MAXVILLE, Fla. – A 22-year-old man has been arrested and charged with the murder of his grandmother, who was reporting missing by the man's aunt earlier this week, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announced Thursday.
David Jefferson Jr. is accused of killing 69-year-old Marguerite Lee Jefferson inside the apartment the two had been sharing for about a year, police said.
A neighbor in the St. James Apartment complex told News4Jax he helped David Jefferson haul a large cardboard box to the complex's dumpster recently, and he now believes Marguerite Jefferson was stuffed inside the box.
Christopher Courtenay gave a sworn statement to the Sheriff's Office saying that he and another neighbor helped David Jefferson move the box to the dumpster. Police have searched that dumpster and also began searching the Trail Ridge Landfill in Maxville, because they believe Marguerite Jefferson (pictured) was inside the box. Her body has not yet been found.
Courtenay said he saw David Jefferson dragging the box and then Jefferson asked Courtenay and another neighbor to help him lift the box into the dumpster.
"It did not have a center of gravity, that's what I was thinking," Courtenay said. "I wasn't sure what was in it. I was on one side and the other guy was on the other and every time we would pick it up, the weight would shift. There was nothing real crazy about the box."
Courtenay said he and the other neighbor never asked David Jefferson what was inside the box, which he said was completely wrapped in duct tape.
"I didn't think twice about it. I left and went to do whatever I had to do that (day)," Courtenay said. "I feel real bad for the family. That's crazy."
Two other residents in the apartment complex told News4Jax they saw the box in the dumpster, which sat there for three days.
"It's bothering all the guys, because we saw that box in the dumpster and me and that lady talked a lot," Bennie Jones said. "There were some flies flying around it, but there's always a lot of gnats and flies down at the dumpsters."
Jones said he didn't think much about what he saw at the time.
Police said Marguerite Jefferson was reported missing by her daughter, Donna, on Tuesday. The daughter, who is David Jefferson's aunt, said she had not seen or heard from her mother since April 15, and she feared the worst.
Detectives obtained a search warrant and found enough evidence in her St. Nicholas area apartment to suggest Marguerite Jefferson had been murdered inside the apartment, according to JSO Assistant Chief Chris Butler. During the investigation, detectives found David Jefferson had used the victim's credit cards to make several purchases at area stores.
"During the course of this investigation and the evidence that we found, we've also learned that he discarded her body into a dumpster, and we are currently actively searching the Trail Ridge Landfill for her remains," Butler said.
Butler said David Jefferson, who has no previous criminal history, had been living with his grandmother for about a year and they had no previous domestic incidents in which police were called. Butler said it's unclear what might have led to Marguerite Jefferson's murder.
"She was being a grandmother and trying to help him get along in life," Butler said. "We do not know what led up to this happening to her."
Courtenay said he thinks David Jefferson must have snapped.
"You just don't kill your own family. You don't wake up in the morning and say, 'I want to kill my grandmother,'" Courtenay said. "(It's) very bizarre."
Jones said that in hindsight, he believes he saw signs of abuse on Marguerite Jefferson.
"She had a bruise on her face and I asked her about it and she said, 'Oh no, that's my grandson. He has some very serious issues. There's something really wrong with him,'" Jones recalled.
David Jefferson has been charged with murder and fraudulent use of a credit card.
"He did not confess to the murder. He did confess to the use of her credit cards," Butler said. "When it comes to the murder he denied any wrongdoing."
Butler said the murder charge was made despite not having found Marguerite Jefferson's body yet, because of the evidence inside the apartment, the fact that he made purchases with her credit card and witness statements.
The search in the Trail Ridge Landfill is the second this month for a possible murder victim. Brittany Foote, 22, was last seen March 18. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spent a week earlier this month searching the Trail Ridge Landfill in Maxville for evidence in her disappearance.
Editor's note: Because of the similarities in the two cases, News4Jax originally incorrectly reported the arrest was in Foote's case.