TYLER, Texas (KETK) – A Tatum man was arrested for the murder of a missing Tyler woman on Monday after allegedly forging a check in her name and searching how to muffle the sound of a gunshot.
Paula Belonga, 51 of Tyler, was last seen on April 7, and according to an arrest warrant, when authorities went to her home to perform a welfare check they found her therapy dog that typically goes everywhere with her inside and the TV was on.
Officials pinged Belonga’s phone which was showing to be in Tatum, and a Rusk County deputy arrived to the location and reported to have seen her car parked next to a mobile home. The warrant said a resident at the mobile home told the deputy Jesse Williams, 40, dropped off the car and claimed he was watching the car for someone while she was out of town.
A family member reported to Tyler police that Belonga was supposed to be in Louisiana the day before to pick up her son but had not answered her phone in a few days. A friend said “this is very unlike Paula,” according to the warrant.
Deputies contacted Williams and the warrant said he told them “he had just gotten off the phone with Paula and she sounded okay.” Williams reportedly gave authorities a number to reach Paula, and when they called, it was reported that no one answered the phone.
A few days later, authorities said they began texting the number and received a response that said “please leave me alone. I’m fine out of state with my man so please leave me and my friend alone,” according to the warrant.
Authorities responded and said they wanted to speak with her, as she was listed as a missing person. The warrant said 15 minutes later they received a response that said “I want nothing to do with any of my family” and “as for my friend Jesse, y’all need to leave him alone.”
The warrant said afterwards, Belonga was considered to be victim of Williams, and he was later arrested in Angelina County on an unrelated assault charge. Williams later admitted to authorities the messages came from him and not Belonga, per the warrant.
A search of the property Williams had on him at the time of his arrest found two personal checks from Belonga, one made to Williams for $1,445. The warrant said the signature is believed to be forged.
Using data from Williams phone, the warrant said authorities reviewed text messages between Belonga and Williams that began on Dec. 4, 2022 with Belonga messaging “Good Morning Jesse. This is Paula from FB.”
According to the warrant, the two began messaging daily and sent photographs of themselves to each other. Authorities said in the text messages, Williams addressed Paula as “beautiful” and “sweetheart.”
When interviewed by police, the warrant said Williams told them he had befriended Belonga but denied ever having a dating relationship with her.
According to the warrant, on April 3, Williams traveled to Tyler and stayed with Belonga at her apartment leading up to the morning of April 7.
“Paula and Williams are seen traveling side by side leaving Tyler together,” the warrant said.
Their phones were tracked to a rest stop directly to the west of CR 4148, leading into a heavily wooded property. On May 22, the warrant said Texas EquuSearch, Rusk County Sheriff’s Office and Tyler police searched the area and found a chain necklace on the side of CR 4148 identical to one Belonga wore.
“A small bone was also located within 50 feet of the necklace,” the warrant said.
The warrant said a forensic examination of his phone found Williams “to have a very specific search history” including:
- How to muffle sound of gunshot with sock (March 31)
- Will hitting a person in the head with a gun kill them (March 31)
- How do the cops trace a cell phone (April 3)
- Body found in Rusk County Texas (April 9)
- How to write a check for $1,445 (April 9)
- How long does it take for a body to decompose to bones (April 10)
- How long does it take for a body to decompose in hot weather (April 10)
- Missing woman Tyler TX (April 11)
Williams was arrested on Monday by the U.S. Marshal’s Joint East Texas Fugitive Task Force and was booked into the Smith County Jail. His bond was set at $750,000.