Documents reveal new details in suspicious death

An unmarked Portsmouth police car blocks the entrance to a neighborhood where a suspicious death investigation is underway. (WAVY/Greg Gadberry)

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth police have charged a man in the investigation of a death they label as suspicious.

Detective Misty Holley with Portsmouth Police said the investigation began Monday in a residence in the 50 block of Sandie Point Lane. A 911 call about the death was made to emergency dispatchers around 2:15 p.m.

Court paperwork obtained by says the victim is 79-year-old Betty Philbrick, who has been the owner of Philbrick Plumbing, Heating and Cooling in Portsmouth for more than 50 years.

Betty Philbrick (Photo courtesy: Family friend)
Betty Philbrick (Photo courtesy: Family friend)

On Tuesday, 44-year-old David Spencer Turner was charged with malicious wounding in connection with her death, according to a spokesman for the Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

Investigators have ruled out suicide, but the medical examiner has yet to determine the exact cause of death.

According to court paperwork, the victim’s son told police he went to the home looking for his mother, who had not come to work or answered the phone since May 30. After knocking a few times, Turner came to the door and had bruising on his face and hands. He told the victim’s son she was dead.

The victim’s son found Philbrick in the garage and called police. Officers at the scene observed bruising to her face, stomach and leg as well as bite marks on her arm.

“The suspect was advised of Miranda rights and stated that he had bit the victim repeatedly on the arm, leaving lacerations and blood,” the court paperwork said. “The suspect also admitted to headbutting her in the face when he attempted to pick her up, which caused bruising, swelling and blood on the face.”

DOCUMENTS: Click here to read the probable cause summary

Those who knew Betty Philbrick revered her as a beloved pillar of the Portsmouth community. She gave Twonisha Venegas a chance to bloom as a business owner.

“She’s very helpful,” Venegas said. “She’s encouraging. She was a phenomenal woman. I was just curious to see who owned this building. I walked into Philbrick not knowing they owned the building and we became instantly business partners.” was told Philbrick believed it was more than hard work that kept her business successful for half a decade. She’s also credited with giving the Living Word Victory Center a place to strengthen their faith right next door to her business. So they were shocked as the word spread of her death.

“First thing she did was pray, and that was a blessing right there,” said Pastor Johnnie Drake.

“I was driving home and a friend of mine called me and she said ‘I think that was Mrs. Philbrick,’” said Leah Stith. “I said ‘no it couldn’t be.’ You don’t want to believe it. You don’t want to believe that it’s possible that a person as good as that would have to leave here that way.”

David Turner has a lengthy criminal history that includes domestic assault, felonious assault and grand larceny. A judge denied bond for him Wednesday. He’s scheduled to be back in court Friday morning. The connection between Philbrick and Turner is still unknown.

No further information has been released. Stay with for updates on this developing story.

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