The 21-year-old ex-boyfriend of Jenni-Lyn Watson was arrested Saturday and charged with her murder. The Syracuse Post-Standard reported that Steven M. Pieper was taken into custody by Onondaga County authorities shortly after a body was found in a New York park near Jenni-Lyn Watson’s Liverpool home. Watson, 20, had been missing since Friday, November 19.
Steven Pieper was arraigned later Saturday evening and pleaded not guilty to the charge. The Post-Standard noted that the ex-boyfriend would be held without bail until a judge could rule on the matter.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said that Steven Pieper and Jenni-Lyn Watson had ended an on-and-off relationship in October, but Pieper had not been happy with the way things had ended. According to Fitzpatrick, authorities believe that Watson was removed from her Liverpool home and dumped in nearby Clay Central Park where the remains were found.
Fitzpatrick said that Jenni-Lyn Watson had been “dumped, frankly like garbage.” He also noted, “We do not believe she left that house alive.”
More than 60 rescue professionals and law enforcement personnel participated in the search Saturday, less than half the number that joined the crews Friday. An 18-person search team found the body in a heavily wooded area about two miles from Watson’s home.
“It appears whoever put her there attempted to conceal her presence there,” District Attorney Fitzpatrick said. “It appears she was laid flat and covered up with vegetation.”
The remains were carefully removed from the recovery location and transferred to the chief medical examiner’s office in Syracuse for further forensics work and identification.
The recovery appears to have ended an eight-day search effort by local law enforcement agencies after Jenni-Lyn Watson’s family reported her missing at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, November 19. Watson had arrived home for the Thanksgiving holiday the day before after a week of finals at Mercyhurst College where she was a dance major. Her parents and 17-year-old sister had left her at home alone that morning but, when they returned, she was gone. Her cell phone was also missing, but the 20-year-old had inexplicably left her purse and wallet behind. Since going off without notifying someone was uncharacteristic of their daughter, it wasn’t long before the parents notified authorities that Jenni-Lyn was missing.
The search would soon center around Clay Central Park after investigators discovered “activity” from her cell phone had originated in that area.
Speculation about what may have happened soon began to focus on past relationships in which the young woman may have been involved. Fox News was first to report that Jenni-Lyn Watson may have been having difficulty with an ex-boyfriend. Apparently, she and the boyfriend had recently broke of an engagement. A friend told Fox News that the boyfriend had not taken the break-up well at all.
Although authorities were insistent that they had no persons of interest or suspects in the case, the quickness with which Steven Pieper was arrested and charged seems to indicate that investigators had already had reason to believe he was involved in Jenni-Lyn Watson’s sudden disappearance. That authorities already were focused on Pieper may have been what prompted Undersheriff Warren Darby to cryptically say at Friday’s press conference, “The case has developed.” He did not elaborate.
Steven Pieper just might have been the hinted at development. Finding the missing student’s remains might have provided authorities with enough evidence to make an arrest.
Robert A. Baker, Maureen Nolan, and John Mariani, “Jenni-Lyn Waton’s body found; ex-boyfriend charged with murder,” Syracuse.com
Cristina Corbin, “Search for Missing New York College Student Focuses on Wooded Area,” FoxNews.com