An arrest warrant has been issued for a 23-year-old Somerset County man following the discovery of human remains along the Great Allegheny Passage in Larimer Township.
Jonathan William Beal of the 400 block of Scratch Hill Road in Meyersdale is wanted on charges of criminal homicide, abuse of a corpse and aggravated assault in connection to the death of Justine Marie Jackson, 19.
Jackson’s body was discovered on Sunday in a shallow grave under the viaduct that serves the biking and hiking trail. Beal was the last person reportedly seen with Jackson, a Meyersdale resident, when they were walking a half-mile from where the remains were found.
Beal is accused of fatally strangling Jackson on Sept. 14.
Investigators used dental records to identify the body.
“I would consider this person dangerous,” Trooper Steve Limani, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police public information office in Greensburg, said during a press conference on Tuesday.
State police in Somerset first became aware Jackson was missing – and possibly murdered – on Oct. 26.
That was after information was provided to police by a juvenile friend of the victim.
No family members apparently ever contacted law enforcement concerning Jackson’s absence.
“She had a very transient lifestyle,” Limani said.
“Her family was not from this area. I believe they were from the Maryland area. We had actually started searches with other police departments to see if she had left. We had received misinformation that she was no longer in our area, and she was at a different family’s location. She was currently living with an aunt that is a little on the elderly side and (Jackson) was supposed to be moving from that aunt’s home.”
Rumors about a corpse on the Great Allegheny Passage, a hiking and biking trail, appeared online, including at the WJAC-TV Facebook page, in early November. By then, state police investigators had interviewed Beal and searched his residence. A multi-agency examination of the trail area was scheduled for Monday, one day after a pedestrian discovered the remains.
“There was some speculation that law enforcement was not acting on the information that they were receiving,” said Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser.
“I just want to put that to rest because that is certainly not true. You have to look at the information as it came in. This girl was last seen Sept. 14 of 2012. We had no information that she was even missing for six weeks. Ladies and gentlemen, when you think about it, that’s two weeks ago.”
Beal allegedly told multiple individuals he killed Jackson and buried her near “the bike trail,” according to the affidavit of probable cause.
Jackson reportedly informed friends and family members she was pregnant with Beal’s child.
Limani said police know whether or not she was pregnant but will not release the information at this time because it is a sensitive part of an ongoing investigation.
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