The landlord of a couple whose dismembered remains were found in a suitcase washed up on a Washington beach in June by teenagers recording a video for TikTok has been charged with their murder, prosecutors said. Michael Lee Dudley, 62, of Burien, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Jessica Lewis, 35, and Austin Wenner, 27, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. He remains in jail on $5 million bail.
Lewis died from multiple gunshot wounds, and Wenner died of a single gunshot wound, the medical examiner's office said, noting both were beaten and shot prior to being dismembered. The killings most likely occurred June 9, officials said.
Devastated family members said the couple had been in a relationship for eight years and told police that they had been renting a room in the suspect's house, located in the 16000 blocks of Ambaum Boulevard South. According to charging documents obtained by Westside Seattle, the couple had trouble paying the $1,500 monthly rent.
On the night of June 9, Dudley got into an argument with the couple because he wanted them to move out, the documents said.
Neighbors allegedly heard a loud argument at the house and a male voice pleading, "Please don't do this. Just let me leave," according to the documents.
Shortly after, gunshots were fired, the documents stated.
A group of teenagers found their remains near Duwamish Head in West Seattle on June 19, police said. The teens spotted a large suitcase that had washed up near shore and opened it with sticks while recording a TikTok video, according to a report from the Seattle Police Department.
The teens told police they didn't know what was inside the plastic trash bag inside the suitcase but called 911 because of a "foul" odor. When officers arrived, they searched the beach and found a second bag, a duffel, with a smaller trash bag inside.
Although there has been no exact motive in the case, prosecutors said evidence shows Dudley was angry with Wenner and Lewis for not paying rent and "for bringing potential criminal activity to the Ambaum home," according to charging documents.
Family members had told police that Wenner had recently been "assaulted" by some men who showed up at Dudley's house with guns and beat him and Lewis. The family member told police he didn't know what led to the attack, but it might have been related to "criminal fraud activity," the Seattle Times reported.
"They had hard times, but they always stuck through it together," Lewis' aunt Gina Jaschke shared. "Never in a million years did I think that was their story. I was just devastated."
Lewis, a mother of four, worked at an assisted living facility and a nursing home. Lewis' aunt Gina Jaschke described her niece as "beautiful, a ray of sunshine and very thoughtful person to others," during a July interview with the newspaper.
Wenner's family described their son as a young man who 'had faith, a big heart, (and) loved the outdoors, country music, campfires, trucks, dogs, Jessica and his family."
Dudley is expected to enter a plea at his arraignment on Sept. 8 at the Kings County Courthouse.