Confessed Serial Killer Jason Thornburg Arrested in Fort Worth
What Does "I Had to Sacrifice Them" Really Mean?
Forty-one year old Jason Thornburg was arrested in Fort Worth, Texas this week. His journey to jail began after police were called to a dumpster fire at 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday, September 22 and discovered three charred and dismembered bodies inside. Nearby video surveillance showed a man dressed in a hazmat suit carrying large plastic bins from a black Jeep Grand Cherokee to this dumpster, emptying them, and returning the empty ones to his car. On his last trip, he can be seen throwing something into the dumpster and the contents bursting into flames.
The car was a clue but not a smoking gun. There were 7000 of the exact same make and model registered to local citizens. However, a police officer’s keen memory quickly pointed them in the right direction.
Jason Thornburg’s name on the list of registered Jeep Grand Cherokee owners rang a bell with one of the officers; hadn’t he been a suspect in an apartment fire a few months back? A quick check revealed that, yes, on May 21, 2021, the apartment in which Thornburg was living had burned to the ground. His sixty-one year old roommate, Mark Jewel, had died in the blaze.
Fire investigators quickly concluded that the fire was deliberately set, had started in Jewel’s bedroom, and had erupted right after Thornburg had left for his job as an electrician’s apprentice. But the medical examiner couldn’t determine Jewel’s cause of death and Thornburg denied having anything to do with it. Mark, he said, was a good friend of his; they spent a lot of time studying the Bible together. He would never do anything to hurt him. With nothing else to go on, police let Thornburg go. And he disappeared from their radar.
Welcome to Euliss, Texas
As it turns out, Thornburg didn’t go far; about twenty minutes away. By the end of July, he was living in room 113 and the Mid City Inn, an extended stay motel in Euliss, Texas. Scott Shaw, one of the residents who lived in a nearby room, said Thornburg was a pleasant man who often sat outside reading his Bible and passing out fliers to a local Fort Worth church. He also talked about wanting to help people and often invited people to his room.
That was also the impression leadership coach and professional speaker Scott Black had when he met Thornburg in late May 2021. He met Thornburg through a local church and quickly learned that Thornburg was down on his luck, having recently lost his apartment and roommate to a fire. Wanting to help a fellow Christian in a time of need, Black took Thornburg under his wing.
The two prayed together. Black tried to offer his new friend comfort and spiritual guidance as he navigated his way through his recent losses. He also cooked him meals, let him attend his leadership conference for free and, for a time, considered inviting Thornburg to live with him and his family until he got on his feet.
Black liked Thornburg. He admired his religious devotion. He knew Thornburg spent hours studying the Bible and would often preach the Gospel on a local street corner in his spare time. He had told Black that he wanted to be a missionary. He offered to help people and invited him to his room. Three murdered people may have taken him up on it.
Checking In, But Not Checking Out
As all of my newsletter subscribers know, we often cover brand new cases. There is stuff we know and what we don’t. In this case, we know that the one man and two women found dead were all acquaintances of Jason Thornburg. We don’t know how he met them or why they were in his room.
We know one of the victims was a forty-two year old man named David Lueras, who stayed in Thornburg’s room for a few days before disappearing. A cousin of Lueras have said that he might have stayed with Thornburg because he was hiding from people who were after him. Lueras, who had a record of burglary, theft, fraud and drug convictions, had told these relatives shortly before he disappeared that there were some people who wanted to kill him. To date, there does not appear to be any criminal connection between Lueras and Thornburg; ironically, it may turn out that the very person Lueras went to for help was the person who did him harm.
We also know that two woman had been in Thornberg’s room shortly before the bodies were found. Their names have not been released. Thornburg has described them as “acquaintances.” Witnesses describe one woman as having “reddish-blonde hair” and another as a small, Hispanic female.
Police tracked Thornburg to the Euliss hotel and obtained surveillance footage from the property. It matched up to the dumpster footage nicely, showing Thornburg carrying the same plastic bins from the hotel room to his car. The next step was to question Thornburg himself.
Police found Thornburg working at his apprenticeship in Arlington, Texas and asked him to voluntarily come in for an interview, which he agreed to do. Not only did he come in to talk, he allegedly confessed to all three murders plus the murder of his roommate back in May. He told law enforcement that he had studied the Bible extensively and felt he needed to make “sacrifices.”
When asked if he had ever “sacrificed” anyone before, Thornburg said yes he had. He had “sacrificed” his girlfriend back in 2017.
Does This Mean Thornburg is Insane?
It doesn’t take a forensic psychologist to predict an insanity defense in Thornburg’s future. From a practical standpoint, his defense doesn’t have a lot of other options. He’s confessed to the crimes. There’s video surveillance putting him at the scene. The car and the plastic tubs will likely have a mountain of evidence as well. At this point, arguing that he didn’t do it would be a tough road to hoe.
From a psychological standpoint, here are some things that stand out. One, he was extremely religious. He was known to preach on street corners. He obsessively read the Bible. former neighbor told police that she often saw him inside his apartment preaching out loud to himself when no one else was there. There are severe mental illnesses that can involve religious delusions and there have been valid insanity pleas when someone has been violent when operating under those beliefs. I once saw a young man who almost murdered his son because he genuinely believed God was testing him just as he tested Abraham. (He also tried to kill himself when he got on medication and realized what he had almost done).
On the other hand, Thornburg has a criminal record. He carjacked a car with a woman inside it. He then blamed his actions at the time on alcohol, stress and his pending divorce. I mean, how many of us have stolen a car because we were upset over divorce proceedings?
He also has a history of domestic assault. Tanya Begay’s relatives have identified her as Thornburg’s likely 2017 victim; she was last seen with him on March 3, 2017 and no one heard from her after that. Not even her two children. They also describe Thornburg as physically abusive to the point that, on at least one occasion, she wound up in the hospital. Did Thornburg feel spiritually compelled to beat up women as well?
And then there’s the reaction of the people who have recently been around Thornburg, including Shaw and Black. Neither of them have talked about Thornburg’s “crazy” religious ideas or suggested he acted irrationally or appeared to be mentally ill. In fact, both of them have stated they felt duped by Thornburg, i.e., that he pretended to be something he was not. To date, there has also been no mention of a history of psychiatric treatment or illness, something you almost always see in a credible insanity plea.
So those are my preliminary thoughts on this case. It’s new and evolving and - warning - my unofficial opinion may change as new facts emerge. But what do you think so far, fellow mind detectives?