Man Accused of Strangling College Grad, Stuffing Her Body in Duffel Bag

A West Philadelphia man charged in the murder of a young Philadelphia woman whose body was found in a duffel bag tried to commit suicide while in police custody, according to law enforcement sources.

Sources tell NBC10 that Jeremiah Jakson, 23, tried to hang himself while at police headquarters Tuesday night. The alleged suicide attempt was made prior to Jakson officially being charged for the murder of 23-year-old Laura Araujo, a recent graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Police say Jakson's motive was robbery.

On Monday, around 5:30 a.m., Araujo's body was found in front of an abandoned house on the 2200 block of North 3rd Street in the Kensington section of the city, her hands and feet bound. She had been beaten and strangled, and her body had been put in a trash bag, wrapped in a blanket and then stuffed into the duffel bag.

Earlier that morning around 2:30 a.m., Lieutenant Donald Bradley of the Philadelphia Fire Marshal's Office responded to a car fire on the 1600 block of South Bambrey Street in South Philadelphia. Araujo's 2011 Toyota Rav4 was up in flames after someone intentionally burned it. Bradley then went to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania around 4:30 a.m. where he interviewed Jakson, who police say was suffering from burn wounds.

"He was calm and very matter of fact," Bradley said. "I asked him what happened. He expressed he was in an altercation, he and friends with other people at 30th and Tasker." 

Bradley told homicide detectives about Jakson, placing him on the radar as a possible suspect. Jakson was then transferred to the Chester-Crozer burn center. Investigators then realized that the same car that was lit on fire was registered under Araujo's name. Police also say Jakson's cell phone was found at the scene of the car fire. They later determined that Jakson was responsible for the arson as well as Araujo's death.

"It's tragic," Bradley said. "I was really happy that some of the information that I was able to provide helped bring justice to the young lady and her family." 

According to police, Jakson lived in the same rooming house as Araujo on the 800 block of North 40th Street. Jakson believed Araujo had a large amount of cash on her based on the vehicle she was driving, according to investigators.

Police say at some point Jakson attacked Araujo and strangled her to death inside the building. According to law enforcement sources, Jakson strangled her with a quarter-inch rope after forcing her to give up the pin number to her bank card so that he could make a withdrawal. Police say he then stole her car, burned it, and stuffed her body inside the duffel bag.

Police told NBC10 that Jakson's mother was instrumental in the investigation. She described her 23-year-old son as troubled and said she knew something was wrong as soon as she saw burns on his arms Tuesday. She told detectives she kicked him out of the family's home after he allegedly robbed someone and was unsure where he was staying at the time of Araujo's death.

Police picked Jakson up from the Crozer-Chester Medical Center on Tuesday. He walked into police headquarters with his arms wrapped in bandages. According to investigators, Jakson tried to hang himself Tuesday night while inside police headquarters but was stopped by officers inside.

Early Wednesday morning, police executed a search warrant at Jackson's home. He was then officially charged with murder and robbery.

Authorities say Araujo's computer and phone were stolen, but the rest of her belongings -- mixed in with trash -- sat nearby the bag containing her remains Monday morning.

Araujo was about to start a new job at a local hotel when she was killed, Homicide Division Capt. James Clark said. Police also say she had only lived in the rooming house for one week before she decided to leave.

Clark says Araujo was searching for a new place to live and had her "life's belongings" in her car at the time of her death.

"All her belongings were found where her body was found in North Philadelphia. So obviously, after the murder, after her body was dumped there, somebody took her vehicle to South Philadelphia and set it on fire to try to cover their tracks," said Clark.

Clark says autopsy results showed Araujo was killed four to eight hours before her body was found. Her official cause of death was strangulation.

While police confirmed that Jakson murdered her in the complex where they both lived, they have not yet determined whether she was killed inside her apartment or the exact time of her death.

Police suspect Jakson and Araujo were involved in an argument prior to her death and the victim was moving out because she thought it was in her best interest.

According to police records, Jakson has an extensive criminal history. He has been arrested six times since 2007, with his first arrest occurring when he was 15-years-old. All of the previous charges were related to theft, guns and robbery.

Araujo was from the Bronx in New York, but had been living in Philadelphia for the last four to five years while earning her degree in Fashion Design. She graduated in December. From her LinkedIn page, Araujo appears to have been a standout student who was on the Dean's List and received "Best of Quarter" recognition for six different classes.

The school would not answer questions about Araujo "out of respect for the family," said communications director Devra Pransky, but issued this statement:

“We are sorry to learn that Laura Araujo, a 2013 graduate of The Art Institute of Philadelphia’s Fashion Marketing program, recently passed away. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Ms. Araujo’s family and friends at this difficult time."

Araujo's work outside school included tutoring children and adults who were learning English as a second language, according to her LinkedIn profile. She also listed work with community outreach programs in Oklahoma and Georgia. Clark described her as a smart girl with a bright future.

Her father, Lorenzo Araujo, said the last time he saw her was two weeks ago during a family trip to the Dominican Republic. Lorenzo claims she never showed any signs of distress.

"She was a religious individual," Lorenzo said. "Very methodical. Very selective with her friends and the people she related to most of the time."

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