Update: Details emerge in 5-year-old Zabel murder

Published 10:20am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Warrant issued for his alleged killer, already serving life

By Mike Newall

The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office issued an arrest warrant Tuesday in the five-year-old slaying of Austin man Beau Zabel, an aspiring teacher whose killer, police say, complained about the slaying because all it got him was an iPod rather than an iPhone.

Beau Zabel
Beau Zabel

The charges against Marcellus Anthony “Ant North” Jones, now 35, bring a resolution to a cold case that jolted Philadelphia in June 2008: the killing of a young man who came to Philadelphia to help, only to be gunned down six weeks later walking home from his summer job at a Starbucks.

Zabel — a 2003 graduate of Austin High School and 2008 graduate of Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. — was 23 and just eight houses from his apartment when Jones and another man confronted him on a dark street near the Italian Market in South Philadelphia.

Jones, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by The Inquirer, told a witness who came forward last month that Zabel resisted when he rifled his pockets and that his nervous accomplice, Tyrek Taylor, then 19, kept asking: “What you doing, Ant?”

Jones displayed the black iPod to friends at a house in Germantown shortly after the killing, explaining that he thought Zabel had an iPhone when he zeroed in on him.

Jones is serving a life sentence on a 2012 murder conviction for shooting Taylor three months after Zabel was killed.

According to the affidavit, Jones told the witness he could not trust Taylor because Taylor was “b****ng” about what they had done to “the white boy.”

“He had to go,” the witness reported Jones as saying.

The new evidence provided the final link for investigators, complementing a statement from a childhood friend of Jones’ who told them in 2009 that Jones had talked to him about the killings in prison.

After police interviewed the new witness last month, detectives requested copies of grainy surveillance footage photos that were published in The Inquirer so they could show them to Jones’ family.

On Tuesday, police were arranging for Jones to be transported to Philadelphia from Huntingdon Prison so he could be formally booked in Zabel’s death, said Sgt. Robert Kuhlmeier of the Special Investigation Unit, which is handling the case.

That step is expected next week, he said.

Closure

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said he hoped the charges against Jones would provide closure for the Zabel family — and for a city that reeled at the killing.

“It was tragic,” said Ramsey, describing what was his first high-profile investigation in Philadelphia. “To be honest with you, it was very embarrassing. He came to this city to help kids and wound up being murdered.”

Ramsey said police and prosecutors “never let go of the case” against Jones, a three-time convicted felon from North Philadelphia who was on parole at the time of Zabel’s killing.

Back in Austin, Zabel’s mother, Lana Hollerud, said Tuesday that she learned of the charges from a Google alert she had set for news on the case.

She said that she was surprised at how happy she felt — and was thankful to the prosecutors and detectives who seemed to take her son’s death so personally.

“I believe people should be held accountable for their actions, and that was the part that was always missing,” she said in another interview last Thursday. “Someone hurt Beau, and they weren’t being held accountable for it.”

Terry Zabel, Beau’s stepfather, told the Herald last Thursday it’s hard for him to define closure, but he is glad the man he believes killed his son is in prison.

“We’re both comfortable the person who did this is behind bars for the rest of his life,” Terry said Thursday. “And Lana has the same feelings on what closure means.”

Terry said to this day, it’s hard to deal with Beau’s death, but they still commemorate his birthday and the family gets together on the day he was killed each year.

“We think of him all the time,” he said.

From Austin, Zabel — an Eagle Scout and honor roll student — had chosen Philadelphia because he wanted to teach math in an urban district. Zabel, a teaching fellow who was to start graduate school at Drexel University, was shot once in the neck and died at the scene.

The crime first stumped investigators.

With no witnesses and little physical evidence, there were few solid leads, even with a $35,000, now $55,000, reward and segments on America’s Most Wanted.

A month after Zabel’s killing, detectives developed their first break when they connected Taylor and Jones to the murder through a cellphone taken in another South Philadelphia robbery.

Prosecutors were able to link the killings of Taylor — who was also shot in the neck — and Zabel through the testimony of Devonne Brinson, who said Jones had spoken to him about the slaying while both were in prison.

While Brinson’s testimony allowed prosecutors to establish the connection between the killings, they lacked evidence to charge Jones in Zabel’s slaying.

The final break in the case came in October, when detectives received a letter from an acquaintance of Jones who wanted to talk.

The letter led investigators to interview Jones’ family, and at least one relative told police that Jones had spoken directly about the Zabel killing.

According to the new affidavit, Jones told the witness and others at the house in Germantown that he and Taylor were out doing a “lick” — a robbery — when they came upon Zabel.

“Give it up,” Jones told Zabel.

Botched robbery

The way Jones told it, the robbery was fumbled from the start.

For some reason — perhaps because they were on a quiet South Philadelphia street, or because he realized things were going badly — Taylor was startled.

Taylor kept repeating Jones’ nickname, so Jones told him to “shut the [expletive] up.”

Jones told the group that he pointed his gun at the “white boy” and that Taylor “kept b****ing about what was going on.”

Jones did not shoot Zabel when he resisted, the witness said. Rather, the witness said, he pulled the trigger when he realized he was not getting much from the stickup.

It was at that point in recounting the crime that Jones displayed the iPod to the people in the house, the witness said.

“He was just a [expletive] white boy,” Jones said.

The new witness’ account differs from what police had theorized based on the surveillance footage, which shows only one blurry figure fleeing. Investigators had long believed the person in the video was Jones while Taylor waited in a nearby getaway car.

Jennifer Selber, chief of the District Attorney’s Homicide Unit, said her staff wanted to provide Zabel’s family justice even though Jones was already serving a life sentence. “We always wanted to make an arrest in this case,” she said.

Detective George Fetters said Tuesday he had one final hope for the case:

“That one day the Zabel family will be able to sit in a courtroom and see this guy convicted for taking their son’s life.”

—Adam Harringa and Matt Peterson contributed to this report.

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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