Boyfriend faces murder charge in case of missing Portage mother

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Prosecutors delivered an update Wednesday on Heather Kelley, the Portage mother of eight who has been missing for more than a year.

Court records reveal Kelley’s boyfriend, Carlos Watts Jr. now faces an open murder charge. The listed offense date is December 11, 2022, the day after Kelley was last seen.

Prosecutor announces murder charge in case of missing Portage mother

Heather Kelley went missing in December 2022. Investigators say she was about to leave home on December 10, 2022 when she told her eight kids she would be back soon. She never did. On Dec. 11, 2022, her abandoned vehicle was discovered in Comstock Township.

According to officials, her car had been set on fire.

The Sheriff’s Office says blood was found in the backseat of Kelley’s car and her clothes were found nearby where the vehicle was found.

Investigators started considering her disappearance a homicide roughly two months later.

Prosecutors say Kelley’s remains have not been found.

Watch the full press conference below:

Kalamazoo County prosecutor announces murder charge in case of missing Portage mother

Kelley’s boyfriend, Carlos Vance Watts Jr., was staying at a halfway house when he allegedly escaped two days after Kelley’s disappearance. He pleaded guilty in July 2023, a plea he asked to withdraw shortly after.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering a $20,000 reward in exchange for information leading investigators to Kelley’s whereabouts.

A probable cause affidavit obtained by FOX 17 says Facebook messages exchanged between Kelley and Watts revealed the two had been in a contentious relationship for months. Kelley distrusted Watts as the latter was “controlling, obsessive and possessive.” Watts had reportedly demanded Kelley to let him watch her sleep during video calls and asked her children to spy on their mother.

Watts reportedly messaged Kelley with comments about hitting her, including one message that reads, “You make me want to hit you.”

Documents say Kelley’s stepmother recalled an Oct. 27, 2022 argument between Kelley and Watts, after which Kelley asked to stay with her because Watts threatened her.

Surveillance footage reportedly shows Kelley at a Sprinkle Road gas station on Dec. 10, 2022 before phone records indicate she arrived near Watts’s place of employment.

Watts’s co-workers say he left work suddenly after 10:30 p.m., documents explain. His ankle monitor’s battery died, after which a woman resembling Kelley leaves her car and enters the passenger’s seat of a Venza. A man resembling Watts then climbs into the driver’s seat of the same car after their phones were “connected” for more than an hour.

Kelley’s phone powered down near Western Michigan University at around 10:40 p.m. after she messaged one of her children to say she’d be back shortly, according to the affidavit. Watts’s phone shut off minutes later and remained off for several hours. Kelley’s phone never turned back on.

Court documents say Watts’s phone records indicate he was near where Kelley’s vehicle was found at around 2:15 a.m., after which he called KPEP falsely stating he would be late because he was still working.

Other KPEP residents allegedly recalled seeing scratch marks on Watts’s body when he returned. Watts reportedly told them they were made by Kelley. He later cut off his ankle monitor and left the home.

Kelley’s clothes and a durag were found days later in a wooded area near Pickard Street, documents say. Surveillance video reportedly shows a car resembling Kelley’s traveling north and south along Pickard Street early on the morning of Dec. 11. Video from KPEP shows Watts leaving the building the day before wearing a durag, which was gone when he came back. The durag was determined to be the same style and color as the one found with Kelley’s clothing.

Following Kelley’s disappearance, witnesses reportedly told investigators Watts admitted he “got rid” of her by hitting her in the head with a blunt object then leaving her remains inside a dumpster.

One person admitted to setting Kelley’s vehicle on fire, the affidavit reads. A screwdriver was discovered inside the vehicle, matching a hole in one of the windows.

We’re told the decision was made to charge Watts with open murder because there is no evidence to suggest Kelley is still alive.

Director of Portage Public Safety Nicholas Armold says this was a difficult case, but he knew they would get here.

“When you’re working a murder case and you don’t have a body, that really ramps up the amount of evidence and things you need to actually move a case forward,” he told FOX 17.

While Watts now faces charges, there is still more work to be done.

“Having to go through life after a loved one has been killed and not being able to find their remains has got to be heart-wrenching. So hopefully, not only does this case come to a conclusion to the courts, but that we can ultimately recover her remains and give them back to the family,” Armold said.

Watts previously pleaded guilty to federal charges connected to cutting his tether and leaving the halfway house in December of 2022.

He still is in federal custody, and expected to be sentenced Friday.

After that, Watts will be transferred to state custody to be charged formally in court with open murder.

READ MORE: Court docs: Man ‘involved in the murder’ of missing Portage mother

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