Portsmouth murder victim identified as suspect’s landlord

Xue Feng Wu of Tiverton was killed with a small axe, police said

By Jim McGaw
Posted 5/23/23

A 24-year-old local man has been charged with first-degree murder after allegedly killing his landlord, 50-year-old Xue Feng Wu, by striking him with a small axe at his rental property.

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Portsmouth murder victim identified as suspect’s landlord

Xue Feng Wu of Tiverton was killed with a small axe, police said


PORTSMOUTH — A 24-year-old local man has been charged with first-degree murder after allegedly killing his landlord, 50-year-old Xue Feng Wu, by striking him in the head with a small axe at his rental property on West Main Road Monday, police said.

The suspect, Jacob Morrill, 24, who was renting the two-bedroom home at 1722 West Main Road from Wu, was ordered held without bail during his brief arraignment in 2nd Division District Court in Newport late Tuesday morning. No plea was entered.

The last time a murder took place in Portsmouth was 2016.

Court records indicate there was a rental dispute between the two men, and an eviction hearing had been scheduled for Monday. During a press conference held Tuesday afternoon at the police station, however, Police Chief Brian Peters would not speculate on a motive 

It was only one tragedy that took place Monday night, as a single-car fatal crash happened on Indian Avenue at the same time police were investigating the homicide. 

Middletown resident Claudia Bell, 69, died from injuries she sustained when her vehicle hit a tree along Indian Avenue. 

Reported missing

Peters outlined the sequence of events that led to the homicide investigation at Tuesday’s press conference.

At about 4:32 p.m. on Monday, May 22, Tiverton Police contacted Portsmouth Police after getting a request from a family member to check on the wellbeing of Wu, who had left his Tiverton home to check on his rental property at 1722 West Main Road early that day. Wu, said Peters, “had not been heard from since.”

The two-bedroom home is located on the east side of West Main, between the Greenleaf Compassion Center and Raytheon Co.

Officers went to the home and spoke with Morrill, the tenant, Peters said. “Morrill provided information to the responding officers that Mr. Wu had been at the residence earlier in the day and then left to go to court in Providence. Officers cleared the scene and had no further information at this time,” the chief said.

At about 6 p.m., a different caller — another tenant in the rental home — advised Portsmouth Police they had information pertaining to a crime at the West Main Road site, so officers went there again. Just a few minutes later, however, police got a call from Morrill.

“At approximately 6:10 p.m., Jacob Morrill contacted our department and stated to the desk officer that he struck and killed Mr. Wu,” said Peters, who added he doesn’t know if Morrill was aware of the other phone call when he contacted police.

Morrill said he would meet police behind the Mobil gas station at 1568 West Main Road, where he was located and detained.

“Morrill provided information to officers regarding the incident and advised officers of the crime and location of the body of the victim,” Peters said. “Officers located the body of the victim down a pathway in the rear wooded area of 1722 West Main Road.”

The body, Peters said, had been wrapped in a tarp and held down by a section of wire fencing and other objects in an area of brush off the pathway. Police confirmed Wu was deceased and that he had “suffered severe injuries to his head.”

Police: Confrontation in garage

Members of the department’s Detective Division responded to the scene to investigate, which revealed that a confrontation had taken place between Morrill and Wu inside of a garage on the property, Peters said.

“During that confrontation, Mr. Wu was struck in the head and killed by the suspect with a small handheld axe. The suspect then moved the body … to the area of brush where he had been located by the first responding officers,” Peters said.

At this time police don’t know exactly when the confrontation took place or how long it lasted. Peters said the department is waiting on the medical examiner to provide more information.

After securing court-authorized search warrants, detectives recovered numerous items of evidence including the axe, which he said was recovered within 100 feet of the body.

The animal control officer was also on the scene Monday night. There were several animals located inside the residence— two dogs, cats and ferrets — and they had to be secured before detectives went inside to search, he said. 

The other tenant of the West Main Road home is not facing any charges, Peters said.

Morrill had no prior contact with Portsmouth Police, Peters said. His record includes two prior suspended license charges out of Massachusetts, but nothing of a violent nature, he said.

Wu’s next of kin has been notified and police remain in contact with his family, Peters said.

“The Portsmouth Police Department extends our sincere condolences to Mr. Wu’s family for their tragic loss,” he said.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.