The man accused of murdering a woman as she hiked a popular trail in Phoenix, Arizona, last week has been identified as a 22-year-old felon who was only released from prison on probation in November—and was reportedly fired recently for “being aggressive toward female employees.”
Zion William Teasley made his first court appearance Friday morning, and a judge ordered him to be held without bail for breaking his probation and allegedly ambushing Lauren Heike, a 29-year-old esthetician (a licensed skin-care technician), from behind on April 29 before fatally stabbing her.
James Hester, a homicide lieutenant, said Friday that the attack was “random” and “without provocation.” He said authorities don’t believe Heike was sexually assaulted, adding that her wounds suggest she fought her attacker and fled, but couldn’t overcome her injuries.
“Her injuries were just too severe,” Hester said.
A LinkedIn profile for Teasley said he’s an ex-U.S. Marine, but a military spokesperson told ABC15 Phoenix that he never finished bootcamp. Citing authorities, the TV station reported Teasley was recently fired from another gig for being “aggressive toward female employees” and for possibly stealing from the company.
Zion reportedly denied the murder allegations, telling detectives, “If I was going to do something like that, it wouldn’t be premeditated,” ABC15 reported. Cops allege he also said “that’s me” when shown a picture of security camera footage taken from near the site of the attack.
Prosecutors said in court on Friday that Teasley’s attack was premeditated, and that he left DNA at the scene, on top of “photographic” and “phone” evidence tying him to the crime.
Prosecutors cited the alleged murder and his 2020 convictions for armed robbery and disorderly conduct as reasons to keep Teasley locked up before trial. They also said Teasley bought a plane ticket this week to flee to Detroit. Public records show he has relatives in Michigan.
Teasley’s arrest on Thursday ended a week-long manhunt for the man seen on grainy security camera footage running from the trail shortly after Heike was killed. Prosecutors said people who knew Teasley recognized him in the footage and alerted authorities.
A motive, however, remains unclear.
“He is the person that we believe to be responsible, or in connection to, the murder of Lauren Heike,” Phoenix PD Sgt. Melissa Soliz said at a Thursday press conference. “We’re hoping that the community can rest a little easier knowing this person is off the streets.”
Reached by phone, a relative of Teasley declined an interview with The Daily Beast. Others could not immediately be reached.
Heike’s family appeared alongside cops at some press updates, describing her as “beautiful, inside and out.”
“She had such a kind heart,” her mother Lana Heike said. “Everybody who met her loved her.”