2 women, including missing mom, found shot, buried in Mich.; cousin of mom’s husband charged
PAW PAW, Mich. – Investigators didn’t suspect foul play when a Michigan mother went missing this week, even though friends insisted that Amy Henslee would never willingly leave behind her husband and sons.
On Friday, after her family brought in tracking dogs to help in the search, authorities made a grim announcement: Two women, shot multiple times, had been found buried near a blood-splattered trailer in southern Michigan, and the man suspected in their deaths was a family relative.
Junior Lee Beebe, 34, was arrested in the slayings of Henslee, his cousin’s wife, and Tonya Howarth, whom Beebe dated on and off for the last few years. Both women likely died Monday, the day Henslee was reported missing, Van Buren County Prosecutor Juris Kaps said.
The bodies were found buried 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.”
It was unclear whether Henslee, 30, and Howarth, 36, knew each other.
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, Walker said. The crime scene was about a quarter mile into the property, which authorities said was accessible only on foot or with all-terrain vehicles. Its entrance off a rural two-lane highway was guarded by signs warning of dogs and forbidding trespassers.
Autopsy results weren’t expected until Monday.
Beebe, of Bangor, was arraigned by video Friday on two counts of murder and possession of a firearm during a felony at 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 that he doesn’t have a job and takes care of his father, though 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 time in jail.
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. Van Buren sheriff’s officials said he was not a suspect.
Walker said some neighbors told investigators that 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.
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.
“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 Henslees’ driveway.
“He seemed like a hardworking guy,” Smith said.