Investigators in California are searching for a man who they believe strangled his girlfriend, stuffed her body in a suitcase and left it in a San Diego-area motel room.
Christine Osborn-Stewart, 47, was last seen alive with 28-year-old Joseph Dorsey on August 4, according to a declaration in support of an arrest warrant filed in Riverside County court. She was reported missing two days later.
Court documents state Dorsey’s cousin gained access to his voicemail and heard a message left by an employee at the Best Western hotel in Poway about property he had left behind in his room there. Investigators went to the hotel and found a large black suitcase containing Stewart’s remains.
A clerk told authorities he had seen Dorsey wheel a large suitcase into the hotel room and then later drive away in a dark blue Ford Explorer.
According to the declaration, an autopsy found that Stewart had sustained injuries to her head and chest and that the strap muscles to her neck and her thyroid gland were badly damaged. The cause of death was determined to be strangulation.
A warrant for Dorsey’s arrest on murder charges was filed on August 10.
Riverside County Sheriff’s Office Investigator James Merrill told HLN that authorities have evidence indicating that Stewart was killed in Dorsey’s apartment and her body was later taken to the motel, but he would not say what that evidence is. Investigators are uncertain what the motive for the killing was.
According to Merrill, Stewart and Dorsey had dinner with a friend on the night of August 4. The friend told authorities the couple left around 11:30 p.m.
Merrill said a call was made from Stewart’s phone to her sister around 3 a.m. on August 5 but she did not leave a message. Dorsey allegedly checked into the Best Western alone with the suitcase later that morning.
Investigators do not know how long Dorsey and Stewart had been dating. According to Dorsey’s cousin, they were together for more than a year.
A man who identified himself as Stewart’s fiancé told HLN he had been unaware of the relationship. Stewart’s sister said she had gone out with Stewart and Dorsey a week before her death and Dorsey seemed loving and attentive.
Stewart’s mother, Judy Brauer, told HLN that Stewart worked as a mental health and substance abuse counselor for Riverside County and had three sons and five stepchildren.
In a statement to HLN, Dorsey’s family said they were “devastated” by Stewart’s death but they do not believe he was responsible.
“Joseph and Christine loved each other dearly and had been together for over a year,” they said. “We believe something horrible has happened to him as well. He is STILL MISSING. We are worried and doing everything we can to find him. There is more to this story than is being told.”
Anyone with information regarding Dorsey’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office Homicide Unit at 951-955-2777.
Additional reporting by Diane Kaye.
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