Lee Bell is behind bars for the murder of his girlfriend, Pearla Ann Louis, whose body was found stuffed inside a suitcase that was floating in the bay in San Francisco, California.
Shortly before 9 a.m. on May 18, 2010, a little girl playing with rocks spotted a large black suitcase floating in the Bay near the Embarcadero and Folsom Street.
She immediately brought it to her uncle’s attention, and he notified firefighters, who were performing an exercise nearby.
When the suitcase was retrieved from the water, a firefighter looked inside and discovered the badly beaten body of a naked female that was curled up in a fetal position.
According to the Record Searchlight, the body was later identified as that of Louis, a 52-year-old mother of four whose family reported her missing the previous afternoon.
They knew something was amiss when she failed to contact her daughter that morning. Louis would call her every day at 6 a.m., and she would also talk to her two grandchildren and make sure they ate their breakfast.
The medical examiner stated that Louis, who authorities said struggled with substance abuse, had been dead for less than two days based on the lack of decomposition.
An autopsy determined that Louis had been murdered, as the report stated that she “suffered 30 bleeding injuries,” and her cause of death was strangulation.
Authorities were unable to find the person responsible for Louis’ death, which prompted her relatives to turn to the public for help in finding her killer.
Louis’ son went to the media and sent a message to her killer. He said, “We forgive you for doing this. We just want you to come forward.”
“She was a mother, a grandmother, an only daughter, a cousin, and a friend,” said Louis’ daughter. “We want to keep that positive life before the media as well as the tragic end of her life.”
On June 4, 2010, police officials charged Bell, then 47, with one count of murder. He was Louis’ on-and-off boyfriend and the last person to see her alive.
His DNA was also found on the handle of the suitcase, and there was a surveillance video that captured Bell purchasing a similar suitcase the day before Louis’ body was found.
Bell was already incarcerated at the San Francisco County Jail for violating probation.
Later that month, he pleaded not guilty to murdering Louis and was held on a $10 million bond.
His defense attorney stated that the “case doesn’t make sense. It is suspicious based on prior conduct.”
Bell reportedly had a history of domestic violence, and the relationship he had with Louis was abusive.
Louis told several people that Bell was beating her, but according to Fox KTVU, “miscommunications and mistakes hampered the police investigation.”
Bell’s defense attorney said he was shocked by the verdict because he believed the jury would find him guilty of second-degree murder.
There was a lack of injuries on Bell, and no one at the hotel, where he was staying when Louis was killed, made any noise complaints, he said.
Bell’s attorney asked for a retrial, as the DNA evidence used in the case was “degraded, low-level DNA that should have been excluded as evidence.”
Judge Carol Yaggy denied the motion.
After the sentencing, Bell spoke to Louis’ family. He said, “I’m exceedingly sorry. I cannot say that I murdered Pearla, but Pearla died because of me.”
“I want to bring closure to the family,” he added.
Bell then turned to the judge and said, “I’ve gotten better, but I still suffer from some things.”
He also requested to take a lie detector test to help clear his name, but he was denied the opportunity to do so.
The executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium stated that “We’ve been waiting for some accountability for this horrendous act and I think today we saw that.”
“He got a fair trial. He may be able to appeal but the community, the family and the jury knew what the right decision in this case would be.”