Man charged in Meyersdale woman's death arrested in La.

Joe Napsha
| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 9:16 a.m.

A Meyersdale man accused of killing his girlfriend and burying her along a hiking and biking trail in Somerset County was captured Wednesday morning as he hid in his former girlfriend's bathroom in a New Orleans suburb, authorities said.

Fugitive Jonathan Beal, 23, booked train tickets to Louisiana through a computer in Somerset County and was spotted on the trip by a passenger who recognized him as a murder suspect, police said.

Acting on information that Beal had fled to his former girlfriend's residence in Marrero, several members of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Marshal's Gulf Coast Regional Task Force arrested him during a raid at about 6:30 a.m., Jefferson Sheriff Newell Normand said Wednesday. Beal did not have a weapon when he was arrested.

State police at Somerset charged Beal with criminal homicide, aggravated assault and abuse of a corpse for the strangulation death of Justine Jackson, 19, of Meyersdale.

Beal was taken to the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center, where he was booked as a fugitive wanted for murder in Pennsylvania. Beal is awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania, the sheriff's office said.

Beal's former girlfriend, who was not identified by authorities, has not been charged with harboring a fugitive at her home, which is across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, said Garrett Hawk, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service in New Orleans.

Authorities are trying to determine how long Beal had been in the New Orleans area, Hawk said.

The arrest came three days after Jackson's body was discovered in a shallow grave by a hiker walking the Great Allegheny Passage in Larimer Township.

Her body was found not far from her home. Jackson had been reported missing on Oct. 28, but had not been seen for almost two months.

State police Trooper Steve Limani said Somerset County authorities were in the process of filing documents to extradite Beal from Louisiana late Wednesday. It was not known whether Beal would fight extradition.

Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Beal had been a suspect in Jackson's disappearance for several weeks.

He and Jackson were last seen together on Sept. 14, when they were walking in the area of Glade City Road, about one-half mile from where the body was found. State police interviewed Beal on Oct. 26.

During the investigation, police discovered Beal had a former girlfriend in New Orleans, Limani said.

When authorities searched the computer owned by Beal's stepmother, they learned that Beal had used the computer several weeks ago to get information about travel tickets to Louisiana, according to a search warrant application.

While he was on the run, Beal continued to remotely log onto the computer and visited chat rooms, Facebook and dating websites. Investigators attempted to question Beal online, but he logged off immediately, according to a police affidavit.

Beal told people he was upset with Jackson for allegedly stealing from him, according to police. Jackson, however, had told friends she was pregnant with his child, police said. They have not confirmed she was pregnant.

State police believe Beal fled Somerset County on an Amtrak train several days before Jackson's body was found, Limani said.

Police had received a tip from a man who said he was on an Amtrak train with a man he identified as Beal, based on the suspect's photo in news accounts, Limani said.

An Amtrak train that connects Pittsburgh with Washington stops at Connellsville and continues through Somerset County to a stop in Cumberland, Md., an Amtrak spokesman said. The trip from Washington to New Orleans, takes 25 hours, according to Amtrak.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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