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Man Posed As Meter Reader To Murder Romantic Rival, Prosecutors Say

By Erica Demarest | October 25, 2016 2:05pm
 Willie Bell, 44, is charged with first-degree murder.
Willie Bell, 44, is charged with first-degree murder.
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Chicago Police Department

COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — A Morgan Park man posed as a meter reader to murder a romantic rival before eventually blowing up the man's house late last year, prosecutors said Tuesday.

"The acts of this defendant were cold, calculated and preplanned," Cook County Judge James Brown said during a bond hearing Tuesday. "No bail."

It all started Sep. 5, 2015, when Willie Bell, then 43, was captured on surveillance footage buying a reflective vest and worker's helmet at a local Home Depot, Assistant State's Attorney Bryan Grissman said.

A week later, Bell turned up at Timothy Lawrence's home in the 10800 block of South Morgan Street wearing the vest and helmet, which was now emblazoned with the words "meter inspector," authorities said.

Police released video footage earlier this year.

According to Grissman, Bell and Lawrence, 48, were dating the same woman. In a series of Facebook messages, Bell expressed growing anger that the woman was seeing someone else, prosecutors said.

Bell is seen on surveillance footage casing Lawrence's home and eventually following him inside about 11 a.m. Sep. 12, prosecutors said. That's when Bell shot Lawrence once in his head, according to Grissman.

An hour later, Bell is seen on video leaving Lawrence's home wearing a shirt that says, "I'm that dude." His hand was bandaged, prosecutors said, and he soon drove away in Lawrence's 2004 Buick LeSabre.

The following day, Lawrence's credit card was used to buy gasoline at a gas station in the 12000 block of South Ashland Avenue, prosecutors said.

Bell was next spotted on surveillance video returning to Lawrence's home about 12:30 a.m. Sep. 14, 2015, Grissman said. Bell and an accomplice enter Lawrence's home carrying several gas cans. The surveillance video was disabled a few minutes later, prosecutors said.

Police received a 911 call about 12:45 a.m. saying that Lawrence's house was on fire. While fire officials were en route, Grissman said, the house exploded.

Once the fire was extinguished, authorities found Lawrence's badly burned body in a back room with a gunshot wound in his head, prosecutors said. Fire officials found accelerant throughout the house, including under Lawrence's body.

Police in January released photos and video of a man dressed as a meter inspector outside Lawrence's home in an attempt to identify the murder suspect.

An investigation would later link Bell's DNA to Lawrence's car, Grissman said. Cellphone records placed Bell near the scene of the murder.

Bell, 44, is charged with first-degree murder, home invasion, concealing a death, residential arson and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.

He has prior convictions for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance, armed robbery, aggravated discharge of a weapon, unlawful use of a weapon and trespassing, prosecutors said.

According to his public defender, Bell works as a truck driver. He is divorced with one adult child, the attorney said.

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