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Man charged with killing ex-wife now suspected in homeless man’s murder, police say

SPOKANE, Wash. — A Washington state man charged with killing his ex-wife as she arrived to pick up their children earlier this month is now a suspect in the shooting death of a homeless man in downtown Spokane.

Nathan Beal, 36, is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal Aug. 8 shooting of Mary Schaffer, who was found slumped over inside a rental car outside Beal’s apartment building in the Browne’s Addition neighborhood of Spokane.

Schaffer had driven from Oregon to pick up the couple’s children, who had spent the summer with their father. Buzzfeed News reported that Schaffer, who was scared of her ex-husband, had asked for a police escort to accompany her to the pickup but she was refused.

She was found shot through the eye across the street from his building, according to news reports.

Beal, whose name has also been spelled Beale, is being held in the Spokane County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review reported Wednesday that Beal has become a suspect in a second killing – that of Andrew Michael Bull – since his arrest in Schaffer’s death. Bull, 30, was found dead the morning of April 3 in a downtown alley.

Like Schaffer, Bull had been shot in the head.

The Spokesman-Review reported that Beal’s name popped up in the Bull homicide investigation after a shell casing found outside Schaffer’s car was matched to a casing found at the scene of Bull’s killing.

No charges have been filed against Beal in connection with Bull’s death, but the investigation was ongoing Wednesday.

Texts ‘in case things went south’

Buzzfeed News and KXLY in Spokane detail the death of Schaffer and her acrimonious relationship with Beal that allegedly led up to her killing. Court documents obtained by the news station indicated that a witness called 911 shortly after 4:30 p.m. Aug. 8 to report finding a woman slumped over in a car and bleeding from the mouth.

Responding officers found Schaffer with “trauma to the left eye, consistent with a bullet entry into the head,” the court records show. Schaffer was not robbed and her purse was slung over her shoulder as though she were about to get out of the car.

A 9mm shell casing was found on the ground nearby.

While officers were at the scene, police dispatchers received a concerned 911 call from Schaffer’s boyfriend, who said he had lost contact with her as she approached Beal’s home. Schaffer had been texting the man as she drove, sending him details and photos of her rental car and its license plate “in case things went south,” Buzzfeed News reported.

“The last time a custody exchange happened, he had threatened her,” family friend Jaime Adell told Buzzfeed. “She was very nervous. She felt like he might attack her.”

Schaffer’s boyfriend had planned to go with her to pick up the children because she was afraid to go alone, but he had been called into work, Adell said. The man instead kept in touch with her as she got closer to Spokane, where she hoped to exchange custody in a public place.

“She thought he might strangle her or beat her to death,” the court documents obtained by KXLY stated. “She was scared to go to Spokane and get the kids.”

Schaffer had parked her car near a shopping center that included a Rosauers Supermarket. She texted her boyfriend and a sibling shortly before noon to let them know she had arrived.

She also texted her daughter around 12:30 p.m. to tell her she was outside.

They never heard from her again.

Adell said Schaffer’s worried family learned of her death hours later when they searched online for news updates in the Spokane area and spotted a news photo that showed her rental car. The accompanying story reported that a woman’s body had been found inside.

When police later contacted Schaffer’s brother, they learned that the family was not surprised by the killing.

“He and his siblings knew this was coming, because Beale has not concealed his hatred of Mary and his plan to shoot her,” the court documents obtained by KXLY stated.

Schaffer’s brother told detectives that Beal had talked open about killing his sister, including the summer before when she went to pick up the children. Schaffer had obtained a judge’s permission to move to Oregon – out of fear of living in the same state as Beal – but had to turn the children over to Beal each summer for his visitation schedule, Buzzfeed News reported.

Beal had previously claimed that a brain tumor Schaffer survived five years before her death had given her brain damage and “she needed to be shot,” the court records said. He also told Schaffer’s brother that “he would take care of that,” and once talked about saving up $3,000 to hire a hit man to kill her.

Detectives working on Schaffer’s homicide found Beal at his home. He claimed that he was expecting his ex-wife around noon to pick up the children but that she hadn’t shown up.

When investigators asked if he owned a gun, Beal was evasive and “did not provide a clear answer,” KXLY reported. When they spoke to the children, however, one of the children reported finding a gun in Beal’s backpack the first week of their stay with their father.

The child did not tell Beal about the discovery. A search warrant executed on Beal’s home turned up a 9mm Ruger and Winchester brand ammunition, the Spokesman-Review reported.

According to court records, the gun’s chamber was empty but the magazine “contained live rounds identical to the shell casing found on the street.”

A neighbor told detectives he heard a gunshot around 12:30 p.m. that day and saw a man matching Beal’s description running from Schaffer’s car. A shirt found in a nearby dumpster matched the neighbor’s description of what the alleged gunman was wearing, according to KXLY.

Beal was arrested that night and booked into the county jail.

Making a connection

The Spokesman-Review reported that court records in Bull’s death indicate that a detective on the scene of Schaffer’s slaying became suspicious of Beal after noting that he had similar mannerisms to those of a suspect seen downtown at the time of Bull’s April 3 killing. Surveillance footage recorded near the alley where Bull died tracked a person in dark clothes and a hoodie going into the alley about 10 minutes before a gunshot could be heard on the video.

The suspect was seen leaving the alley four minutes later. Footage from downtown tracked the suspected shooter for another 15 minutes as he walked toward a railroad underpass near Browne’s Addition.

The alley where Bull was killed is less than a mile down West Second Avenue from Beal’s home and the spot where Schaffer was found shot in the face.

When the alley was processed for evidence, crime scene technicians found a 9mm Winchester cartridge identical to the ammunition found in Beal’s house earlier this month, the Spokesman-Review reported. The shell casing was also identical to the one found near Schaffer’s car.

On a GoFundMe page she set up to help Schaffer’s children, Adell described Schaffer as “an amazing, kind and loving soul” and said Schaffer’s family is heartbroken over her death

“Mary enjoyed painting, spending time with her kids and her partner, Justin,” Adell wrote. “Mary loved being a caregiver and helping to care for others.”

As of Wednesday, the fundraiser had raised just over $6,500.