PORTSMOUTH, R.I. (WPRI) — A 24-year-old man accused of killing his landlord in Portsmouth faced a judge Tuesday.
Jacob Morrill was ordered held without bail after he was arraigned on a charge of first-degree murder.
Police allege Morrill struck 50-year-old Xue Feng Wu in the head with a small ax during a dispute Monday at a home on West Main Road, then hid his body in a wooded area nearby.
“We haven’t had an incident like this for a few years now, so it definitely is a shock to see that here in Portsmouth,” Police Chief Brian Peters said during a briefing on Tuesday.
(Story continues below video.)
Portsmouth police said they first went to the home around 4:30 p.m. after they were asked by Tiverton police to perform a well-being check on Wu. They said he left his Tiverton home that morning to check on his rental property and never returned.
Morrill, who’s a tenant at the home, told police that Wu had been there earlier, but he left to go to court in Providence.
A short time later, officers returned to the home after getting a tip from another resident about a possible crime. But before they arrived, Morrill allegedly contacted police and told them what had happened and where to find the body.
Police said they found Wu’s body wrapped in a tarp and covered in wire fencing and other objects next to a pathway behind the home.
The officers also recovered evidence, according to police, including the suspected murder weapon.
Police declined to comment on a possible motive for the killing, but court records show Wu and Morrill had an eviction hearing scheduled for Monday morning.
“We were hearing that he was getting evicted and owed money to him,” Angelique Mallette said.
Mallette and her boyfriend, Ben Schuy, rent an apartment from Wu in Warren. The couple said he was always kind and generous, and was always there when they needed something. Mallette and Schuy can’t believe he’s now gone, and that police believe another tenant is to blame.
“He helped us during a really rough time. I just went through a really bad accident, and we were looking for a place immediately and he was the person who gave us the place immediately,” Mallette explained. “[It’s] shocking. He was so nice. Doesn’t matter what happens … you don’t murder someone. That’s just insane.”
The couple said Wu leaves behind a wife and a young daughter.
“I’m just hoping that their family’s gonna be OK and this guy gets what he deserves,” Shuy added.
Morrill is back in court in June for a bail hearing.
Police said Tuesday that even though the homicide happened around the same time as a deadly crash in town, the two incidents are not related.