Information sketchy on W.Va. slaying suspect

September 23, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Little information was available Monday about a Martinsburg man charged in the death of his niece.

Police on Monday charged Michael Alan Newell with murder and kidnapping in connection with the death of 7-year-old Jessica Lynn Newell.

The child's body was found Saturday, two days after she disappeared from the bowling alley where she had gone with her parents, David and Debbie Newell, of Baker Heights.

"We were informed not to talk to anybody right now," Lisa Newell, one of Jessica Lynn Newell's older sisters, said Monday before authorities announced that Michael Newell had been arrested. She would not answer questions following the arrest.


Bob Brzozowski, plant manager at Variform Inc., said Michael Newell was a company employee who had worked at various jobs at the plant since 1995. Variform manufactures vinyl siding products.

Although he was still employed there, Newell had filed a lawsuit Aug. 22 in Berkeley County Circuit Court against Variform, asking $2 million on each of six counts for injuries he suffered to his left hand, wrist and arm on Aug. 28, 1995. Newell lost three fingers when his hand was caught in a vinyl-cutting machine.

The suit, which also named the machine's manufacturer, Michigan Roll Form Inc., asked compensation for pain and suffering, lost past and future income, medical expenses, impairment of earning capacity and loss of enjoyment of life.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said Newell was divorced, but had no other information about his personal life. Games-Neely said she believed the divorce took place back in the 1980s, but she said she did not know the ex-wife's name.

A check of court records showed that in 1991 he had been charged with misdemeanor assault and destruction of property, but those charges were dismissed. The charges related to an alleged incident in which a 15-year-old boy was chased in a trailer court and two small trees outside a woman's trailer were destroyed, court records said.

Newell also was issued a public intoxication ticket that year that, according to the magistrate clerk's office, was never paid.

FBI Agent Dennis M. Lormel said he believes Newell moved back in with his parents at their home at 2105 Winchester Ave. at some point after the industrial accident at Variform.

At Pikeside Bowl where Jessica disappeared, Frank Simpson, the operator of the game room where Jessica often played, said had he been working Thursday night, things might have turned out differently.

"If I had been here it might not have happened. When I see a little kid go out that door, I go outside and tell them to get back in," Simpson said.

"I can still see her smile. She was a beautiful child," Simpson said.

He said he was familiar with Jessica and her father, David, but only knew Michael Newell by sight.

At Berkeley Heights Elementary School, where Jessica was a second-grade student, Principal Stephen Crowell said the school system's Crisis Intervention Team had been in Monday morning.

He said about 20 counselors, psychologists, clergy and other team members met with him at 7:30 a.m., then met with the faculty. They then split into teams and talked to students about safety issues and their concerns.

Crowell said special provisions were made for Jessica's second-grade class. Two team members were sent in to help the students cope with any emotional problems they were having in the aftermath of the tragedy.

He said a handful of students who seemed to need more help were sent to the library to talk individually with team members.

Team member Jan Adams, a school health nurse, said that, "Sometimes these things affect the adults - teachers, faculty and aides - much longer than it does children."

The children "don't know all the ramifications of death. They have magical thinking. They think Jessica's going to come back, or Jessica's an angel with Jesus," she said.

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