A brutal attack was outlined in a southeastern Massachusetts court on Friday: A woman allegedly beaten to death by her ex-husband before he set fire to her house a week before Christmas Eve.
When officers arrived, having been called by the victim's mother, Brendon Owen tried to escape, but they took him into custody, authorities said. They'd dealt with him before -- he had a history of domestic violence.
Now, police are investigating their first alleged murder in the town of Franklin in over two decades.
Here's what we know about the case so far:
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The Alleged Deadly Beating
Norfolk County prosecutors said in court that Brendon Owen, 47, committed the calculated killing of his former wife on Friday morning.
The incident began about 7:30 a.m. at 49-year-old Shirley Owen's home on Grace Lane. Her mother spotted her former son-in-law at the home before he hit her with a pipe and duct taped her, saying, "you better not warn her," prosecutors said.
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Wounded, Shirley Owen's mother was able to free herself and run to a neighbor's house, where she said Brendon Owen was beating her daughter with a hammer or a pipe, prosecutors said. Police would later allegedly find items used to dispose of a body in his car.
Someone at the neighbor's house called 911, and police officers arrived within five minutes to find smoke and fire coming from the building. When two of the officers approached, they saw Brendon Owen, who tried to flee through another door, but another officer was stationed there and the man was taken into custody with the help of a Taser, officials 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," Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said. Firefighters pronounced her dead at the scene.
In court later in the day, Brendon Owen, who lives in East Bridgewater, pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, home invasion, kidnapping, arson and assault and battery causing serious bodily injury. A judge ordered him held without bail; he is due back in court Jan. 19.
Franklin last had a murder case 24 years ago, Morrissey said.
Shirley Owen's mother was taken to a hospital but is expected to survive, according to Morrissey. The children weren't in the dwelling at the time; their school is providing counseling.
The House Fire
The incident was first reported by police as a fire, and the blaze quickly consumed the home. Investigators would later say that it was a case of arson.
Brendon Owen was allegedly seen spraying lighter fluid on the home, then lighting a match, when officers arrived.
Firefighters from several departments were called to help battle the fire at the home.
The house is likely to be declared a total loss.
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.
History of Domestic Violence
The couple's two children are safe, officials said, but the family had a history of domestic violence. The parents got divorced about five years ago, but Shirley Owen had a restraining order in place before then.
"The family's been known to us for the past seven years, off and on," Franklin Police Chief Steve Patterson said, which includes an active restraining order that authorities were looking into.
Brendon Owen was recently accused of violating the restraining order and he had a court date in January in the case.
The police chief 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," Patterson said.
He 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."
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.
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