Body found in desert ID'd as missing woman

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- A body found in the desert was identified Monday as that of a missing 78-year-old suburban Phoenix woman whose grandson is now the sole suspect in her killing, police said.

Helen Jean Lee's body was discovered Saturday near Gila Bend, about 75 miles southwest of Phoenix, in the same general area where the woman's grandson had led detectives to find evidence in the case, Goodyear police spokeswoman Lisa Kutis said.

Authorities declined to provide details of the evidence collected.

Jason Eric Howell, 40, is now considered the only suspect. He has not been arrested in Lee's death but remained jailed Monday on unrelated charges. It wasn't clear if Howell had been appointed an attorney who could be reached for comment.

Lee was reported missing Wednesday when police responded to her home after receiving a call from her daughter who was concerned she wasn't able to reach the woman.

Investigators suspected that Lee might have been killed after finding "severe damage" to the garage door of the house, Kutis said.

"It was obvious from the outside that foul play had taken place," she said Monday.

The same day Lee was reported missing, Howell was arrested on multiple charges, including assaulting a police officer and kidnapping.

Police in Chandler, about 30 miles east of Goodyear, say Howell stole an SUV that was idling outside an elementary school.

A 12-year-old girl in the back seat managed to escape the moving vehicle and suffered minor injuries, according to a police report. Howell then led police on a chase that ended after he rammed an officer's patrol car, the report states.

Howell was arrested after first telling police to "shoot him," according to the report.

Detectives say Howell told police he was drunk and high on methamphetamine. He is set for a court appearance Thursday and remained jailed on $300,000 bond.

Kutis declined to discuss a motive for the killing or any evidence authorities believe connects Howell to the crime.

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