Art school grad was slain by housemate, police say

Detectives inspect the home at 801 40th St . in West Philadelphia, where Laura Araujo, 23, was living. Police say a housemate strangled her late Sunday or early Monday and put her in a duffel bag. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Detectives inspect the home at 801 40th St . in West Philadelphia, where Laura Araujo, 23, was living. Police say a housemate strangled her late Sunday or early Monday and put her in a duffel bag. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 18, 2014

Laura Araujo had lived in the West Philadelphia rooming house only for a short time, but it was long enough to convince her housemate that she had money, Philadelphia police say.

The man who rented the room next to hers, Jerry Jakson, had seen her car - a 2011 Toyota RAV4 - and took it as an indication of her wealth, Lt. Walter Bell said Wednesday. Police believe Jakson had planned to rob Araujo, a 23-year-old graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia who was about to move from the house.

At some point late Sunday or early Monday, police say, Jakson, 22, attacked Araujo at the rooming house on the 800 block of North 40th Street, then strangled and beat her. He wrapped her body in a blanket and put the body into a duffel bag, police say.

He then drove her car to North Philadelphia, police say, where he abandoned her body in a lot and left her belongings - packed into the car in anticipation of her move - strewn about her.

Then, according to police sources, Jakson drove the car to South Philadelphia and set it on fire around 2:20 a.m. Monday - badly burning both his arms in the process, and leaving his cellphone behind.

At 4:30 a.m., a fire investigator responded to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital for a report of a man suffering from burns - the man was Jakson, Bell said.

First Deputy Commissioner Richard J. Ross Jr. said Jakson initially told the investigator that he had been burned during a fight.

Later that day, Bell said, the investigator saw a news report on Araujo's killing and realized the car on fire had been registered to someone with the same last name.

The investigator called the homicide unit, Bell said, and Jakson was brought in for questioning - his arms still bandaged from the burns.

Investigators also used Jakson's cellphone records to trace him to the crime, police sources said.

Detectives and police officers on Wednesday searched the West Philadelphia home where Jakson and Araujo both lived.

Jakson's mother, reached by telephone, declined to comment Wednesday.

Efforts to reach Araujo's family were unsuccessful.

Jakson was charged with murder, robbery, theft, and related charges.

Bell said Jakson is known to law enforcement. He was arrested twice as a juvenile for auto theft and robbery. In 2011, he was charged with receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, but was found not guilty.

Araujo, who has roots in New York and Oklahoma City, had recently graduated with a degree in fashion marketing. She was set to start a new job at a local hotel in the coming weeks, homicide Capt. James Clark said.

"She was a very nice young lady, very successful, had a lot of good things in her future," he said.


awhelan@philly.com

215-854-2961

@aubreyjwhelan

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