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Crime News Murders

Pennsylvania Man Charged With 2021 Kidnapping And First-Degree Murder Of Co-worker

Michael Allen Stark and co-worker Matthew James Branning both went missing in October 2021. Stark, who forced Branning to withdrawal money from an ATM, has since been charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder.

By Kate Zincone
Killer Motive: What Drives People To Kill?

A man in Bucks County, Pennsylvania was charged on Thursday with the 2021 kidnapping and murder of his co-worker, Matthew James Branning.

Prosecutors say that Michael Allen Stark, 49, also forced Branning to withdrawal cash from an ATM before his disappearance, according to reporting by NBC10 Philadelphia.

A missing persons case was initially filed when Branning, who was 50, vanished after his shift at Enchlor Inc., a manufacturing company in Silverdale, on Oct. 15, 2021. Officials note that Stark neglected to attend his own shift and waited for Branning outside the building before forcing him into his vehicle.

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Stark proceeded to ride in the back of Branning’s 2002 Lexus SUV to an ATM in Sellersville, Pa., where surveillance footage showed Branning make a withdrawal at 4:07 p.m. This transaction was the last time Branning was seen, though toll and cellphone evidence traced his vehicle to Central New Jersey by 5 p.m.

Michael Stark and Matthew Branning

At 7:05 p.m., Branning’s bank account was used once more at a gas station in Somers Point, N.J. His family and friends noted that it was out of character for him to unexpectedly travel out of state. 

“Evidence shows that there is over an hour and a half of unaccounted for time in the Somers Point area until both Branning and Stark’s cellphone data is tracked to a Wawa in Cape May two hours later,” authorities said, according to reporting by Law & Crime.

Branning’s vehicle was spotted at the Wawa around 9 p.m. before Stark drove it onto the Atlantic City Expressway, NBC10 noted. Police stated that Branning was not seen during this stop.

Cellphone activity from both Branning and Stark’s phones were later recorded at McPherson Square Park, widely known as “Needle Park,” in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia several hours after.

When Branning’s Lexus was recovered by police in December 2021 in Falls Church, Va., investigators found vials of crack cocaine connected to the drug market at the Kensington park that phone data tracked the men's phones to. They also found forensic evidence inside the vehicle that implicated Stark, including DNA from the steering wheel, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Branning’s family commented that he was not a drug user, NBC10 noted.

Stark was arrested in Michigan in April of 2022 and extradited to Pennsylvania, where he is being held without bail in Bucks County Correctional Facility. He was charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder.

Branning’s body has not been found.

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