A Texas man was arrested on suspicion of killing a woman this week, after police said his phone’s data revealed he had been at the woman’s home and conducted suspicious online searches after her disappearance, including “How long does it take for a body to decompose to bones.”
The U.S. Marshals Joint East Texas Fugitive Task Force arrested Jesse Lee Williams, 40, on Tuesday, on charges of murder in connection to the death of Paula Belonga, 51. Belonga was reported missing in April, and has not been found dead or alive. However, investigators described in an arrest affidavit why they believe Williams was responsible for her death.
Authorities say that Belonga’s car was found parked at the mobile home where Williams was staying, that Williams’ phone was used to make a series of suspicious internet searches, and that a necklace belonging to Belonga and a bone were found on the side of the road in a location mentioned in the online searches.
Williams has not yet appeared in court, and a request for comment to his attorney was not immediately returned on Thursday.
According to the arrest warrant, Belonga was reported missing on April 9 by her brother, who had not heard from her in a few days and told police she hadn’t picked up her son in Louisiana as planned. She was last seen by traffic cameras leaving her apartment in Tyler, Texas, on April 7 in her white Chevrolet Impala.
On April 10, one of Belonga’s friends called police again and told them Belonga had not gone to work. The friend told officers that it was unlike Belonga to disappear.
By tracking Belonga’s phone, police found her car parked next to a mobile home in Tatum, about 50 miles from her own home.
The woman who lived in the mobile home gave officers Williams’ contact information and told them he had parked Belonga’s car there, claiming he was housesitting while Belonga was out of town, according to the warrant.
During a separate interview, the woman told officers that she and Williams had been dating and living in the mobile home together. She alleged that Williams had physically assaulted her and her teen daughter two weeks earlier. No arrest was made at that time, and Williams left voluntarily, the arrest warrant said.
According to the warrant, police spoke to Williams on the phone on April 11, and he claimed that Belonga was all right and that he’d recently spoken to her. He gave the officers a number where he said Belonga could be reached, but no one immediately answered.
The next day, an officer texted the phone number that Williams had said was Belonga’s. Someone responded: “Please leave me alone. I’m fine out of state with my man so please leave me and my friend alone.”
According to the arrest warrant, the officer believed they were texting with Belonga. The officer replied that police needed to talk to Belonga because she was listed as a missing person.
“Well you can take it off cause I want nothing to do with any of my family cause all they do is lie and use. I’m so over them and there bullshit,” someone responded 15 minutes later. “And as for my friend Jesse y’all need to leave him the fuck alone. I paid him to watch my dog. I’m not talking to you or anyone else, so please leave me alone and let me live my life the way I want to.”
Police attempted to call the number, but again no one answered, the arrest warrant said.
Police then learned the number was registered to Williams, according to the warrant. They also obtained a warrant for his arrest in connection with the alleged assault his girlfriend had reported.
Williams was taken into custody at another mobile home in Angelina County. A search of his wallet found a personal check belonging to Belonga and allegedly forged checks made out to Williams dated April 10, the day after Belonga was reported missing, the warrant said.
Initially, the warrant said, Williams told police that he’d met Belonga in New York several years ago, while working as a door-to-door salesman. He allegedly told police that she arrived at his home on the day she was last seen, and that she had a suitcase and seemed to be in a hurry to leave. Williams said Belonga gave him the keys to her apartment and car and then left with another man, whom Williams identified as Corey Smith, the warrant said.
But on April 27, after initially refusing, Williams gave police the passcode to his phone. According to police, the digital data revealed that Williams had actually spent April 6 and 7 at Belonga’s apartment.
Digital forensics showed that the two had met on Facebook and started speaking daily on Dec, 12, 2022, the warrant said.
According to the warrant, the two would send each other photos, and Williams referred to Belonga as “beautiful” and “sweetheart.” The messages showed they’d exchanged addresses on April 3, and Williams traveled from Tatum to Tyler with plans to spend five nights with Belonga at her apartment, the warrant said.
Before and after Williams left, he allegedly made a series of internet searches that police described as suspicious, including “How to muffle sound of gun with sock” and “How do the cops trace a cell phone?”
The warrant says forensic evidence showed that on April 9, the day Belonga was reported missing, Williams searched online for “Body found in Rusk County Texas,” and the day after, he searched “How long does it take for a body to decompose in hot weather.”
Based on the locations mentioned in his internet history, police conducted a search, and on May 22, they found Belonga’s gold necklace on the side of the road and a “small bone” about 50 feet away, the warrant said.
Williams is being held in Smith County Jail on a $750,000 bond, according to inmate records.
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