New Jersey

Prosecutors Charge Man With Stabbing, Killing Girlfriend, Boy Then Torching Home

A South Jersey man found bleeding outside a South Jersey house fire now faces arson and murder charges in the deaths of his girlfriend and her son.

The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office announced charges Friday against Joseph Palmer III in the deadly fire along the 200 block of Washington Avenue — not far from the White Horse Pike (U.S. Route 30) — in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey.

Earlier, police said the fire that killed two people — believed to be 38-year-old Michelle (Heist) Pabst and her 7-year-old son Gavin Pabst — appeared to be intentionally set.

Flames broke out around 8 a.m. Wednesday. Emergency responders found the Pabsts dead in the home and medics transported a third victim, later identified as Palmer, to the hospital after finding him outside the home, according to investigators.

An autopsy completed Thursday revealed the woman died of multiple sharp object and blunt-force trauma injuries while her son died from multiple stab wounds.

"She was one of my best friends," said a friend of the victim. "Her son was one of my daughter's best friends. She's very sad."

Multiple fire departments, law enforcement agencies and the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office remained on the scene throughout the morning as they tried to figure out the circumstances of the blaze. Prosecutors called the fire "suspicious."

Palmer originally placed the blame on someone else, according to investigators.

"He was telling investigators that somebody broke into the house," said Egg Harbor City Police Sergeant Dylan Hutton.

After being released from the hospital, Palmer was arraigned Friday on murder and aggravated arson and sent to county jail unable to post $2 million cash bail.

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