Internet searches lead to murder arrest in missing Tyler woman case

Internet searches lead to murder arrest in missing Tyler woman case
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 8:14 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 6, 2023 at 11:13 PM CDT

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - A man has been arrested in the homicide case of a Tyler woman who was reported missing several months ago.

According to a press release by the Tyler Police Department, an arrest warrant for Jesse Lee Williams, 40, of Tatum, was obtained Tuesday and he subsequently was arrested by members of the U.S. Marshal’s Joint East Texas Fugitive Task Force. Williams is accused of the murder of Paula Belonga, who was reported missing back in April.

The warrant said that Belonga’s car was found on April 9 by use of her phone’s location. The car was reportedly parked next to a single-wide mobile home in Rusk County, and investigators were able to speak with the home’s owner, Debbie Johnson. According to the report, Johnson said that Williams had dropped the car off her home, saying he was watching it for a woman who he was also housesitting for. Johnson provided Williams’ phone number to the investigators.

When asked about Belonga’s location over the phone, Williams reportedly claimed that he had “just gotten off the phone” with her and that she sounded “okay.” He then allegedly gave the investigators a number that he claimed belonged to Belonga. After several failed attempts to reach Belonga at this number, the report said they began receiving texts from it. “Belonga” told them she was “fine” and “out of state with (her) man,” and demanded the authorities leave her and Williams alone, according to the document. The texts reportedly said that Williams was her friend, and she had paid him to watch her dog.

Following this interaction, the investigators requested the user information for the number from the cellular provider. The information reportedly showed that the number was registered to Williams.

Williams was arrested on April 12 on a separate warrant for assault in Angelina County, where investigators in Belonga’s case were able to interview him. A search of Williams’ personal items reportedly found a check from Belonga in his wallet for $1,445 dated April 10, the memo for which said “Parts and Labor.” Williams’ phone was seized, and after he allegedly claimed to not know the passcode, he finally supplied it to investigators on April 27 according to the document. The document gave a transcription of the following internet search results which were reportedly found on Williams’ phone.

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A search of the areas mentioned in these internet searches began on May 22, which resulted in a necklace on the side of the road that was found to belong to Belonga. About 50 feet from the necklace, the report said a small bone was found. The bone will be analyzed to determine its origin according to the document. Upon further questioning, Williams allegedly admitted that he had sent the messages to investigators from the number he claimed to be Belonga’s.

As a result of this evidence, Williams has been booked into the Smith County Jail on a warrant for murder and his bond has been set at $750,000.