Police: Arrest soon in Austin High grad’s murder

Published 12:40pm Friday, November 15, 2013

Warrant ‘imminent’ for Beau Zabel’s suspected killer

More: Click here for the story ‘Austin mother overwhelmed by break in son’s murder case’

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Albert Lea Tribune

PHILADELPHIA — It was a killing that jolted a city accustomed to violent crime — an aspiring young teacher from Austin, Minn., shot to death for his iPod just steps from his apartment in the Italian Market of Philadelphia.


Beau Zabel — a 2003 graduate of Austin High School and 2008 graduate of Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. — was 23 and had been in Philadelphia only six weeks when he was shot in the back of his neck while walking home from his summer job at a Starbucks late on June 15, 2008.

“Just waiting for life to begin,” one of his last MySpace updates had poignantly read.

With no witnesses and little physical evidence, there were few solid leads for investigators, even with a $35,000 reward and segments on America’s Most Wanted.

But for five years, police and prosecutors continued to pursue the killing of a young person who came to Philadelphia to help, working in a teaching program targeting inner-city children, accepted to a graduate program at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Now, authorities said Thursday, they finally have enough evidence to file charges against the suspect they have long believed killed Zabel — a man already serving a life sentence for shooting to death his suspected accomplice in the slaying.

“An arrest is imminent,” Capt. James Clark, commander of the Police Homicide Unit, said Thursday night as multiple sources told The Inquirer that a warrant was being prepared for Marcellus Anthony Jones, 35, of North Philadelphia.

Clark said he could not comment further on the case until charges were formally filed, a development that could happen as early as this morning, the sources said.

In recent weeks, the sources said, at least three of Jones’ family members and friends have been interviewed by detectives from the Homicide Special Investigation Unit, which specializes in cold cases.

The break came last month, when detectives received a letter from an acquaintance of Jones’ who said he had knowledge of the case.

The letter led investigators to interview Jones’ family, and at least one told police that Jones had spoken directly about the Zabel killing, the sources said. Investigators also had the family members review grainy surveillance footage of Zabel’s killer fleeing the scene.

Jones — a three-time convicted violent felon who was on parole at the time of Zabel’s death — has long been the prime suspect.

Prosecutors won a life sentence against Jones last year in the shooting death of Tyrek Taylor. They argued that Jones shot Taylor, 20, once in the back of the neck as he got out of his car one morning in front of his mother’s South Philadelphia house, three months after Zabel was killed.

Taylor was the getaway driver in Zabel’s death, they said, and Jones killed him to keep him quiet.

A month after Zabel’s slaying, police connected Taylor and Jones to the killing through a cellphone stolen in another South Philadelphia robbery.

At the 2012 trial, prosecutors were able to link the killings of Taylor and Zabel through the testimony of Devonne Brinson, who said Jones had spoken to him about the slayings in jail.

“He told me he had to do it,” Brinson testified about Taylor’s death. “Because [Taylor] might be snitching on him for what they did to the teacher.”

While prosecutors were able to argue that Zabel’s death was Jones’ motive for killing Taylor, they did not have enough evidence to arrest Jones in Zabel’s slaying. And while Brinson’s testimony was crucial, they said they needed at least one more witness.

At the time, investigators said they hoped that with Jones off the street, other witnesses would step forward and provide them with the “final link” they needed. Now it appears that has happened.

—Distributed by MCT Information Services