Body found in burned vehicle believed to be homicide

SOUTH BAY — On Saturday, May 4, deputies responded to a vehicle fire in the 43000 block of Old U.S. 27 in South Bay. Upon arrival deputies discovered a vehicle that was fully engulfed in flames. Palm Beach County Fire Rescue responded and extinguished the fire. Once the fire was extinguished, a human body was discovered in the trunk of the vehicle. The body was burned beyond recognition. An autopsy was performed the following day. The medical examiner findings confirmed the badly decomposed body was a victim of a homicide. The victim was positively identified as James Michael Payne, 25, of Orlando.

PBSO Violent Crimes detectives began an immediate and extensive investigation. The investigation led PBSO detectives to Leigh Acres where the suspects; Neville Bethune and Andrew Maldonado reside. With the assistance of Lee County Sheriff’s Office a search warrant was executed.

Detectives located evidence to support both Maldonado and Bethune’s involvement in the homicide of James Payne.

On Wednesday, May 8, Neville Bethune was interviewed and arrested by PBSO detectives. He is currently being held in Lee County on Palm Beach County charges for first degree murder and first degree arson.

On Thursday, May 16, Andrew Maldonado was arrested for his involvement in the homicide death of James Payne. He is currently being held in Buffalo, NY on charges of first degree murder and first degree arson.

Also on May 16, Donovan Baker from Leigh Acres was arrested for first degree arson for his involvement in this investigation.

PBSO Violent Crimes detectives would like to thank the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, New York State Police, United States Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Tactical Unit, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit and Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit.

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