Uncle charged in W.Va. girl's death

September 23, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Police on Monday charged Jessica Lynn Newell's uncle with kidnapping and murder in the 7-year-old child's death.

Michael A. Newell, 39, was being held without bond Monday night at the Eastern Regional Jail.

He was arrested at the 2105 Winchester Ave. home he shared with his parents and a brother.

The house is a short distance from Pikeside Bowl, where Jessica Newell had gone with her parents, David and Debbie Newell, of Baker Heights, on Thursday night. The child disappeared from the bowling alley, and her body was found Saturday evening about 20 miles away.

A crowd of about 100 people stood across the street Monday afternoon as Michael Newell, wearing a bulletproof vest provided by the FBI, was led from the house.


Michael Newell, who had remained inside the house throughout the day as agents searched it, shook his head when a reporter asked if he had a statement.

The angry crowd screamed obscenities at him. "Why are you protecting him?" one person yelled to the officers escorting him from the house.

He was placed in the back seat of a West Virginia State Police cruiser. A woman ran up to the cruiser and shook her fist at him.

Michael Newell's arrest follows a massive effort by state and federal officials. About 100 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents had been involved in the case since Friday when state police asked for their assistance, said FBI Agent Rick Mosquera of the Pittsburgh bureau.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said Jessica died from blunt force trauma to her head.

She said the autopsy would determine whether the girl had been sexually assaulted. She said the body was found clothed, but it is standard procedure in such cases to examine for sexual assault.

No motive had been established for the slaying, Games-Neely said.

Games-Neely said the crime would not have been solved so quickly without the help of the FBI and the many sleepless nights put in by the investigators.

State police and FBI agents interviewed more than 700 people between Thursday night disappearance and Monday, Mosquera said.

Many of the investigators had worked around the clock since the case began.

"I've been home five hours since Friday," said West Virginia State Police Sgt. Rob Blair.

The search begins

The investigation started Thursday at about 8:50 p.m. with a call to State Police Dispatcher Pat McBee, according to court records.

Troopers John Droppleman and Kevin Plumer arrived at the bowling alley about 9:08 p.m. Thursday where they met with the missing girl's parents, David and Deborah Newell.

David Newell told investigators he last saw his daughter waiting at the main entrance of the bowling alley.

An unidentified witness told David Newell that Jessica had gone into the parking lot to the car of his brother, Michael, to get some baseball cards from him, according to court records.

The girl was last seen attempting to open the car door, court records said.

State police searched the bowling alley, the parking lot, and the immediate area without success, court records said.

Descriptions of Jessica Newell and of her uncle's car were broadcast over the police radio, court records said.

Police and search dogs worked throughout the night and posters with her photo were distributed, court records said.

At about 1:34 a.m. Friday, state troopers met with Michael Newell, who told them he was at the Ace of Clubs on W.Va. 51 when he learned of his niece's disappearance, court records said.

Michael Newell told troopers he had seen Jessica earlier at the bowling alley and gave her a brown sack of baseball cards. He said he watched her until she was near the entrance, and then he left to go to Charles Town Races where he played video lottery machines, according to court records.

On Friday afternoon, troopers met with Michael Newell at the barracks and he agreed to retrace his steps at Charles Town Races, according to court records.

He showed police the door through which he entered and the game at which he sat and played, court records said.

While the troopers questioned him, other troopers and security staff at the track reviewed videotapes from security cameras posted in the Silver Screen Gaming Room.

The videotapes showed that no one had played the machine Michael Newell claimed he used on Thursday night, court records said.

The tapes also showed about 115 people entered the gaming room, but Michael Newell was not seen on the tapes, court records said.

A tragic ending

On Saturday at about 7:43 p.m., a trooper arrived on North Mountain where police had received a tip that a body had been found, court records said.

The area was so isolated that Mosquera said it was "divine intervention" that the body was found as quickly as it was, and the discovery may have thrown off the killer.

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