A woman was found dead of blunt-force trauma at a home that was on fire in Franklin, Massachusetts, Friday morning, and her ex-husband was arrested at the scene, officials said.
The woman had a restraining order out against her ex, whom Franklin police officers took into custody at the home on Grace Lane with the use of a Taser as the fire was blazing, the Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said.
The man, 47-year-old Brendon Owen, who now lives in East Bridgewater, appeared in court Friday afternoon to face charges including murder; he pleaded not guilty. The slain woman was identified as Shirley Owen, 49.
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The couple have two children, who are safe, officials said, and the family had a history of domestic violence. The parents got divorced five years ago.
"The family's been known to us for the past seven years, off and on," Franklin Police Chief Steve Patterson said, including an active restraining order that authorities were looking into.
Morrissey said it was believed he was due in court in January in the case. Owen is now being held without bail, and is due back in court Jan. 19.
Along with murder, he faces charges of home invasion, kidnapping, arson and assault and battery causing serious bodily injury.
"He was dressed all in black and he had a check list on him of what he wanted to do," prosecutors said in court.
The incident was first reported as a domestic assault, Morrissey said. The woman's mother had run to a neighbor's home, from which someone called 911.
Three officers arrived within minutes, by about 7:45 a.m., and saw smoke and fire. They also saw Brendon Owen, who tried to escape when officers approached the house, but was taken into custody with the use of a Taser, Morrissey said.
Police went back inside the burning building and found Shirley Owen between the home and the garage with "clear evidence of blunt-force trauma," he said. Firefighters pronounced her dead at the scene; investigators believe he'd beaten her with a hammer or pipe.
The woman's mother had spotted Brendon Owen in the house, police said. He allegedly hit her with a pipe and duct-taped her, saying, "You better not warn her," but she was able to free herself and run to get help.
She was taken to a hospital but is expected to survive, Morrissey said. The children weren't in the dwelling at the time; their school is providing counseling.
Brendon Owen was allegedly seen spraying lighter fluid on the home, then lighting a match, when officers arrived. They later found items one could use to dispose of a body in his car, investigators said.
Franklin last had a murder case 24 years ago, Morrissey said. He said his office aimed to bring Owen to court Friday, but that it would depend on how quickly the scene at the home could be processed.
Firefighters from several departments were called to help battle the fire at the home. The building is likely a total loss, officials said.
Fire investigators with the Office of the State Fire Marshal responded to the scene to assist the Franklin Fire Department in investigating the origin and cause of the fire, the agency confirmed Friday morning.
Morrissey described the incident as isolated, though tragic, and said that he thinks the holidays can place added strain on already troubled relationships.
"Emotions start to take over, a lot of relationships start to come under heavy pressure and we want people to be safe," he said.
Patterson urged anyone dealing with domestic issues or potential violence to "reach out to your police department. We have a social worker who works for us full-time."
Authorities initially referred to the Owens as estranged, but they were divorced.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HELP: Massachusetts provides this list of national, statewide and local resources for victims of domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233. Anyone who is in immediate danger or knows someone who is is urged to call 911.