NORFOLK, Va.—A Virginia man has been convicted of murdering his 18-year-old stepdaughter and hiding her body behind an abandoned house nearly seven years ago.
Prosecutors said Wesley Hadsell, 43, had kidnapped Anjelica “A.J.” Hadsell, assaulted her and then injected her with a lethal dose of heroin, The Virginian-Pilot reported. A Southampton County Circuit Court jury on Monday found the Norfolk man guilty of first-degree murder and concealing a dead body.
A.J. Hadsell was spending her spring break from Longwood University at her family’s home in Norfolk when she disappeared in March 2015. Officials didn’t locate her body until five weeks later when they found it partially buried in a drainage ditch behind an abandoned house in Southampton County, near the North Carolina border.
According to the Virginian-Pilot, a medical examiner determined that she died from acute heroin poisoning and “homicidal violence.” She had three times the lethal dose of heroin in her system and her eyes and chin had been bruised.
It took the jury 40 minutes to come to a verdict. Hadsell faces the possibility of life in prison when he is sentenced April 4.
Hadsell wasn’t charged for the murder until 2018. His first trial in 2020 was declared a mistrial after two days over a disagreement on what evidence the jury should be allowed to hear.
Prosecutors said that shortly before A.J. Hadsell disappeared, Wesley Hadsell had been kicked out of the house by his wife because of his drug use. Investigators said Wesley Hadsell kidnapped his stepdaughter while she was folding laundry and listening to music in the living room.
Prosecutors believe he abducted his stepdaughter to sexually assault her and that she wasn’t killed until the next day. Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Toni Colvin said a line of bruises found across her chest were consistent with someone holding an arm across her chest and bruising on her chin likely was caused by someone holding it tightly in their hands.
“He abused her, he beat her and then he poisoned her with heroin,” Colvin told jurors, according to the newspaper.
Hadsell then tried to distract police by lying and planting evidence in various places, including planting one of her jackets at her friend’s home, prosecutors said. Hadsell had previously admitted to breaking into the home during an interview with a local TV station but denied hiding the jacket there.
Defense attorney James Ellenson argued that A.J. Hadsell had killed herself by an overdose of medication she was taking for migraines. Ellenson claimed that she was depressed about her relationship with her boyfriend and had been downloading images with captions related to suicide in the days leading up to her disappearance.
Wesley Hadsell declined to testify in his defense.
A.J. Hadsell’s mother, Jennifer Wright, testified that her daughter had been happy. She described her ex-husband’s behavior in the days surrounding her daughter’s disappearance as erratic.
“It was very odd,” she said. “He was always coming and going. Just acting on edge a lot.”
Norfolk police found heroin hidden in a motel room where Wesley Hadsell was staying after he was kicked out by his wife.
Hadsell’s drug dealer testified that he sold heroin to Hadsell the day after A.J. was reported missing.
Authorities also found a shovel and duct tape in the back of Hadsell’s work van.
A GPS unit in the van led police to the abandoned house where A.J. Hadsell’s body was found. The GPS showed that the van had traveled there from Norfolk two days after she went missing. Cellphone data for Wesley and A.J. Hadsell also showed the two in the same place the day after she disappeared.
“There was no reason for the defendant to be there,” Colvin said.