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Crime News

CHP Commander Accused Of Stalking Found Dead Months After Estranged Husband’s Homicide

Julie Harding died of an apparent gunshot wound four months after her estranged husband, Michael Harding, was found shot to death in a vacant Kentucky residence. Julie's death came days after a man linked to Michael's murder was arrested at a California airport.

By Jax Miller
Exes and Lovers Killed By Jealousy

Just days after authorities arrested a man for her husband’s murder, a California Highway Patrol commander has died.

Julie Harding, 39, was found dead at a Celina, Tennessee property she once co-owned with her estranged husband, Michael Harding, 53, according to the Los Angeles Times. Michael was found shot to death in late September in nearby Cumberland County, Kentucky.

Thomas Francis O’Donnell, 60, is charged with Michael’s murder in what some sources suspect is a murder-for-hire plot sprawling across multiple states, according to several media outlets, including ABC Bowling Green, Kentucky affiliate WBKO.

A murder-for-hire plot has not been officially confirmed by authorities.

Julie was found dead on Saturday morning after sustaining a gunshot wound, though the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says foul play is not suspected, according to the Times.

Clay County Sheriff Brandon Boone said a mail carrier and a second individual found Julie’s body in the yard of the Lake View Drive residence, not far from the driveway, according to CBS Sacramento affiliate KOVR. The rural town of Celina is a little over 100 miles northeast of Nashville near the southern Kentucky state line.

RELATED: Virginia Mother Missing Since 2001 Allegedly Killed By Husband Who's Reportedly Been Linked To Four Murders

At the time of her death, Julie was on leave as a commander for the California Highway Patrol’s Yuba-Sutter division, where she’d been stationed since 2018.

Highway Patrol could not comment on how long Julie — a 22-year highway patrol veteran — was believed to be on break.

The bizarre case began on Sept. 18, when Michael, a Navy and Army veteran, was reported missing from his Celina, Tennessee home in Clay County. It was believed at the time that he could have been in neighboring Cumberland County, Kentucky.

On Sept. 26, Mr. Harding was found shot to death in a vacant Glasgow Road home in Burkesville, Kentucky — about 20 miles north of Celina, per NBC Sacramento affiliate KCRA-TV. He sustained multiple gunshot wounds.

The empty house in which Mr. Harding’s body was found was listed on the market, according to KOVR.

A police handout of Julie Harding

Following the missing man’s death, a woman — identified by the L.A. Times as Natasha Davis — reported to Murfreesboro Police in Tennessee that Julie had trespassed on her property in October. Davis was in a romantic relationship with Michael and claimed he and his estranged wife were in the process of getting divorced.

Davis told investigators that in light of Michael’s death, she agreed to hand the Hardings’ dog, Charlie, over to Julie at a local police station.

On Oct. 10, a Ring doorbell camera captured Julie allegedly on Davis’ property, quietly walking up to the residence and calling the dog by name, as shown in the footage published by KCRA-TV. Julie can then be seen opening the front door, taking the dog and running from the property.

Furthermore, according to an Oct. 13 complaint, Davis claimed Julie hacked her Netflix account and changed the profile pictures, according to the Sacramento outlet. Davis’ account was allegedly changed to an image of a monkey, and a second profile named “Julie” came with an image of an angry princess, Davis told police.

Tennessee authorities stated, “Davis expressed fear of Julie because Michael was shot in the head,” according to the Times.

On Dec. 8, just two days before her death, Julie was arrested by Murfreesboro police on suspicion of stalking and burglary and booked into the Rutherford County jail, according to KCRA-TV. She was ultimately charged with criminal trespassing and released the following day.

Also on Dec. 8, the day of Julie’s arrest, Thomas Francis O’Donnell, of Napa, California, was arrested at the Sacramento International Airport after he was named as a suspect in Michael's murder. WBKO reported he was about to board a plane headed for Tennessee.

Officials remain tight-lipped on the details surrounding what led to O’Donnell's arrest and what possible relationship he might have had with the Hardings. He is currently being held at a Sacramento County jail without bail and awaits extradition to Kentucky, according to KOVR.

O’Donnell has a criminal history in Texas, where he was accused of several domestic violence incidents against a former girlfriend in 2005, including choking, rape, harassment and even chasing her with his car, per court documents obtained by KCRA-TV.

In 2006, O’Donnell also faced a charge of stalking.

On Thursday, a Cumberland County grand jury in Kentucky heard O’Donnell’s case and is expected to decide on Friday whether to indict the suspect on murder charges, KCRA-TV reported. Law enforcement sources told the outlet that Kentucky State Police detectives were among those to present evidence to the grand jury.

This is a developing story.