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California Police Seek to Find Missing U.S. Vet, Dog Following Labor Day Road Trip
Surveillance video helped police learn more about the 2017 disappearance of Julia Jacobson, including when their prime suspect visited multiple stores to produce "a murder kit."
A California veteran and her beloved pet dog vanished while driving across the state. However, digital tracks would help police get closer to finding out who was behind her shocking 2017 disappearance.
Julia Jacobson, 37, of San Diego, California, was a U.S. Army veteran looking to start a new chapter in her life. She had spent her college years in R.O.T.C. before joining the military, quickly climbing the ranks to earn the role of Captain, and served two tours in Iraq as a financial officer in charge of transporting large sums of money.
“Julia was very hardworking, very driven, determined, focused,” friend Catherin Tangen told Final Moments, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. “She had goals, and there was not gonna be anybody that was gonna get in the way of those goals.”
Friends referred to Jacobson as “grounded” and “focused.”
In 2007, at 29 years old, Jacobson left the Army, using what financial-related skills she’d accumulated to enter the corporate world. She joined the accounting division for 7-Eleven’s corporate office, where she met her future friend, Shannel Kidd.
Kidd’s dog and Jacobson’s beloved dog, Boogie, would have play dates while the friends spent hours with one another, as shown in phone videos published by Final Moments.
Although there was little time outside work for romance, in 2015, Jacobson met Dalen Ware, who worked at a 7-Eleven Jacobson oversaw, according to Kidd. Less than two years later, the couple eloped, marrying in a drive-thru wedding in Las Vegas.
However, things soured only a few months into the marriage. According to Kidd, Ware was unhappy with how much Jacobson spent away from home because of her job.
“I just didn’t like him,” Kidd told Final Moments. “I didn’t like the vibe.”
Eventually, Jacobson filed for divorce.
Jacobson’s Chilling Texts to her Friend
In the summer of 2017, within a year of Jacobson’s decision to end things with Ware, Jacobson began a romantic relationship with a fellow Army man named John, a divorcee from the East Coast who garnered the approval of Jacobson’s friends.
On Saturday, September 2, 2017, Jacobson left early in the morning, taking Boogie with her for a road trip into the desert for the Labor Day weekend. Around that time, Kidd sent a text to ask Jacobson “what’s going on,” to which Kidd received a text back, stating, “I’m with a friend.”
The brevity of the response suggested to Kidd that Jacobson “had an attitude,” but then another text from Jacobson’s phone read, “On my way to Big Bear.”
Kidd — assuming Jacobson was with her new beau, John — asked if Boogie was with her and received a text stating, “Yes.”
“Every time Julia has had a road trip, we will talk on the phone for a long time,” Kidd told Final Moments. “Two, three hours, no matter how long it was, her and I were on the phone the whole time.”
Kidd later received another text: “Hey S, if anything happens.”
The text had no other information, but when Kidd responded with several question marks, a follow-up text from Jacobson’s phone stated, “Call my sister.”
There was no more response to Kidd’s ensuing messages.
Friends and family grew concerned after not hearing from Jacobson throughout the Labor Day weekend. On Sept. 6, 2017, they filed a missing persons report with the San Diego Police Department (S.D.P.D.), according to Supervising Deputy District Attorney for San Bernadino County Robert Bulloch.
An investigation begins
Investigators secured warrants to search Jacobson’s electronics, but receiving reports would take time. A search of Jacobson’s home also produced no leads, but they soon turned their attention toward John, the new boyfriend.
“On our radar, very immediately, was the relationship Julia had just developed with a new person,” Bulloch told Final Moments.
But John denied traveling with Jacobson for the road trip, and an alibi checked out, putting him at the bottom of investigators’ suspect list.
Police then spoke with Jacobson’s ex, Dalen Ware, who then lived in the Phoenix area in Arizona, more than 300 miles east of San Diego. He told investigators he hadn’t seen his Jacobson for over a year.
OnStar data from Jacobson’s car was limited, but it was enough for police to learn Jacobson’s car traveled to a 7-Eleven in the Tierrasanta neighborhood of San Diego. There, they collected surveillance video showing Jacobson inside the store at around 6:45 a.m. on the morning she left home, selecting items from the shelves and putting them back.
“We don’t know why she was doing that,” admitted Bulloch.
Julia’s car found just blocks from her home
On Sept. 7, five days after Jacobson left for the desert, police found her white S.U.V. parked just a few blocks from her home.
“Strangely, the keys were in the ignition, the windows were down, and Julia’s purse was left in the car,” Bulloch continued to Final Moments.
Investigators continued to sift through Jacobson’s records, but according to S.D.P.D. Crime Analyst Peter Villaver, they were “about 72 hours behind” tracking her steps. However, using what they had, authorities learned Jacobson’s car traveled a long trek atypical for someone on their way to Big Bear, as Jacobson told her friend, Shannel Kidd.
Data and more unearthed surveillance video showed Jacobson at yet another 7-Eleven location on the day of her disappearance, this time about 100 miles north of San Diego in Ontario, California. However, she didn’t appear to be in distress.
