The night Joel Wales was killed and the house he was in burned, witnesses heard shouting, gunshots and then a woman yelling, “Come on, come on, come on.” One saw a woman on the front porch when the fire broke out, who then got into a car and left the scene.
Those and other witness accounts, followed by a trail of physical evidence, led to murder charges against two women, according to affidavits prepared by Douglas County Sheriff’s Office investigators in support of the women’s arrests. The Journal-World requested the affidavits through Douglas County District Court and received them late Wednesday.
The body of Wales, 34, of Eudora, was discovered shortly after 9:30 p.m. Nov. 3, 2017, inside his mother’s house at 1104 East 1200 Road, just south of Lawrence.
Defendant Tria L. Evans, 38, of Lawrence is the mother of Wales’ child, and the two had been involved in multiple domestic disputes over the past several years, resulting in criminal charges against both among other court interventions.
According to allegations in the affidavit, on the night Wales died he was at his mother’s house, where he’d argued with Evans, who called him 69 times that day before her alleged accomplice picked her up to go kill him.
The alleged accomplice is defendant Christina L. Towell, 37, of Leavenworth, a longtime acquaintance of Evans who recently moved to this area from Dodge City, the affidavit says.
According to the affidavit, a Garmin GPS device in Towell’s red Ford Mustang placed it at the scene of the crime during the minutes Wales was shot and the house was set on fire. GPS showed the car was at Evans’ home half an hour before the crime and returned there half an hour after it, according to the affidavit.
Evans and Towell were arrested Feb. 1 and are charged with one count each of first-degree murder for allegedly killing Wales “intentionally and with premeditation”; conspiracy to commit first-degree murder; arson; and aggravated burglary.
According to the affidavits, which are largely identical:
Wales’ body had some apparent burns, but the fire did not kill him — Wales died as the result of multiple gunshot wounds, the coroner ruled.
The coroner recovered several bullets from Wales’ body. Those, along with several more bullets and spent casings recovered from the house and porch, all came from the same gun, forensic testing determined. That handgun could be one of two models, one of which was the kind Evans owned.
Detectives searched Evans’ home on Nov. 4, and she told them that the night before she’d gone grocery shopping then spent the rest of the night at home.
At Evans’ home, they found a box for a handgun and a receipt showing it was purchased in June 2016, though Evans’ mother told detectives that Evans told her earlier that year the gun had been lost or stolen while she was camping at Perry Lake.
An accelerant-sniffing dog from the Topeka Fire Department alerted on a jacket, jeans and long-sleeved T-shirt in Evans’ dryer, the only three articles of clothing in the dryer.
Detectives searched Towell’s home on Nov. 14.
There they found the red Mustang with a gas can, with a small amount of gas remaining, in a cardboard box in the trunk.
On the back patio there was a chimenea with two pairs of sneakers in a plastic grocery bag inside, one of which looked like a gray pair with neon-pink laces that detectives had photographed during their search of Evans’ house more than a week earlier.
In addition to the GPS device in Towell’s Mustang, investigators also cited recordings of the car at several locations in Lawrence before and after the crime.
Inside Towell’s bedroom, investigators found an envelope with no return address postal-stamped Sept. 19, 2017. Inside was a photograph of Wales and a handwritten note including his name, his mother’s name and the names of several of his friends. Testing revealed Evans’ fingerprints on the note.
Investigators contend that Evans and Towell plotted to kill Wales.
“On November 3, 2017, Tria Evans and Christina Towell carried out that plan by going to 1104 E. 1200 Road in Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas for the purpose of killing Joel Wales,” sheriff’s detective Rita Fulton-Mays wrote in the affidavit. “The residence was entered and gasoline was used to set a fire in the interior of the residence in an attempt to cover up Wales’ death and other evidence of the crime.”
Allegations in the affidavit have not been tried in court.
A preliminary hearing for Evans and Towell has been scheduled for March 29. They remain jailed on $1 million bonds.
Contact public safety reporter Sara ShepherdHave a tip or story idea?
More coverage: Joel Wales homicide• May 11, 2018 — Victim’s mother blames his ex at hearing for defendants in rural Lawrence murder, arson case
• Feb. 14, 2018 — Affidavit: Two women plotted to kill Eudora man and cover it up
• Feb. 6, 2018 — Preliminary hearing scheduled for 2 women charged with murder of Eudora man
• Feb. 2, 2018 — 2 women charged with conspiring to murder Eudora man face judge in Douglas County
• Feb. 1, 2018 — 2 women charged with murder, arson in November homicide of man found in burning house near Lawrence
• Nov. 14, 2017 — No arrests made in death of man found inside burning house south of Lawrence
• Nov. 6, 2017 — Investigators identify man found dead in burning home south of Lawrence; homicide suspected
• Nov. 4, 2017 — Body found in burning home after report of gunshots; sheriff’s office investigating scene south of Lawrence