William Lauderbach Morse IV reported his father missing last year.
For 16 months, investigators who doubted the story kept probing and questioning what actually happened to William L. Morse III.
Now, state police say the younger man killed William L. Morse III in July 2018 at the family’s Hollow Road Home and then engaged in “a pattern of erasing evidence of Morse III from the earth,” burning his father’s corpse and personal property and liquidating the dead man’s assets.
On Tuesday, troopers charged Morse IV, 28, with his namesake’s slaying, alleging a search of his internet activity revealed he methodically researched how to burn bodies and whether prosecutors could bring charges without a body, before killing his father, apparently on July 11, 2018.
Morse IV even researched “I Heard You Paint Houses,” investigators say, the true crime bestseller in which mafia hitman Frank Sheeran allegedly confessed to killing Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa in 1975, after which Hoffa’s body was cremated.
Morse went on to research disposing of bodies with lye, how to crush bones, charcoal vs. wood burn times and garbage dump sites in the greater Hazleton area.
A search of the Morse family’s Hollow Road property in September of this year revealed burn areas, in which investigators discovered what were confirmed to be bone fragments.
Following that search, investigators said, Morse IV attempted suicide on Sept. 16, slashing his wrists and neck and trying to asphyxiate himself.
Police had been unable to find Morse IV’s cellphone in the residence during a search after he attempted suicide.
A break in the case came this week.
On Monday, troopers received a call from a hunter who discovered a notebook, bag, cellphone and other items in a wooded area near the Hollow Road residence.
The iPhone was red, consistent with the last known phone purchased by Morse IV on Sept. 11. The notebook contained what police say is Morse IV’s confession.
“I, William L. Morse IV murdered my father. Period. My mother knew nothing. I bludgeoned him on the concrete, then burned his body. Robin [Morse IV’s mother] knew nothing.”
Morse IV is charged with criminal homicide, abuse of corpse, obstruction of law enforcement officials, obtaining property knowing proceeds were earned by an illegal act, tampering with evidence, and two counts of theft.
In a press conference held at the Wyoming State Police Barracks on Tuesday afternoon, Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis announced the arrest, and stressed the efforts to which investigators had gone to learn what had happened to Morse III.
“This case should be a reminder to everyone that we do not give up on the victims,” Salavantis said during her statement. “We do not abandon their families and friends, and most importantly, we do not forget or excuse people who commit violent crimes in Luzerne County.”
Disappearance story doubted
According to the criminal complaint:
Morse III disappeared on or about June 11, 2018. In an initial report to law enforcement, his son claimed that he was with his father at about 2 p.m. when an unknown pick-up truck driven by an unknown male arrived at the house.
Police say Morse IV reported that his father was talking on his phone, walked to the truck, got in the passenger side and it drove off.
An investigation followed, drawing on information in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, crime databases and facial recognition software using DNA samples, fingerprints, dental records and other information related to Morse III. No leads were generated.
The FBI also assisted in the effort, and a passport search determined Morse III did not leave the country.
Following several interviews and checks of phone records, hotel reservations and financial records relating to Morse III, investigators increasingly cast doubt on Morse IV’s description of events.
Morse IV cancelled a hotel reservation and closed out many of his father’s accounts, including his bank and cell phone accounts in the weeks following Morse III’s disappearance.
Investigators also found records of Morse IV selling his father’s belongings online, including an iPad, and learned he rented a dumpster in the summer of 2018, disposing of 2.2 tons of his father’s possessions.
They also said they found in his Internet history searches such topics as “get away with murder,” “no body no crime” and “murder conviction without a body.”
Declaring a homicide
The affidavit continued:
State police called the disappearance of Morse III a criminal homicide investigation in September after searching the Hollow Road property for several days.
Investigators concentrated their search at a barn on the property removing evidence, and finding multiple burn areas with bone fragments in the burnt ash material at one of the sites.
Morse IV had purchased over six gallons of gasoline in two separate trips to Sheetz on June 9, two days before Morse III was reported missing. Police recovered the gas containers on the property.
In September, state police said pictures of Morse III were used on a dating website by a profile named “stubby.” Salavantis on Tuesday said she could not comment on whether or not Morse IV was behind the dating profile.
Pictures of Morse III used on the dating website came from a Facebook account “Bill Morse missing.”
Several days after state police searched the property, Morse IV was transported to a hospital due to self-inflicted injuries. Police in their affidavit said “the attempted suicide is relevant to show consciousness of guilt.”
Following Monday’s discovery, an arrest warrant was signed by District Judge Daniel O’Donnell in Sugarloaf Township on Tuesday. Morse IV was arraigned in front of the judge at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and committed to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility without bail.
Salavantis on Tuesday said that the investigation was continuing.
William L. Morse III
William L. Morse III
Photos of William Morse III rest on a table in the state police barracks in Wyoming as Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis speaks about the homicide investigation.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis speaks about the homicide investigation of William Morse III.
William Morse IV is led into the state police barracks in Wyoming on Tuesday.