The man accused of killing his ex-wife and burying her body in a shallow grave, setting off a months-long missing person search that spanned Southern California pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Monday and will face 15 years to life when sentenced in October, according to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
Dalen Ware pleaded not guilty in the murder of retired Army Captain Julia Jacobson at his first court appearance in November 2017, nearly two months after she was reported missing.
Jacobson was last seen on Sept. 2 inside her company car at the corporate offices of 7-Eleven on Aero Drive in the Kearny Mesa neighborhood of San Diego.
That day she had texted a friend to tell her she was driving from Big Bear to Palm Springs with another friend, according to San Diego Police Department (SDPD) investigators.
Hours later, a store surveillance camera captured Jacobson in Ontario. She was accompanied by her dog Boogie, police said.
On Sept. 7, her car was found on Monroe Avenue in University Heights, east of Texas Street, about a half-mile away from her home.
Evidence found in the car led detectives to believe she may have been killed. Police did not release details about what led to their suspicions.
On Oct. 16, homicide investigators confirmed they had arrested Ware in Laveen, Arizona.
The search for Jacobson continued for weeks, and a team including more than 120 law enforcement personnel from SDPD, the Ontario Police Department, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, eventually centered on a 6-square-mile stretch of desert near Cactus City.
The search effort came to a close in early December when the bodies of a woman and dog were discovered in a shallow grave in the desert by a San Bernardino Sheriff's Department K-9. The Riverside County Coroner identified the remains as Jacobson and Boogie days later.
Since Jacobson's disappearance, her family had organized its own searches and canvassed her North Park neighborhood and others in San Deigo.
A family statement posted Monday on the Justice for Julia Facebook page thanked all of the law enforcement agencies, Julia's coworkers at 7-Eleven and her friends and family who aided in the search. The statement also expressed relief that Ware's guilty plea will spare them from reliving the events of her death and disappearance at a trial.
"This guilty plea will help enable us to move forward with putting our lives back together, as much as we can after they were turned upside down last September," the statement read in part.
Ware will be sentenced on October 15, the San Bernardino County DA's office said.