A couple accused of murdering a man to take over his home were arrested wearing the victim’s distinctive clothing, after police caught them draining his bank account into their neo-Nazi roofing company’s PayPal account.
Jeremy Shaw, 39, allegedly scouted local homes in the hopes of killing the occupants and claiming squatter’s rights. Prosecutors say he found his target with Steven Morphis, a recently retired 67-year-old who lived alone. After he allegedly murdered Morphis with a flashlight, Shaw and his wife conspired to take over Morphis’ life, transferring the deed from his house and even wearing his clothes, authorities allege.
Shaw and his wife, Lorena, 37, had been planning the assault all month, according to a probable cause statement from authorities. The couple had researched “adverse possession,” a process by which, if a person lives on a property long enough, they can become the legitimate owners.
The couple allegedly drove around rural Washington looking for the perfect house: hidden from the street on a large plot of land, with a paid-off mortgage and, most important, only one occupant.“After doing research over the preceding months, Jeremy had selected Morphis’ property as the most attractive option, even taking Lorena on multiple ‘scouting’ drives past the residence,” according to the probable cause statement. On Sept. 6, the couple drew up a warranty deed that would transfer the property from Morphis’ name to theirs.
Breaking and entering wasn’t a problem for Shaw. Over a long criminal history, he’d previously been convicted of burglary, vehicle theft, various counts of robbery, forgery, and firearm violations.
Morphis was a Star Trek memorabilia collector. He had recently retired from a career at Boeing, and was settling into a quiet life in his rural home, his sister told investigators. One of his few regular visitors was a contractor who did yard work on the property.
“Morphis lived alone and not particularly active socially, such that the arrival of the contractor was usually occasion for a warm greeting and conversation,” the probable cause document reads.
But when the contractor visited the house on Sept. 20, he found it silent. Then he found the empty, grave-shaped pit dug in the backyard. His search for Morphis led him to a shed, where he found Morphis’ body wrapped in a tarp and bound with zip-ties.
“His head had been bludgeoned repeatedly, and his throat was slashed,” an autopsy found. “Each of these impacts caused many fractures of Morphis’ skull. Each one of these blows, independently, would have been fatal.”
But Morphis’ belongings took on a life of their own. The following day, police found his car more than 30 miles away, completely destroyed with fire and gasoline. His bank account continued to make transactions the day after he was discovered dead. On Sept. 21, someone used card reader to move $4,000 from his bank account to a PayPal account for “Aryan Enterprises.”
Aryan Enterprises is Shaw’s inexplicably Nazi-referencing roofing company, according to the probable cause statement. The business unofficially went by “Experienced Roofers,” according to Washington Department of Revenue records. Shaw lists the more polite business name on his Facebook profile, where he also describes himself as “Aryan.”
Morphis’ phone also disappeared from his home after the murder. Police traced the device to Shaw’s home on September 21, where they found Shaw wearing Morphis’ Boeing jacket. Morphis’ Star Trek collectibles and wallet were also inside the Shaw home, alongside Shaw’s own Nazi paraphernalia, meth, credit card readers, and fake ID printers, authorities allege.
Lorena told police that two days earlier, Shaw had knocked on Morphis’ door. When the senior citizen answered, Shaw “pepper-sprayed him and ‘bashed’ him over the head,” according to the probable cause document.
The couple has been charged with burglary, arson, theft, and conspiracy to commit theft, while Shaw faces an additional murder count and Lorena faces a rendering criminal assistance count.
On Monday, prosecutors moved to increase his bail from $1 million to $2.5 million.
“The requested amount takes into account the chillingly cold-blooded manner in which the brutal murder of Steven Morphis, a complete stranger to Jeremy Shaw, was methodically planned for weeks and then carried out, for simple greed,” prosecutors wrote.