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Crime & Courts

Police find unidentified body as they search for 78-year-old missing suburban Phoenix woman

Arizona authorities who have been investigating the disappearance of a 78-year-old suburban Phoenix woman said Saturday they have found an unidentified body in the desert near Gila Bend.

This is the same general area where the missing woman's grandson had led detectives to find additional evidence, Goodyear police spokeswoman Lisa Kutis said.

It could be Monday before medical investigators identify the body, but Kutis did say that Helen Jean Lee's grandson, 40-year-old Jason Eric Howell, is the prime suspect in the woman's disappearance.

Lee was reported missing from her home Wednesday, the same day Howell was arrested in the theft of an SUV from a Chandler school.

Police first went to Lee's home late Wednesday for a welfare check after a daughter who lives in Tucson was unable to reach her mother. TV news footage of the home showed heavy damage to the garage door, as if something rammed or backed into it.

Two days later, investigators said Lee might have been killed after they found indications of foul play at her home and evidence in the desert about 50 miles away.

Detectives continued to process what Kutis described as a crime scene at Lee's home on Saturday.

It was not clear if Howell has been appointed an attorney. He was ordered held Friday in lieu of $300,000 bond on charges related to the carjacking case.

One of the seven charges accuses Howell of using the SUV to ram the car of a Chandler police officer who spotted the stolen vehicle. The officer arrested Howell at gunpoint, according to an affidavit.

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