his three children to “give Jennifer a break,” Steele said. However, Brown, described as an attentive and loving mother, had not sent her son’s daily medication with him for the sleepover, and her son could not reach her throughout the day on Jan. 4, which was “highly unusual,” Steele said.
Brown’s car was found parked outside her home and her keys, purse, computer tablet and work cellphone were found inside her residence, though her personal cellphone was missing and had been silent since the morning of Jan. 4, Steele said.
Brown’s body was found two weeks later, on Jan. 18, buried in a shallow grave behind a warehouse in Royersford, authorities said. The Montgomery County coroner determined the cause of death to be “homicide by unspecified means,” and that Brown had three broken ribs, according to the district attorney’s office. She appears to have died from asphyxiation, Steele said.
“While it took more than a month to arrest Watts, Montgomery County detectives and Limerick Township detectives feared and suspected early on that this devoted mother to an 8-year-old boy with special needs had either been kidnapped or killed,” Steele said during a press briefing Thursday. “And as detectives uncovered evidence piece by piece, the picture of what happened to Jennifer has become more and more clear.”
During the course of the investigation, detectives determined that Brown planned to invest in Watts’ Phoenixville restaurant, Birdies Kitchen, Steele said. Though the restaurant was slow to move forward and on Dec. 28, three months after expressing interest in a property, one of the property owners told Watts that they would not be moving forward with a lease, according to Steele.
On Jan. 3, two cash transfers totaling $17,000 were made from Brown’s computer tablet to accounts controlled by Watts, though the money was “never part of a written agreement between Brown and Watts,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement. The transfers took multiple attempts and went through after two-factor authentication was disabled, according to Steele.
On Jan. 4, Watts showed up to the Phoenixville restaurant property and allegedly told the property owner that he now had money to put down on a lease, the district attorney said.
Authorities believe Brown was murdered on Jan. 3, before the cash transfers were made, then Watts “tried to cover his tracks and get rid of her body before he reported her missing,” Steele said.
The movement of Brown’s personal cellphone and Watts’ cellphones show that Watts allegedly had her phone until it became inactive at 7 a.m. on Jan. 4, Steele said. Brown’s son also reportedly saw Watts holding his mother’s personal cellphone — identified by his school photo on its lock screen image — on Jan. 3, after Watts picked the child up from the school bus, authorities said.
Watts’ cellphone activity and surveillance footage allegedly tracked Watts to the area where Brown’s body was found buried the morning of Jan. 4, Steele said. A cadaver dog deployed to search two Jeeps known to be driven by Watts also allegedly indicated the presence of human remains in the vehicles, the district attorney said.
There was no sign of a struggle inside Brown’s home, which Watts allegedly had access to through a set of keys, according to Steele. Investigators did find pieces of plastic in the carpet that they later determined matched a plastic hair clip that was found along with her body, Steele said.
Watts, of Royersford, was arrested Thursday morning on charges of first-degree murder, third-degree murder, theft by unlawful taking and access device fraud. He was denied bail and is being held at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility awaiting a preliminary hearing, online court records show.
His attorney, Christopher Mandracchia, denied the district attorney’s allegations in a video statement posted to social media on Friday.
“Yesterday the district attorney’s office made a statement. They stated that my client is a killer. He is not a killer,” Mandracchia said. “He is here presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
“Their case is circumstantial at best, and we look forward to our day in court,” he continued.
Philadelphia ABC station WPVI spoke to Watts over the phone in the days after Brown was reported missing. He told them he did not want to do an interview, but said at the time he was helping detectives and was “stunned” by her disappearance, WPVI reported. He said the two were going to open a restaurant together and that he didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary the day she disappeared, according to WPVI.
Friends of Brown were shocked by her disappearance and noted she was a devoted mother to her son.
“It’s literally like we’re living in a movie that we watch on TV, it’s so surreal and unbelievable,” Tiffany Barron, a spokesperson for the family, previously told WPVI. “Jennifer would never ever just disappear, she would never abandon her son.”
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