Pierce County Superior Court Judge Katherine Stolz sentenced Mthulisi Ndlovu, 38, to more than 20 years in prison for killing his girlfriend, Mary Mushapaidzi, at their Bonney Lake home on October 8, 2011.
The defendant .
"This was a brutal crime and a sad case," Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said Friday. "The defendant deserved the high-end sentence he received."
On October 9, 2011, Ndlovu reported to Bonney Lake Police that his girlfriend of three years was missing. He claimed the 42-year-old had gone for a run early that morning and failed to return.
Officers went to the couple’s home and, after noticing a burning smell, obtained a search warrant. Inside the home they found blood streaks leading from the kitchen to the garage. In the garage were five empty gas cans and a 55-gallon sealed metal drum. The defendant claimed he had burned junk mail in the garage. Investigators pried open the metal barrel and found charred human remains.
Under questioning, the defendant eventually admitted to killing the victim during an argument. He punched her, strangled her, and struck her in the head with a pair of long handled pruning shears. After realizing she was dead, he dragged her body into the garage, put her in a metal barrel, added charcoal, and lit it on fire. An autopsy determined the victim suffered several deep lacerations to her skull that caused extensive bleeding and that she may have been alive when the defendant put her in the barrel.
Deputy Prosecutor Fred Wist successfully argued for the high end of the sentencing range, citing the brutality of the killing, the defendant’s extensive attempts to conceal the crime, and the fact that the victim’s two children, ages 8 and 2, were present at the time of the murder.
On the night of the murder, the 8-year-old reported being upstairs and hearing loud banging noises below, followed by his mother’s cry of “help.” A neighbor reported hearing loud thuds followed by whimpering that sounded like “a dog being beaten with a baseball bat.” The defendant told the children the smoke in the house was from him burning toast. After concealing the victim’s body and cleaning the crime scene, the defendant went to work, leaving the children home alone.
The brutal crime deeply affected the tightly knit local Zimbabwean community. In letters to the court, family and friends wrote of the victim as a loving, hard working, and selfless woman who left a small village in Zimbabwe to seek a better life in the United States. She worked as the manager of a retail store, living frugally and sending money to family in her native country. At the time of her death, the victim was planning a 2012 trip to Zimbabwe, her first visit home in 10 years.
Note: This information has been provided by the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office.