Arrest affidavit accuses Charleston murder suspect of stabbing woman in neck, hiding body

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CHARLESTON, Ill. (WCIA) — Coles County court records say a 26-year-old man confessed to stabbing a 50-year-old Charleston woman to death last month.

An arrest affidavit filed June 28 charged Joshua A. Fairchild with first-degree murder and concealing a homicide. The document says officers were called out to a home on June 25 near Jackson Avenue and 8th Street to conduct a welfare check on a woman.

Officers say the mother of Cheleta S. Branch told them she hadn’t spoken to her daughter in a month, and that wasn’t normal behavior.

During that check, an officer detected a bad smell coming from Branch’s house. The report says that a police lieutenant recognized the smell as a decomposing body; police then started to open the window and the smell got stronger.

The docket says a man inside the home asked police what was going on. The affidavit says officers identified the man as Fairchild.

“Fairchild’s hands were extremely shaky and his face was also twitching uncontrollably,” the report says, and the man told police the bad smell could be dirty dishes and Branch was not home. Police say they asked to walk through the house and check for Branch, but Fairchild told them to come back with a warrant.

The document says police took Fairchild into custody on an unrelated case. They then secured the scene and got a search warrant approved by a judge.

Police say in the report they found no one in the home but the smell of decomposition was very strong.

“What appeared to be a large pile of clothing was in the living room and across the doorway into the bedroom,” the document says. “Officer Kraft inspected the pile and noticed that several insects were in the immediate area as well. We began peeling back clothing a few at a time until we got to a sleeping bag.

“As we got deeper into the pile, we began to find maggots and larvae on the bedroom side of the pile. We switched to the living room side and continued to pull away layers of clothing, sleeping bags, towels, sheets, and a tarp until we got down to one or two thin sheets where we were able to see that there were human feet with the toes down and heels up as if the body was lying on its stomach in the pile.”

Officers say they stopped searching the pile and called the coroner to the scene. Crime scene investigators say they resumed pulling layers off of the pile, photographing each one, until they found the body of a dead woman.

The coroner said in the report the body had been there for some time — possibly weeks. They say they were unable to tell because the home was very hot with no air conditioning, and the body and pile of fabrics were wet.

The coroner says he believes someone may have dumped liquid on the pile to keep it wet. Investigators add they found no immediate signs of trauma in the home.

Detectives say they starting questioning Fairchild and read him his Miranda rights. The investigators say they asked Fairchild what they were there to talk about. The report says the man first told them he was attacked by his girlfriend around May 20, or April 20, or late April.

The document says the fight became physical and his girlfriend picked up a knife.

“Fairchild said that in the process of defending himself, his right hand was sliced open by the victim,” says the affidavit. “Fairchild said that he obtained a chef’s knife and stabbed the victim, identified as Cheleta by Fairchild, in the neck.

“Fairchild said that it was clear to him that she wanted him to kill her because she had a look in her eyes like he has seen in the movies of someone that wanted to die,” police said.

The blade of the knife may have broken off, the report says, leaving part of it in her neck.

Fairchild then admitted to police investigators he started to cover up her body after he knew that she was dead, according to the report.

The man also admitted to police that at some point, he uncovered her and painted her toenails, and braided her hair.

Police say they asked him why he did not report the death to law enforcement. The report says Fairchild responded that in Los Angeles, “a dead body on the street isn’t a big deal.”

It adds he told police he had aimed the knife at an artery in her neck and thought he hit it.

Police say they asked him about the knife he used and Fairchild replied it was possible he threw it away. He also said a serrated knife that Cheleta had picked up should still be in the house. Investigators say they later found a serrated knife with a broken tip in the home.

The report says the man admitted to using a mop to clean up the blood and throwing several towels away.

The coroner said in the report that Branch appeared to have a cut on the front of her neck but they would have to confirm that in the autopsy.

Detectives say they collected several items of evidence, including a mop next to the bathroom where the body was found, a bottle of fingernail polish, several knives in the kitchen, a bottle of fabric freshener, and a can of air freshener.

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