The man who was arrested last week as a material witness in the death of Fairfield woman Lea Ponce has now been charged with her murder.
Douglas Joseph Foster, 35, of Marion, is being charged with the first degree murder of Ponce, a 20-year-old Fairfield woman who was found dead along the side of the road on the morning of Jan. 8, 5 miles north of Muscatine.
Authorities have uncovered information linking Foster and Ponce, particularly that Ponce was riding in Foster’s truck just before she died, and other evidence suggesting Ponce was murdered.
A preliminary autopsy of Ponce’s body showed she died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head. Her injuries were consistent with being struck by a motor vehicle, dragged by a motor vehicle, and being thrown or jumping from a motor vehicle.
Ponce’s body was found at 12:58 a.m. in the 1500 block of Highway 38, between Muscatine and Wilton.
Surveillance video shows that Ponce was dropped off at the Muscatine Walmart at 12:27 a.m. that same day. She entered the store to use the restroom, then went back to the parking lot where she got into Foster’s white GMC pickup truck at 12:32 a.m.
Investigators found Foster’s vehicle parked behind a storage facility in the 4000 block of 10th Avenue in Marion. The owner of the storage facility let authorities search the building, and when they did, they found some of Ponce’s personal property in an area where it appeared Foster had been staying. While examining the property, investigators found Foster hiding in an attic space among the rafters. Foster told the authorities that he was hiding to avoid arrest since he was wanted on a felony warrant in Texas.
After being read his Miranda rights, Foster told investigators that he picked up Ponce at the Muscatine Walmart, but that she insisted on getting out of the vehicle. He further claimed that he stopped the vehicle to let her out. While on his way to Marion that night, he claimed he took a level “B” maintenance road and that his vehicle got stuck.
Investigators have learned of another person of interest who they have identified thus far simply as “Individual A.” A review of Ponce’s cellular phone records show that she communicated to people how her life was in danger because Individual A was going to kill over a drug dispute. Authorities learned that Individual A suspected Ponce of having taken a substantial quantity of methamphetamine from Individual A’s hotel room, and that Individual A communicated to several others that Individual A would pay a bounty (paid in the form of methamphetamine) for someone to locate Ponce.
On the night of Jan. 7, Ponce was in Muscatine and attempting to secure a ride to the Cedar Rapids area. According to Facebook messages on Foster’s phone, Ponce made an arrangement with him (a person with whom she was previously familiar) to drive her to Cedar Rapids, and that they would meet at the Muscatine Walmart.
A review of Foster’s cellular phone records shows he was having an argument via text messages with a female acquaintance at 12:04 a.m. The substance of the argument was about Foster going to pick up a woman. The acquaintance texted that they were just joking about some earlier text, and this seemed to incense Foster, who wrote back that he was going to pull the car over before having sex with “her” and beating her “half to death.” It’s not clear from the information contained in the criminal complaint who the “her” is referring to.
Foster’s telephone records show that at 12:44 a.m. Jan. 8, he placed a call to Individual A with no answer, then called Individual A again at 12:47 and spoke to the person for one minute and 47 seconds.
His telephone further shows that on Jan. 9, he searched the term “muskatine [sic] news” at 8:54 a.m. and the term “muskatine [sic] murder” at 6:45 p.m. The Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office issued a news release at 2:07 p.m. the prior day, Jan. 8, to the effect that investigators were looking into the circumstances of a deceased female on the side of the road on Highway 38. The news release was updated Jan. 9 at 5:42 p.m. with the identity of the deceased individual. At no time did law enforcement refer to the death of Ponce as a murder until Foster was taken into custody as a material witness.
A search warrant was executed on Foster’s vehicle on Jan. 14. During the search, investigators found plastic cable ties that were configured in a way consistent with how law enforcement uses them to detain or arrest subjects to prevent them from moving their hands.
The charge against Foster is merely an accusation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.