Melbourne man fatally beat 71-year-old neighbor, fled Florida before slaying Pennsylvania man, police say

Suspect arrested in Virginia also accused of killing man in Pennsylvania

MELBOURNE, Fla. – The man who killed a 71-year-old woman in Brevard County and buried her beaten body behind a blighted, former thrift store is now behind bars in Virginia, according to Melbourne police.

According to a news release, Brian Karl Peters Jr., 33, was picked up by Virginia State Police on March 31. Investigators said Peters was found in a stolen car and was wanted for another murder in Pennsylvania.

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Peters is accused of killing his 71-year-old neighbor, Jo Ellen Johnson, whose body was found buried at 2900 S. Harbor City Blvd. in January, records show. The body was found after the woman had been missing for weeks.

Peters was living on an adjoining property to where Johnson lived, according to the arrest warrant.

Johnson’s friends reported her missing Jan. 4 when she hadn’t been heard from in several days, police said. Her friends described her as a very social person and that is was concerning she had not been heard from via text or phone. Several of her friends continued to call Melbourne police to report their concerns in the weeks before she was found, according to the report.

On Jan. 13, Melbourne police searched the area around Johnson’s home and she was discovered buried about 10 feet from the area were Peters was living by an old thrift store on the South Harbor City Boulevard property.

While police were searching the property the property owner said Peters was upset when he learned authorities were searching the area, according to the warrant.

Melbourne police crime scene investigators said Johnson was buried facedown, wrapped in a blanket with her hands tied behind her back. Dental records were used to identify the victim, police said.

Autopsy results showed Johnson was stabbed, beaten and showed signs of a possible sexual assault, the report shows. The medical examiner determined she died of blunt force injuries, according to the arrest warrant.

According to the warrant, when detectives first interviewed Peters he spontaneously said “I did not do it!” before they had explained why they wanted to speak with him.

Detectives would later find a pile of clothes in Peters’ room that were covered in sand, as well as several of Johnson’s belongings, including her some of her clothing, medical paperwork and her Florida teacher’s pension checks, according to the warrant.

Detectives pulled Johnson’s bank records, because her wallet and bank cards were missing, and determined her debit card had been used after her disappearance and a Cash App payment had been made to Peters. Her cards had also been used as recently as Jan. 7, nearly seven days after she was last seen.

On Jan. 14, Peters told someone associated with the South Harbor City Boulevard property that he was leaving the area. The next day he told her there were active warrants for his arrest in connection with Johnson’s murder, however, police said no warrants had been issued at the time.

A warrant was issued March 17 for Peters on charges of first-degree murder, tampering or fabricating physical evidence, criminal use of personal identification information and duty to report.

Following Johnson’s death, police said Peters traveled to York, Pennsylvania. According to West Manchester Township police, Peters ended up living with a 65-year-old for some time before he ultimately stabbed that man to death on March 30 and stole his car — the same car he was caught driving in Virginia.

Peters is now awaiting extradition back to Pennsylvania. Melbourne police said they are working to make sure he is prosecuted for both homicides.

Peters faces homicide charges in Pennsylvania.

Peters was previously arrested in Brevard County in January for driving without a license after a trooper said they clocked him going nearly 100 miles per hour on Interstate 95, records show.

Melbourne police say they’ve identified the body of a woman found at a former thrift store.
Melbourne police say they’ve identified the body of a woman found at a former thrift store.

About the Authors:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.