A College Teen Comes Home for Spring Break and Vanishes, Adoptive Stepfather Charged With Her Murder
Photo source: True Case Files. AJ Hadsell and her adoptive stepfather Wesley at AJ's high school graduation.
It was spring break 2015 and 18-year-old Anjelica Hadsell, known as AJ, was home from Longwood University visiting her mom and three sisters in Norfolk, Virginia. AJ was an incredibly bright young woman who was planning to graduate from college a year early with a double major. She loved softball, field hockey and writing poetry. She was described by many as a star athlete with a huge heart.
Sadly, AJ would never return to Longwood. She went missing on March 2 and after a gruelling five-week search, her body was found face down and partially nude in a ditch behind an abandoned home.
On March 2, 2015, AJ unknowingly hugged her little sister for the last time as she left for school. When the young girl returned home later that afternoon, she found all of the lights on and a half-folded pile of laundry. Music was playing and the back door was unlocked but AJ was nowhere to be found. AJ’s little sister texted her asking where she was and received the response, “with friends.” An answer the young girl found too curt to be from AJ, whose usual demeanour was anything but.
By the time AJ’s mother, Jennifer Hadsell, got home from work, AJ still hadn’t returned. Jennifer texted her daughter and the two exchanged messages early into the morning until AJ stopped responding. At first, Jennifer wasn’t too worried — AJ was eighteen and home from college, she was probably catching up with old friends and lost track of time. However, when she still hadn’t returned home by the next day, she was reported missing.
Shortly after AJ went missing, her middle-school friend Corey French, who lived just around the block from her, found a piece of her debit card on the ground outside near his home. He immediately reported it to the authorities, but what happened next wasn’t at all what he expected. During an interview with WTKR, he stated:
“As soon as I sat down they just bashed on me. They took my phone and screamed at me, yelled at me and accused me and all this other stuff. I was losing it. I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know what they were talking about.”
It was at that point the authorities told Corey that the jacket AJ was last seen wearing was found in his home:
“They brought it in and they opened up the bag and pulled out her jacket and that’s when I lost it. I started crying I mean I had no idea that was in my house.”
As it would turn out, it wasn’t the police who ‘found’ the jacket, it was Wesley Hasdell, AJ’s stepfather.
Jennifer and Wesley met in a bar in 2010. A month later, Wesley was living with Jennifer and her three daughters. The couple married and Wesley officially adopted AJ, later having another daughter of their own. A week before AJ came home for spring break, Jennifer kicked Wesley out of the house due to his drug use and he moved into a nearby hotel.
Wesley told authorities he broke into Corey’s home to look for evidence because he believed Corey had kidnapped his daughter. He claimed that he found AJ’s jacket stuffed underneath a couch cushion in Corey’s house. Wesley also told the authorities that AJ’s phone had pinged near Tidewater Drive and Thole Street. A search warrant was executed but nothing was ever found. Corey was ultimately cleared of involvement in AJ’s disappearance and Wesley was arrested for interfering in the investigation.
The community, understandably, was rattled; did Wesley really find AJ’s jacket under Corey’s couch cushion, or was he trying to frame Corey for a crime he committed? Did Wesley truly receive information that AJ’s phone had pinged near Tidewater Drive, or was it just another ruse to delay the investigation and find AJ? If his intention was to avoid suspicion, he failed miserably.
Wesley, whose criminal record dates back to when he was only 12-years-old, was now a person of interest. In addition to charges of bank robberies, drug possession and burglaries, Wesley was also charged with abducting and raping his first wife for a two-week span, ten years prior to AJ’s murder, but was ultimately found not guilty.
When interrogated about AJ’s disappearance, Wesley claimed he last saw her at 12 pm on March 2 when he met her at a 7–11 located in between her home and his hotel to give her $200. However, surveillance footage from the 7–11 proved this meeting never took place.
At 12:51 pm, Wesley’s boss texted him asking where he was. At 1:38 pm, Wesley responded that he had gone to meet his daughter who needed money. Wesley’s co-workers told investigators that he had left work that day at noon stating he needed to go see his daughter and that when he returned to work at 2 pm, he was incredibly irate, so much so, that he requested to take the rest of the day off.
Authorities then seized Wesley’s 2004 Chevy Astro Van, a vehicle which Wesley told investigators only he drove. Inside they found a shovel, duct tape and black gloves, all containing dirt residue. However, the most vital and damning piece of evidence wasn’t any of those things — it was the vehicle's GPS. The GPS showed investigators the van had travelled to an abandoned house near the North Carolina border for twenty minutes two days after AJ disappeared.
On April 9, investigators made their way to the residence, and behind the abandoned home they sadly found AJ’s remains partially buried in a ditch. Both her jeans and the shorts she wore underneath had been pulled down. She had bruising to her jaw, chin and arms and blunt force trauma on her chest and neck. AJ’s cause of death was acute heroin poisoning.
Investigators then executed a search warrant of Wesley’s hotel room in which they found eighty rounds of ammunition hidden inside a vent, heroin residue and more duct tape. Since Wesley was a felon, he wasn’t allowed to be in possession of ammunition and was sentenced to ten years in prison.
In 2018, Wesley Hadsell was finally charged with first-degree murder in connection to AJ’s death while he was serving time for illegal possession of ammunition. He pleaded not guilty. He continues to plead his innocence from the confines of his jail cell. During a jailhouse interview, he stated, “I swear to you, I didn’t hurt my daughter. I don’t know who did. And if I did, I wouldn’t protect them.”
Photo source: Pilot Online. Wesley Hadsell during an interview from jail.
During the murder trial, Jennifer testified that the text messages she received from AJ the morning she disappeared didn’t sound like her. She stated that Wesley was also sending her text messages at the exact same time as AJ. Through cell towers, investigators discovered both AJ and Wesley’s phones were at the same location the afternoon she disappeared. Wesley has never provided a reasonable (or any) explanation as to why.
Wesley’s defence attempted to paint AJ as a suicidal teen upset about the recent end of a relationship. They referred to a picture collage found on her phone containing the words, ‘suicide is my father’ and several poems she had written where she talked about being trapped and a ‘battle to death.’ They also used the fact that AJ was on medication for headaches. A symptom of the medication was an increase in suicidal thoughts. The defence used this fact to strengthen their case that AJ died as a result of suicide.
AJ’s mother, sisters, college roommates and several of her friends testified that AJ was not depressed or suicidal and that she did not do drugs, that she barely even drank alcohol. When questioned about AJ’s poetry and asked why she never intervened Jennifer stated, “It didn’t strike me as odd at all. She’s a teenage girl. They write poetry.”
According to several testimonies, it was unfathomable to anyone who knew AJ that she would ever engage in drug use. Wesley however, had previously been charged with heroin possession, and it’s vital to remember that his drug use is the exact reason why Jennifer kicked him out of their home.
As for a motive, one hasn’t been clearly defined as of yet. However, three weeks before AJ’s remains were found, Wesley took part in an interview with crime analyst and author Chelsea Hoffman and when asked if he knew who might have kidnapped AJ he responded:
“My daughter didn’t have enemies. But, let’s say, she had someone…who, um, liked her, loved, her, obsessed about her.”
Perhaps this was Wesley’s attempt at steering the investigation in another direction. Or, perhaps, he was describing himself.
The first trial was declared a mistrial. A second trial is scheduled to begin in March of 2021 and will hopefully bring AJ’s killer to justice and give her loved ones the answers they so desperately seek.