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Witness: Sounds during Temple student Jenna Burleigh's death were 'like a horror movie, but worse'

Joshua Hupperterz, 29, was accused of killing Temple transfer student Jenna Burleigh, 22, after the two met at a bar, then went to his apartment on North 16th Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philadelphia on Aug. 31.

Joshua Hupperterz (right), 29, was charged with murder in the death of Jenna Burleigh (left), a 22-year-old Temple University student.
Joshua Hupperterz (right), 29, was charged with murder in the death of Jenna Burleigh (left), a 22-year-old Temple University student.Read morePhiladelphia Police Department

In the early-morning hours of Aug. 31, when authorities say Temple student Jenna Burleigh was in Joshua Hupperterz's North Philadelphia apartment, Noelle Sterling heard banging and, later, screaming.

It was about 2:15 a.m., Sterling said, when she awoke to the sound of footsteps and banging in the gravel backyard of her apartment building. She called Temple police, who arrived and spoke with her but soon left. She wasn't sure if they checked the backyard, accessible only through the first-floor rear apartment Hupperterz shared with a roommate and a dog.

Afraid, she called her mom about 15 minutes later, and during that hourlong call heard more banging and the dog barking, said Sterling, who lived in the apartment above Hupperterz's at 1708 N. 16th St.

Then, about 4 a.m., "I don't think I got to sleep before the screaming started," she said. She immediately called Temple police again. There were "no words, just screams," said Sterling, a Temple graduate student. "It sounded terrifying, almost like if you were in a horror movie and a girl screamed, but it was worse."

The screaming continued for three minutes, then suddenly stopped, Sterling said. Temple police came and spoke to her, and again departed.

Sterling was one of 10 witnesses who testified Wednesday, offering chilling new details at Hupperterz's preliminary hearing in the death of Burleigh, 22, a killing that shocked the region. After the 6½-hour hearing, Municipal Court Judge David Shuter ordered Hupperterz, 29, held for trial on murder, possession of an instrument of crime, abuse of corpse and related offenses.

Hupperterz, a former Temple student, hobbled into the courtroom on crutches, wearing a gray knit sweater and glasses. He remained expressionless. One of his attorneys, David Nenner, said afterward that Hupperterz was on crutches because of a foot infection.

About 20 of Burleigh's relatives and friends sat in the courtroom gallery. Her mother, Jacqueline, left the courtroom a few times during the emotional testimony. The family declined to speak to reporters afterward.

Burleigh, of Harleysville, Montgomery County, lived at home and commuted to Temple. She had just started her first week of classes when she met Hupperterz at Pub Webb, 1527 Cecil B. Moore Ave. Surveillance video showed Burleigh and Hupperterz sitting at chairs in the middle of the bar, the last customers near closing time Aug. 31. The two then walked to Hupperterz's building around the corner shortly after 2 a.m.

Erik Carlsen, 29, a cousin of Hupperterz's, testified that in the late afternoon of Aug. 31, he drove to Hupperterz's apartment and found him "cleaning up blood" in the living room, his right hand bleeding from what he claimed was a cut that happened while he was drunk. Carlsen said Hupperterz asked him to help him move a large, blue storage bin — which Carlsen called a "tote" — and bring it in Carlsen's car to Hupperterz's mother's house in Jenkintown. The bin felt like it weighed 100 pounds, Carlsen said. Hupperterz told him it contained clothes.

As they drove to Jenkintown, Hupperterz appeared "normal, listening to music, and talking. We were probably both singing," Carlsen testified under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Gwenn Cujdik, but he didn't say what they were singing. When they got to Jenkintown, Carlsen said, he helped Hupperterz bring the bin into a detached garage, then drove Hupperterz back to Philadelphia.

Robert Hagler, 67, who described himself as a friend of Hupperterz's mother, Gina, and who lives with her, testified that on Aug. 31, he had opened the garage door for Hupperterz and Carlsen. On Sept. 1, Hupperterz returned in another vehicle and Hagler said he helped Hupperterz move the bin, — which Hupperterz said contained books — into the vehicle.

Avery Tucker, a Lyft driver, testified that he drove Hupperterz and his small brown-and-white dog to Jenkintown on Sept. 1 and then to the Poconos, where he helped move the storage bin from the car onto the gravel driveway of a residence.

Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, investigators were searching for Burleigh, whose family had reported her missing. Capt. Edward Woltemate of the Temple police said he first spoke to Hupperterz on the night of Aug. 31 and then about 4 p.m. the next day, both times by phone. Hupperterz said he didn't know anything about Burleigh. Hupperterz claimed to be in South Philly, but the FBI traced his cellphone to Hawley, in the Poconos, Woltemate said under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy.

On the night of Sept. 1, Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Benjamin Clark and a fellow trooper went to Hupperterz's grandmother's home in Hawley. Hupperterz said he had no information about Burleigh, but agreed to go to the police barracks for more questioning, Clark said. A few hours later, Philadelphia police arrived and took him back to the city, Clark said.

Then, about 1 p.m. Sept. 2, Clark said, he was contacted by Philadelphia police, who said that a relative of Hupperterz's had found a woman's body in an aluminum shed on his grandmother's wooded, lakeside property. After obtaining a search warrant, law enforcement authorities opened the shed.

Inside was a blue plastic storage bin with Burleigh's naked body, he said.

Burleigh had more than 140 injuries from her head to her legs, Cujdik said. The Wayne County coroner ruled that she died from blunt trauma and strangulation.

Nenner argued before the judge that it's not clear what had happened in Hupperterz's apartment. He said Burleigh and Hupperterz apparently had "consensual sex," based on DNA samples.

The judge replied: "Wouldn't it be the commonwealth's position that sex was non-consensual, since she was beaten to death?"

The judge held Hupperterz for trial on all charges.