When James Lawrence Conner discovered Graham resident Janet Mueller dead earlier this month, he saw an opportunity, not an obligation, Pierce County prosecutors allege.
Instead of calling authorities or the woman’s family to notify them of her demise, he decided to profit from it, stealing her cars, taking other valuables from her home and raiding her bank accounts, prosecutors said Monday.
They also said he moved her body to his own property, where he wrapped it in a tent and hid it under a hay bale, court records show.
Conner, who was arrested last week when authorities found Mueller’s body, pleaded not guilty Monday to 10 felonies: first-degree theft, first-degree identity theft, car theft, six counts of forgery and unlawful disposal of human remains.
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Superior Court Judge Jerry Costello ordered Conner, 57, jailed in lieu of $200,000 bail.
A co-defendant, Curtis Lee Jones, 46, pleaded not guilty to third-degree possession of stolen property for allegedly accepting some of the stolen goods. Costello released him on his own recognizance pending trial.
Jones is identified as Conner’s brother in the court records
Detectives believe Mueller, who lived alone in the 13000 block of Kapowsin Highway East, died of natural causes some time around June 8. That was the last time she used her telephone, court records show.
Investigators believe the 63-year-old woman died while unloading horse feed from her truck in her driveway. They believe Conner went to the home to break in at some point after Mueller died and came across her body.
Her brother reported her missing shortly thereafter when he went to her home and found his sister and her three cars — a collectable Volkswagen Beetle, a Toyota 4-Runner and a Ford pickup — missing and her horse dead of apparent starvation, records show.
“Also missing was Mueller’s horse trailer,” deputy prosecutor Michelle Hyer wrote in charging papers. “Mueller’s brother reported that Mueller’s home was in disarray although Mueller kept a clean home, and miscellaneous belongings were missing.”
A few days later, detectives working the missing-persons case discovered that two of Mueller’s vehicles had been registered in Conner’s name, court records show.
On June 20, Conner allegedly showed up at a local credit union with a document he said gave him power of attorney over Mueller’s affairs, the records show. Jones allegedly confessed to creating the document.
Further investigation revealed Conner cashed out one of Mueller’s certificates of deposit, transferring $5,000 of it to a criminal-defense legal assistance service and another $3,000 to himself, court records show.
He also cashed two of Mueller’s checks, both in the amount of $1,500, the records show. Conner has a long criminal history.
When he returned to the credit union June 24, he was arrested, and a search was conducted of his property in the 5700 block of 328th Street East in Eatonville.
Detectives said they found Mueller’s body there.