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Trooper: Brothers "never really got along'
With his brother's severed head and hands in his Jeep, police say, Stephen Austin got a call on his cell phone in the dead of the night, while allegedly looking for spots to stash the body parts in woods near state gamelands.
The caller was state Trooper Adam Frankelli of the Belfast barracks. The trooper got Austin's cell number after Austin's wife called the barracks to say her husband told her he killed his 22- year-old brother, according to police. They say Austin's wife also told troopers she suspected her husband was using his Jeep to scatter Jonathan Austin's remains.
Stephen Austin's cell phone rang at 1:12 a.m. Friday, and Frankelli asked Austin if he was near his Jeep, state police said in court records released Tuesday.
When the answer came back "yes," Frankelli told Austin there were other troopers who wanted to speak to him, according to court papers.
Austin hung up after hearing that, police said in an application for a search warrant for his mother's Upper Mount Bethel Township home -- where they believe Jonathan Austin was beaten with a crow bar, strangled and later dismembered.
Two minutes after hanging up on Frankelli, Stephen Austin was arrested while trying to leave French Creek State Park, Union Township, Berks County. Besides the head and hands, a shovel, ax and blood-soaked items were found in the Jeep, police said.
Austin was interviewed at 3 a.m., 24 hours after the slaying, and police say he told investigators he hit his brother in the head with a crow bar at least three times, then strangled him and cut up the body in a field not far from his mother's house off Institute Drive..
Austin, who turned 26 on the day of his arrest, told police he killed his brother during a struggle in the garage behind his mother's house at 535 Institute Drive, according to police. Austin told troopers he buried several body parts in different spots in Berks County and police said they found parts in French Creek State Park and off Schlegel Road, Maxatawny Township.
A motive for the slaying is not listed in any of the court papers and the lead investigators said there may not be a single motive.
"There have been ongoing disagreements between the brothers for years and this may have been the culmination of a bunch of stress in the past," said Trooper Paul E. Hulbert of the Belfast barracks. "They never really got along that great. There could be any number of reasons."
Austin has been charged with homicide, abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence, but the investigation is ongoing, Hulbert said. Austin is being held without bail under a suicide watch at Northampton County Prison.
Asked if police had established a timeline between the murder and the arrest, Hulbert said, "We're still in the process of patching all that together."
Austin's wife, Jennifer, said in an interview Sunday her husband returned to their Birdsboro home at 7 a.m. She said she acted on a feeling after he left later that night, and told police "possibly Stephen may have killed his brother."
State police collected numerous items from the Austin home on Institute Drive, including several red/brown stains on carpets and melted clothing and fabric from a fire pit behind the garage.
One of the charges against Austin is tampering with evidence, which police have said involves burning clothing. Hulbert said police are awaiting the results of lab tests before commenting further on what was burned in the pit.
Austin's preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled Friday before Senior District Judge Sherwood Grigg.
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli has said he believes the slaying is a case of first-degree murder.