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Would-Be Restaurateur Arrested In 'Devoted' Philadelphia Mom’s Disappearance, Murder
Blair Watts, the "supposed friend and business partner" of Jennifer Brown, a Philly mom who was missing for two weeks before her body was found in a shallow grave, has been arrested for her murder.
A Pennsylvania man has been jailed in connection with the disappearance and murder of his reported business partner, whose body turned up in a shallow grave last month.
Jennifer Brown, 43, was last seen alive on Jan. 3 in her hometown of Limerick Township — about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. She was reported missing the following day by the man prosecutors now refer to as her "supposed friend and business partner," Blair Watts, 33.
Watts was arrested on Thursday and charged with first-degree murder, third-degree murder, theft by unlawful taking and access device fraud in relation to Brown’s death according to a press release from the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office.
“For 37 days since this devoted mother was reported missing, detectives have been accumulating evidence, piece by piece, bringing into focus what happened to Jennifer and who murdered her,” District Attorney Kevin Steele said in the statement. “That picture shows Blair Watts murdered Jennifer Brown on Jan. 3rd, then moved her body and ultimately buried her in a shallow grave.”
Watts initially told police that his friend, Brown, left her 8-year-old son with him for a sleepover on Jan. 3 but that she hadn’t showed up at the boy's school bus drop-off on the afternoon of Jan. 4. That's when he reported her missing. Police, however, learned that Watts didn't have a change of clothes for the boy or his medications the night of what he claimed had been a planned sleepover to "give Brown a break," according to prosecutors.
Watts publicly denied any involvement in Brown’s disappearance after he reported her missing.
"I have nothing to do with anything," Watts told Philadelphia NBC affiliate WCAU last month. "Just because I'm the last person to see her, that does not mean anything."
Police, however, say they discovered that Watts had actually picked up Brown’s son from the school bus stop on Jan. 3 and only then informed him of the sleepover, telling him that his mother was buying groceries. Watts nonetheless drove the boy to Brown’s house — to which he had had a key — and went inside, leaving the kid in the car. Upon returning, Brown’s son allegedly saw that Watts had her personal cellphone, which the boy recognized by his own school photo on the device’s lock screen.
Cell phone data showed Brown's personal phone and Watts' cellphone left her home together at around that time but returned a short time later.
“The investigation found that, at 6:37 a.m. on Jan. 4, 2023, Watts’ cellphone traveled again to Brown’s townhome and then began traveling in tandem with Brown’s cell phone out of Brown’s townhome complex," prosecutors said in the press release. "The cellphones then registered activity in the area of North Lewis Road and West Ridge Pike at approximately 7 a.m., before Brown’s cell phone became inactive.”
After Watts reported Brown missing, investigators located her vehicle, her keys, wallet and work cell phone, but were unable to locate her personal cell phone.
After she was reported missing, a search of Brown's home showed no signs of a struggle, but multiple black and white marble-patterned pieces of plastic were found embedded in the carpet outside the kitchen, where a cadaver dog alerted authorities to the presence of human remains, prosecutors said.
Police discovered Brown’s body buried in a shallow grave behind a warehouse in nearby Royersford, Pennsylvania on Jan. 18. The plastic fragments found in her carpet were ultimately matched to a broken hair clip that found in the shallow grave with her body.
An autopsy revealed Brown had sustained three broken ribs and her manner of death was ruled a homicide. A cause of death was listed as homicide by unspecified means, but D.A. Steel said at a Thursday press conference that the broken ribs indicated her death was likely the result of "compression asphyxiation," WCAU reported.
Cadaver dogs later also found evidence of human remains in the back of two of Watts’ family Jeeps. Prosecutors said at the press conference that the dogs' evidence and the cell phone data leads them to believe that Watts killed Brown in her home and transported the body twice before dumping it in Royersford and then reporting her missing.
Authorities are eyeing the pair's alleged business relationship as a potential motive in her murder.
According to prosecutors, Watts said that he and Brown were partners in the re-opening of a restaurant called “Birdie's Kitchen" in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania — a supposed relocation which Watts had advertised on social media before Brown’s disappearance. The new venue, he'd said, was slated to open in late January 2023.
However, police talked to the owners of the Phoenixville property, who allegedly confirmed that Watts had met with them in August 2022 to discuss renting the property but said the two parties never signed a formal lease. They claimed Watts never gave them money to secure the space, so they never gave him a key to the building, though they’d allowed Watts to hang a banner on the building and store some equipment outside.
“No renovation work had been done on the building by Watts to ready it to open as a restaurant,” the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office said in a press release.
One of the property owners informed Watts on Dec. 28 that they wouldn’t be moving forward with the lease, after which Watts allegedly threatened to sue them.
Detectives allegedly then learned that, on the afternoon of Jan. 3, two cash transfers — totaling $17,000 — were sent from Brown's accounts to ones that Watts controlled. According to CashApp records, the first $9,000 transfer was sent to “$Birdieskitchen” at 4:23 p.m. Twelve minutes later, a second $8,000 transfer was sent to “Birdies” via Zelle.
Police still haven't found written evidence that Brown was an investor in the venture.
On Jan. 4, the Phoenixville property owners allegedly told police, Watts unexpectedly showed up at their property and told them “he had money to put down on a lease.”
Watts is being held at a Montgomery County detention center. It’s unclear if he’s retained legal representation to comment on his behalf.