Welfare check turns into murder investigation

Aerial photo of the property searched near Ash Fork in late April. (YCSO photo)

Aerial photo of the property searched near Ash Fork in late April. (YCSO photo)

ASH FORK—An Ash Fork man is behind bars in Yavapai County Jail on suspicion of a murder that may have happened more than a year ago.

The Ash Fork Post Office alerted the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office on April 7 that John McCabe, 67, had not picked up his mail in over a year. Deciding to run a welfare check, deputies instead found Terry Lee Welfenberg 76, living on the property near Juniper Woods southwest of the junction of Interstate 40 and State Route 89.

According to YCSO, Welfenberg told deputies McCabe left two years ago. He allegedly admitted breaking into McCabe’s home, stealing some weapons that were left behind and taking up residence there.

Suspicious of the man’s story, deputies arrested Welfenberg on charges of burglary and theft. They also contacted YCSO detectives in the Criminal Investigations Bureau.

When the CIB could not determine if McCabe was alive and living elsewhere, deputies searched the property for possible remains of McCabe.

YCSO said it was a volunteer searcher who discovered what appeared to be a fragment of a human skull in a fire pit. With a subsequent search warrant, detectives found several other human bones. A second search uncovered a medical ID bracelet and a wallet, both belonging to McCabe, according to the sheriff’s office.

“What could have been a simple welfare check on a man who may have simply left the area, was only discovered to be something far more nefarious because of the instincts of the responding deputies and the tenacity of the CIB detectives,” Sheriff David Rhodes said in a news release. “Now a suspected murderer is in custody and there can be justice for a man whose tragic death may never have been discovered.”

In addition to the original charges through the Seligman Justice Court, other charges, including homicide, are pending. Welfenberg was booked into adult detention April 25. His bond is set at $25,000.

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