DELRAY BEACH — William Lowe told Delray Beach police investigators that his wife, Aydil Barbosa Fontes, had traveled to Brazil and had been away for about three weeks. The 78-year-old man could not explain how she got to the airport or which airline she traveled on, police said.
On Thursday, city police detectives said the 80-year-old Fontes was not in another country, but instead was the victim of a violent death at the hands of her husband.
According to Lowe's arrest report, detectives believe that he shot and killed Fontes, his wife of about 15 years, in the couple’s Delray Beach apartment, then dismembered her body with a chainsaw and disposed of the remains in three suitcases and two small bags found floating along the Intracoastal Waterway nearly two weeks ago.
Lowe faces charges of first-degree murder and abuse of a dead body. He entered pleas of not guilty to both charges during a brief hearing Thursday morning before Circuit Judge Donald Hafele at the Palm Beach County Jail, according to court records. Hafele ordered Lowe to be held without bail.
During a news conference announcing Lowe’s arrest Thursday afternoon, Delray Beach Police Detective Mike Liberta described the case as “probably the worst I’ve seen.” He did not discuss a motive, telling reporters that Lowe declined to speak to investigators and hired an attorney.
That attorney, Marc Shiner, described the charges as inconsistent with Lowe’s character, noting that Lowe is a former Marine who received a Purple Heart for his service in the Vietnam War.
“By all accounts he was a good, valuable citizen for 78 years, so when you compare the allegations to who this man is, it doesn’t make sense,” Shiner said in an interview after the news conference. “Mr. Lowe is anxious to clear his name in court as soon as possible.”
Surveillance video, suitcase tags helped police make arrest
Lowe’s arrest follows an investigation that began July 21, when Delray Beach police responded to reports of a suitcase containing human remains on the west side of the Intracoastal, near Southeast Seventh Avenue and Casuarina Trail.
Within hours of that discovery, investigators found two additional suitcases in the Intracoastal, both containing body parts of the same person. The following day, a Coast Guard vessel transporting a city police detective found a “tote” type bag containing more remains, and divers found a purse slightly to the north of where the other bag was found.
Detectives believe the suitcases were placed in the water sometime between July 17 and July 20. They have not been able to determine a precise date.
Liberta described a days-long investigation in which surveillance-camera video footage and eyewitness statements helped detectives identify Lowe as the prime suspect.
A license-plate number from a gold Ford Taurus that witnesses saw near the Intracoastal multiple times in the days before the first suitcases were found led investigators to Lowe, and to his apartment on Venetian Drive, a short distance from the Intracoastal on the city's barrier island.
So did tags found on some of the pieces of luggage pulled from the water. One had a scan code for an airline. Another had Fontes' name with some letters no longer legible, Liberta said.
“The witnesses supplied us with information of this subject in the area. We collected video surveillance from the area. We obtained the tag. That tag led us to that address,” Liberta said.
Surprise visit led police to search Delray storage locker
Detectives on Monday obtained a warrant to search Lowe's apartment. During their search, Lowe attempted to enter the residence through a rear window, the arrest report said.
Lowe reportedly told officers who stopped him that he was trying to get his phone and keys to his storage unit. A search of the bedroom revealed a business card for a storage facility on Georgia Street in Delray Beach. Detectives found a 9 mm firearm in a drawer of his desk, the arrest report said.
Detectives then inspected the storage unit and found a chainsaw that appeared to have blood on its blade, chain and housing. The detectives also saw what appeared to be bone matter, flesh and human hair in the housing of the saw, the report said.
The search of Lowe's apartment revealed blood spatter throughout, including the living room, dining room, hallway, both bathrooms and the master bedroom, investigators said. Multiple bottles of cleaning supplies were found in the apartment as well, according to the arrest report.
Neighbors told investigators they hadn't seen Fontes in the days prior to the discovery of the suitcases. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Fontes, 80, died from a gunshot wound to the head and determined the manner of death to be homicide.
The office confirmed her identity Tuesday through dental records, the report said. Photographs of Fontes released by police Thursday showed her in a white floral top that matched the clothing found during the discovery of her remains.
A city police spokesperson said Fontes has no known relatives in the area and that her family lives in Brazil.
Lowe was "very nervous" when officers came to arrest him Wednesday but was "not surprised" they had found him, Liberta said.
Julius Whigham II is a criminal justice and public safety reporter for The Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @JuliusWhigham. Help support our work: Subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Delray man facing murder charge after wife's body parts found in suitcases