A 33-year-old Pennsylvania man has been arrested for allegedly killing his 43-year-old friend and business partner, burying her in a shallow grave, then reporting her missing to police. Blair Anthony Watts was taken into custody on Thursday and charged with one count each of first-degree murder and third-degree murder, as well as two counts each of theft by unlawful taking, and unauthorized accessing of a device issued to another in last month’s slaying of Jennifer Brown, court records reviewed by Law&Crime show.
According to a press release from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, the investigation into Brown’s disappearance began when Watts reported her missing on Jan. 4. Watts was Brown’s “supposed friend and business partner” in the planned reopening of a restaurant called “Birdies Kitchen,” the release states.
Watts allegedly told police that Brown’s 8-year-old son had spent the previous evening at his house to “give Brown a break,” but that she failed to pick him up from the school bus the following afternoon, prosecutors said. However, authorities noted it was strange that Brown, who others described as an “attentive and loving mother,” had failed to provide Watts with her son’s “necessary daily medications” or new clothes for the boy to wear to school after the sleepover.
An initial search of Brown’s home showed “no obvious signs of a struggle,” and the only significant personal item missing was her cell phone, police said. But a K-9 Unit cadaver dog trained to detect the presence of human remains was brought into the residence and “indicated in the kitchen area of Brown’s residence as well as by a trash dumpster outside of Brown’s townhouse,” the release states.
When investigators searched the specific area inside the home where the cadaver dog first indicated, they found “several black-and-white, marble-patterned plastic pieces embedded within the high-pile carpet” that were later determined to be pieces of a hair clip found buried in the shallow grave with Brown’s body.
The same dog later indicated that human remains had been in two cars driven by Watts, police said.
The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office on Jan. 19 conducted an autopsy on Brown’s body and a toxicology analysis, determining that her cause of death was a homicide by “unspecified means,” prosecutors said. The autopsy report also noted that Brown had suffered three broken ribs prior to her death.
Investigators say they soon learned that in the late afternoon of Jan. 3, Watts picked up Brown’s son from the bus stop and told the boy that his mother was at the grocery store and that and he would be sleeping over at Watts’ house that evening.
The two then drove to Brown’s home and Watts went inside while Brown’s son waited in the car, police said. But when Watts returned to the car, the child allegedly told police he noticed that “Mr. Blair” was holding his mother’s cellphone – which he recognized because the phone’s lock screen was the child’s school photo.
Additionally, authorities say that cellphone data showed Brown and Watts’ phones “traveling in tandem” away from Brown’s home at around that time before returning a short while later, and again the next morning in the area of North Lewis Road and West Ridge Pike at approximately 7 a.m. before Brown’s phone became inactive.
Authorities also investigated the planned joint business venture between Watts and Brown, saying they found a number of red flags.
According to investigators, the two entered into a partnership agreement on Aug. 28, 2022, in which Brown agreed to invest funds in Watts’ restaurant, Birdie’s Kitchen, which they planned to open last month at a location in Phoenixville.
“Detectives found that on the afternoon of Jan. 3, 2023, the day before Brown was reported missing, two cash transfers were made to accounts controlled by Watts,” prosecutors say. “CashApp records show a transfer of $9,000 went through to ‘$Birdieskitchen’ at 4:23 p.m. A second transfer of $8,000 via Zelle was completed at 4:35 p.m. to ‘Birdies.’ This total of $17,000 was never part of a written agreement between Brown and Watts.”
When police spoke with the owners of the proposed Phoenixville property, they told detectives that they had met with Watts last year about renting the storefront, but had “never signed a lease with Watts, received money from Watts or gave Watts a key to the property,” prosecutors say. On Dec. 28, 2022, one of the owners told Watts they would not be moving forward with the lease. Watts allegedly responded by threatening to sue.
However, on Jan. 4, 2022, the property owners told police that Watts “showed up at the property unannounced, ‘now saying he had money to put down on a lease,'” per the release.
“For 37 days since this devoted mother was reported missing, detectives have been accumulating evidence, piece by piece, bringing into focus what happened to Jennifer and who murdered her,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said in a statement. “That picture shows Blair Watts murdered Jennifer Brown on Jan. 3rd, then moved her body and ultimately buried her in a shallow grave. He is now behind bars at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility.”
As previously reported by Law&Crime, Watts last month appeared insulted by the suggestion that he could have anything to do with Brown’s disappearance.
“It seems like I’m being the one poked at,” he reportedly told NBC Philadelphia. “And it’s frustrating because I’m the first person that was the one calling the police, trying to kick down windows. Trying to find my friend. Trying to make sure her son is covered.”
Watts was booked at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility where he is currently being held without bond as he awaits his preliminary hearing.
Watts’ attorney Christopher D. Mandracchia told Law&Crime in a statement:
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