Meyersdale man accused of burying body along Great Allegheny Passage
State police in Somerset said a 23-year-old Meyersdale man vanished late last month after he was questioned in connection with the Sept. 14 disappearance of his 19-year-old girlfriend.
On Tuesday, Jonathan W. Beal of 464 Scratch Hill Road was formally charged by state police with criminal homicide, aggravated assault and abuse of a corpse in connection with the death of Justine Marie Jackson, also of Meyersdale.
“This man is wanted for homicide, and we would appreciate any information anyone may have on his whereabouts. We filed the charges based on interviews with other witnesses, misinformation Mr. Beal provided investigators regarding the disappearance late last month, and evidence collected at the scene,” said Trooper Steve Limani.
Jackson's decomposed remains were discovered early Sunday afternoon in a 18-inch-deep grave by a hiker walking in a wooded area outside Meyersdale in Larimer Township, near the Great Allegheny Passage biking and hiking trail.
On Monday, a team headed by forensic anthropologist Dennis Dirkmaat of Mercyhurst University was called in to retrieve the remains.
“She was identified through dental records,” Limani said.
Limani and Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser said forensic evidence collected at the makeshift grave showed that Jackson was strangled then buried around Sept. 14.
Multiple witnesses told police Beal reportedly was the last person seen with Jackson, walking in the area of Glade City Road around 6 p.m. on Sept. 14.
“It's about one-half mile from where the body was recovered,” said Lazzari-Strasiser.
State police executed a search warrant at Beal's mobile home on Oct. 29, court records show. Police have not yet filed an inventory of items confiscated during the search of the home, which is owned by Beal's father, Paul.
On Oct. 26, before the search warrant was issued, state police investigators interviewed Beal about Jackson. He and Jackson had been romantically involved, but Beal had broken off the relationship because of her drug use, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
“Beal has also made numerous statements to multiple individuals in and around the Meyersdale area concerning the fact that Jackson had relocated to the Baltimore, Md., area to sell drugs,” Trooper Ted Goins wrote in the affidavit.
Goins said inquiries to authorities in Maryland, where Jackson has relatives, “met with negative results.”
“Beal has also made numerous statements to multiple known individuals in and around the Meyersdale area concerning the fact that he had killed Justine Marie Jackson and buried her near the bike trail,” Goins wrote.
Jackson had told friends and family that she believed she was pregnant with Beal's child. Limani declined to say if that was a motive for the murder. Authorities declined to confirm that Jackson was pregnant, saying the investigation is ongoing.
Limani said Beal has not been seen in the area since his Oct. 26 interview. Authorities are unsure whether he has left the area.
Lazzari-Strasiser noted that anyone hiding Beal could be charged with hindering apprehension of a fugitive.
Limani said police were notified of Jackson's disappearance Oct. 26 when a teenage friend telephoned them with concern about her whereabouts.
Jackson reportedly had told an elderly aunt in the Meyersdale area, with whom she was living, that she planned to move, Lazzari-Strasiser said.
Authorities described the “quiet and shy” Jackson as “transient” who often lived with family and adopted family members in Pennsylvania and in the Cumberland, Md., area.
In the affidavit, Goins described Beal as having a violent history with women.
In August, state police charged him with harassment of a Garrett County, Md., woman. According to court documents filed before Bell, Beal “put his boot on the victim's neck and said, ‘How does it feel to know you could die?'” the complaint alleges.
Relatives of Jackson in Cumberland, Md., could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Beal is white with dark brown hair and green eyes, about 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 150 pounds. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call state police at 814-445-4104.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.