KATY, Texas – A Katy man is accused of strangling his wife and burning her body to ashes.
Police said Jay Patrick Hammersley, 44, told them March 19 that his wife, Mara Vestal, 29, left their home near Golden Mesa Drive and Green Valley Trail Drive in the Sundown Glen subdivision and had not returned.
Investigators said Hammersley told them Vestal had been gone for two to three weeks and had taken her belongings.
However, authorities said throughout the course of the investigation, Hammersley's story changed and he admitted to killing Vestal and disposing of her body.
Investigators said the two were returning home from a night out at a strip club on Feb. 16 when they got into a physical and verbal argument.
Hammersley claimed Vestal was hitting him before he strangled her on the bed, according to authorities, then put her body in a shed in the backyard of the home.
He then called a friend to ask for help covering up the crime, prosecutors said.
"The defendant then asked this witness to help get rid of the body. The witness said no and told him to call police," Carvana Cloud, Assistant Harris County District Attorney and Chief of Family Criminal Law Division, said.
Investigators said Hammersley bought more than 100 pounds of charcoal and cremated Vestal's body inside the shed.
"He definitely admitted putting remains in a trash bag and left it on the curb. But he also admitted they didn't pick it up, so he took it elsewhere," Cloud said.
According to police, Hammersley then threw her ashes in a dumpster near his job. Vestal's remains haven't been found.
According to investigators, Hammersley then tried to cover his tracks by filing a missing person report March 19.
Authorities said Hammersley then lied to the witness, saying he'd reported the murder and Vestal's body had been taken by police.
When the witness discovered that wasn't true, police said, the witness reported the killing to detectives.
Investigators said Hammersley confessed to the killing.
Vestal's cause of death was ruled as strangulation and blunt force.
"It's very disturbing," Cloud said. "Strangulation is an intensely personal crime... Unfortunately, it is becoming, for homicide cases, the preferred manner and means of homicide."
David Brooks, a former business partner of Hammersley, said he was stunned to find out the allegations.
"Everyone I know is shocked and astonished. They can't believe he would stoop to something like this or allegedly stoop to something like this," Brooks said.
Brooks and Hammersley were at one point best friends and met through the automotive industry. They raced and built cars together and decided to go into business together. Both men decided to go into the custom race car business together.
According to a lawsuit, Brooks provided funding for the venture, and they created Hammersley Performance Motorsports LLC in 2014.
Brooks lost his eyesight after a car crash in 2015. According to court documents, he relied on Hammersley to manage the finances. According to court documents, after receiving complaints from customers, Brooks investigated what was going on. The lawsuit accuses Hammersley of stealing $300,000 from the business for personal use and failing to pay business taxes.
The two had a falling out, and Brooks said he wouldn't comment on the legal matter since it's pending litigation. He said he hasn't spoken with Hammersley in more than a year, but he said regardless of their situation, he's saddened by what happened to Hammersley's wife.
Brooks said he had known Vestal for several years. He said he's praying for her family and the 2-year-old who is now without a mother.
"We were just dumbfounded, despite Jay and I having issues. It's a very sad day. The circumstances are devastating," Brooks said.
Hammersley is charged with murder and tampering with a corpse. His bond was set at $105,000.
He has three children, ages 2, 4 and 6.