“This is a highly intelligent, sophisticated woman,” Bulloch told Final Moments. “To me, as an investigator, I’m looking at that [footage] and saying, ‘She knew she was being videotaped, and she’s leaving breadcrumbs for any investigator in case something happens to her.’”
Around this time, authorities called on Deputy Sheriff David Moyer of the San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department to bring his specially trained cadaver dog, Ellie, to search Jacobson’s car. The dog positively identified the scent of a dead body in the back of the vehicle.
A Fresh Look Into Dalen Ware
Working under the theory that Jacobson was dead, police took a look at Jacobson’s e-mails once reports were available, and what they found was truly shocking: numerous threatening texts and messages from Jacobson’s ex, Dalen Ware, sometimes up to 15 messages a day.
One text stated, “Revenge will be mine,” while in others, Ware called Jacobson “evil” and a “sociopath” and other graphic names. According to Kidd, Ware was “livid” that Jacobson ended the relationship and later started to see John.
As reports continued to come in to detectives, investigators learned that on the night of Sept. 2, 2017 — the same day Jacobson left home with Boogie — she booked a two-night stay at a Doubletree hotel in Ontario.
Surveillance video showed Jacobson and Ware together at the hotel, arriving in separate cars. When re-questioned by detectives, Ware admitted he was with Jacobson that evening, citing it as their “last hoorah” as a couple, according to Bulloch.
Cameras caught Jacobson entering the hotel with Ware and Boogie at 9:46 p.m., though Jacobson was never seen leaving.
Final moments discovered by investigators
Ware was investigators’ prime suspect, and though he admitted seeing Jacobson on the day of her disappearance, he said he left her at the hotel two days later and that all was well and fine. However, police were able to track his movements, painting a grisly picture for detectives.
Credit card records linked Ware to a Wal-Mart in Corona – less than 20 miles from the hotel — on Sept. 3, 2017, shortly before 1:00 a.m. Surveillance footage captured him purchasing a 50-gallon tub, black sheets, bleach, and a shovel.
According to Deputy District Attorney Robert Bulloch, Ware visited another Wal-Mart location later that morning and bought a type of wrapping cord and kerosene.
“He’s going to two different locations in the middle of the night to purchase these items, and we know something’s going on,” Bulloch told Final Moments. “In law enforcement, we call that a murder kit.”
Footage obtained by Final Moments showed Ware returning to the hotel at around 4:00 a.m., taking a luggage cart up to the room, and leaving about 15 to 20 minutes later with the storage bin. He stored the container in his vehicle before returning to the room, where he stayed until about 5:00 p.m.
That evening, Ware visited another store, buying more storage containers and kerosene. His electronic hotel key put him back at the hotel at 6:43 p.m.
Hours later, on Sept. 4, 2017, at 2:43 a.m., Ware was observed leaving the hotel with Jacobson’s dog, Boogie, walking by his side. Ware drove away with the dog in Jacobson’s car, which OnStar data showed traveled to the Palm Desert area in Riverside County, a little less than 100 miles east of Ontario.
Investigators examined video evidence that Ware visited a car wash.
“What we have is surveillance footage of Dalen in the back of Julia’s car, taking out those 50-gallon totes, and taking the car wash [hose] not to wash the car, but to wash the totes out,” Bulloch told Final Moments.
Ware returned the containers to the car before driving about 120 miles southwest to San Diego, where Jacobson’s car was found abandoned.
Later that evening, Ware took a taxi 100 miles north back to Ontario, where cameras caught him leaving the cab at a Motel 6, just across the Doubletree where he and Jacobson stayed.
Investigators said he collected his car from the hotel in the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 2017, before driving about 300-plus miles east to his Phoenix-area home.
Authorities make an arrest
On October 13, 2017, despite no sign of Julia Jacobson’s body, police arrested Ware in Arizona. He was extradited to San Bernardino County and charged with first-degree murder, but prosecutors knew that snagging a conviction would be an uphill battle.
“We knew we had to find Julia,” Bulloch told Final Moments.
Data pulled from Jacobson’s vehicle showed her car stopped near Cactus City in Riverside County, narrowing the area to a six-mile radius in the California desert. Multiple agencies were involved in a massive search that yielded no results.
Authorities’ only hope in finding Jacobson was to cut a deal with Ware. In exchange for lessening the charges from first-degree to second-degree murder, Ware agreed to lead detectives to the body in the desert.
Sheriff Deputy David Moyer returned with this dog, Ellie.
“As soon as I let Ellie out of the car, she took off into the desert at a dead run,” Moyer told Final Moments. “There was an area in the desert I could see with a tremendous amount of animal disturbance, and the very first thing I could see from a distance was a pink dog harness that had been pulled out of a shallow hole.”
There, the remains of Julia Jacobson and her dog were discovered in a shallow grave.
Investigators believe the motive behind the deaths stemmed from Ware’s rage about Jacobson calling off their relationship. Ware was sentenced to 15 years to life, as part of the deal with prosecutors.
“Fifteen years is not enough,” said friend Catherin Tangen. “But you know what? He will rot in Hell because somebody with that kind of anger and that kind of hate and that kind of evil, he deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Watch all-new episodes of Final Moments, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.