Oregon State Police detective Deanna Harris moves the police tape closer to the crime scene, which is at the lower left. - Bob Pennell

'It was a traumatic death. There was a lot of trauma'

A young Central Point mother has been killed, the victim of what police are describing as a violent domestic dispute. The woman's former boyfriend has been arrested and charged with murder after police discovered the woman's body in her Pine Street apartment early Sunday morning.

Jeffrey Wayne Wheeler, 36, is suspected of killing Jessica Starr Bethany, 32, said Central Point police Capt. Chuck Newell.

At 7:36 a.m. a male caller dialed 9-1-1 to report "a possible deceased adult" in apartment No. 5 at 745 E. Pine St., said Newell.

"Something happened in the early morning hours," Newell said. "It was a traumatic death. There was a lot of trauma."

Newell said Bethany's autopsy will be performed early this week.

Police entered the ground-floor apartment near Abby's Pizza and found Bethany's body. Wheeler quickly was identified as a person of interest, and tracked down in Medford. Wheeler was arrested on a single charge of murder and is being held in the Jackson County Jail without bail, Newell said.

Wheeler and Bethany have a 1-year-old daughter. Newell said it is unknown whether the child was in the apartment at the time of the attack. But she is "safe with relatives," he said.

Neighbors still were standing outside the cordoned-off area surrounding the apartment building Sunday afternoon. Police continued to investigate the scene.

The pair also have children from prior relationships, said Brenda Kessler, 32, of Butte Falls. Kessler said she is a friend of both the victim and the accused. She heard about the killing on the news and from family members, she said.

"Jessica is a sweetheart, an awesome person," Kessler said. "It's really shocking to see that someone like Jeff could do this. It's just sickening, sad and scary."

Kessler said she is grateful Wheeler dropped the couple's baby at a neighbor's house before "he took off running."

"That is one smart thing he did," she said.

Wheeler is described in jail records as 6 feet, 5 inches tall, and weighing 218 pounds. Kessler said Bethany was about 5-6 with a slim build and long dark hair.

"She was very pretty," Kessler said. "She could have been a model."

Kessler said family members have told her that Wheeler was attempting to pursuade Bethany to move to California with him.

"She didn't want to go," Kessler said.

Police were able to enter the apartment immediately Sunday morning due to the nature of the 9-1-1 call. They returned with a warrant to continue the investgation, Newell said.

Late Sunday afternoon police detectives were seen pulling a guitar case from the bushes outside Bethany's apartment.

"(Wheeler) played guitar," Kessler said. "He was getting ready to form a band."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email

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