Foster charged with murder in Highway 38 death investigation


Muscatine County Attorney Alan R. Ostergren announced Jan. 15 that a murder charge has been filed against Douglas Joseph Foster, 35, of Marion, Iowa for the death of Lea Ponce, 20, of Fairfield, Iowa.

Foster will make an initial appearance before a judge Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. in the Muscatine County Courthouse.

According to the report filed Jan. 15 with the clerk of district court in Muscatine County, Foster has been charged with murder in the 1st degree. The report stated the following:

The Muscatine County Sheriff's Office and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation are investigating the death of Lea Ponce. Ponce was found deceased on the side of Highway 38 at approximately 12:58 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2019. The body was found in the 1500 block of the highway, which is between Muscatine and Wilton and is in rural Muscatine County.

Investigators discovered Foster's vehicle at 4857 10th Ave, Marion, Iowa. The vehicle was parked behind a storage facility. Investigators received permission to search the facility from its owner. While inside investigators discovered some of Ponce's personal property in an area where it appeared that Foster had been staying. While examining the property investigators found Foster hiding in an attic space among the rafters. Foster made statements during interview he attempted to hide to avoid arrest on active out of state warrants.

Foster made post-Miranda statements indicating that he had picked up Ponce at Muscatine Walmart but after a few minutes she insisted on getting out of the vehicle. Foster further claimed that he stopped the vehicle and Ponce got out. Foster then stated he returned to the Marion, Iowa area. While on the way back to Marion he claimed that he took a level "B" maintenance road and his vehicle became stuck.

Investigators have learned that Ponce was suspected by “Individual A” as having taken a substantial quantity of methamphetamine from Individual A's hotel room. Individual A communicated to several individuals that Individual A would pay a bounty (paid in the form of methamphetamine) for someone to locate Ponce for Individual A.

Ponce was in Muscatine during the late evening hours of Jan. 7, 2019. A review of her cellular telephone shows that she made numerous calls and other communications seeking a ride to the Cedar Rapids area. Ponce further communicated that she was in danger because Individual A was going to kill her because Individual A knew that Ponce had ripped him off.

According to Facebook messages on Foster's phone, Ponce made arrangements with Foster (a person with whom she was previously acquainted) to drive her to Cedar Rapids. Foster would meet Ponce at the Muscatine Walmart.

Surveillance video shows that Ponce was dropped off at the Muscatine Walmart at 12:27 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2019. She went into the store to use the restroom and then went out into the parking lot where she got into Foster's white GMC pickup truck. Ponce got into the truck at 12:32 a.m.

A review of Foster's cellular telephone shows that at 12:04 a.m. on Jan. 8 he was having an apparent argument by text messages with a female acquaintance. The apparent substance of the argument was that Foster was going to pick up a woman.

The two then reportedly traded messages with Foster saying he was going to engage in sexual activity with Ponce before beating her. The report went on to say:

Foster's telephone further shows that at 12:44 a.m. on Jan. 8 he placed a call to Individual A with no answer. He then called Individual A again at 12:47 a.m. and had a call which lasted one minute and 47 seconds.

Foster's telephone further shows that Jan. 9, 2019, he searched the term "muskatine (sic) news" at 8:54 a.m. and the term "muskatine (sic) murder" at 6:45 p.m. It should be noted that a MCSO (Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office) news release was issued on Jan. 8, 2019, at 2:07 p.m. 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, 2019, 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, 2019. During the search of the interior of the vehicle, investigators located plastic cable ties that were configured in a way consistent with how law enforcement uses them to detain or arrest subjects to prevent movement of their hands.

Preliminary autopsy results indicate that Ponce died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head. Her injuries are consistent with a person being struck by a motor vehicle, dragged by a motor vehicle and being thrown from or jumping from a motor vehicle.