Mum killed by abusive husband and dumped in skip identified through wrist tattoo
Proudly running alongside the other competitors in the Utica Boilermaker race in Utica, New York, Kerrilee D’Avolio felt in the best shape of her life.
The 32-year-old had lost more than 7 stone thanks to a new healthy diet and exercise routine.
As well as taking up Zumba and boxing, Kerrilee had discovered a love of running and, in July 2019, she’d completed the annual Utica 15k race for the first time and crossed the finish line beaming with pride.
It was exactly the confidence boost she needed to see her through the huge life changes coming her way.
Kerrilee was married to Jason D’Avolio. When they’d first got together, her family were concerned to discover that Jason was 16 years older, but the couple married and had three daughters, then aged five, four and two.
They settled in Rome, New York, with Jason working for a finance company and Kerrilee in child education. But things were far from perfect.
Although no one ever saw evidence that Jason was physically abusive, family and friends did see him belittle his wife.
He criticised her pregnancy weight gain, called her lazy and even put her down in front of their children. They thought he was controlling too, by doing intrusive things like answering her phone.
By 2019, Kerrilee had started divorce proceedings. She was looking for an apartment to move into with her daughters and she hoped that Jason would come to an amicable agreement over custody.
Jason would walk away from conversations about their separation, so she sat down and wrote him a letter to explain how she felt.
“You are honestly a good person when you don’t let your inner demon attack me or take over,” she wrote.
“I am truly happy being alone. Never thought I’d say that. I am not sorry that I finally want to work on me.”
She told Jason she had love for him but was “never in love” with him.
“You can make me happy by letting me go. I want to enjoy life. I see a different future for me.”
Lying to ‘protect the kids’
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Kerrilee’s confidence was soaring. She was stronger, faster and she’d found her voice. Then, just weeks after her race on 29 July, the police received a call from Jason’s brother.
He said that Jason had arrived at his auto shop with his three children and had shared some alarming information. Jason told him Kerrilee was dead.
When questioned by police, Jason backtracked and said Kerrilee was “alive and kicking”. He said she had simply left in a car that he didn’t recognise and hadn’t returned.
For hours, Jason said the same thing but when pressed harder, his story changed. He admitted Kerrilee was dead but insisted she had killed herself.
Jason claimed he’d discovered Kerrilee’s body in a bedroom at their home with a bullet in her head and a rifle by her side. But instead of reporting the death, he’d wanted to “protect the kids”, and avoid suspicions falling on him, so he’d wrapped Kerrilee’s body in a bed sheet and had put her in a skip at a nearby apartment complex.
He’d also thrown the rifle used into a canal. Investigators were suspicious. If she’d taken her own life, there would be no criminal charges. But not reporting her death and concealing her body was illegal.
The next morning, officers, who had been sifting through rubbish in the hot summer heat, found Kerrilee’s body in a skip at the Oneida County Landfill.
She had extensive head trauma but was identified through a bird tattoo on her wrist and an unusual anklet.
A dive team also retrieved a bolt action rifle from the barge canal. It was around 41 inches long – and 28 inches from the trigger to the muzzle.
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Jason was charged with concealment of a corpse, but police suggested there might be more charges to come after the autopsy and a judge issued a protection order preventing Jason from seeing his children.
All three of Kerrilee’s children were taken in by her sister and her loved ones waited anxiously for answers. Despite the impending divorce, Kerrilee had never seemed happier. Why would she take her own life when she was fighting so hard to start afresh?
The D’Avolio home was cordoned off as a crime scene. Police discovered that Jason had cleaned up the house after Kerrilee’s death. He was even seen on CCTV out shopping for cleaning products.
They found the letter that Kerrilee had written to Jason on his desk begging him to “let her go”.
Then the results of the autopsy came back. It showed Kerrilee had been shot in the back of the head. How had she managed to do that with a long rifle? Jason was charged with second-degree murder.
At the trial in 2020, Jason’s defence continued to say that Kerrilee had been severely depressed and had taken her own life.
Although they admitted that what Jason had done with her body was disrespectful, they said it was triggered by trauma.
“The stress was so great, unexpected and completely beyond terrible,” they said. “He just didn’t know how to cope. His mind was not functioning rationally at that point.”
The prosecution argued that Jason wanted his estranged wife out of the picture to avoid a costly legal custody battle. Kerrilee was “an object that was in his way”.
The jury were told about all the good things happening in Kerrilee’s life. Several experts close to her, including her doctor, ruled that Kerrilee was not suffering from depression.
“The reality is the only relationship from which Kerrilee was withdrawing at the time of her death and the months preceding it, was her unhealthy one with the defendant,” the prosecution said.
There was no escaping the fact that the physical act of committing suicide with a long rifle weapon into the back of the head would be extremely difficult. “She didn’t shoot herself in the back of the head – the simple explanation is that he did,” they said.
“He didn’t sanitise the crime scene or dump the rifle and Kerrilee’s body for the kids – the simple explanation is that he did it to conceal evidence of his guilt. He didn’t lie to the police for hours because he was in shock – the simple explanation is that he did it to get away with murder.”
The jury were played conversations recorded on Jason’s phone between him and Kerrilee just days before her death. He was using the audio records to document their divorce when they had disagreements.
But he could be heard muttering under his breath, “I just wanna hate your guts and [expletive] bury you in the back yard.”
Another recorded him saying, “Yeah, she’s getting a bullet tonight. That she is.”
After a three-week trial, the jury took just 90 minutes to find Jason guilty of second-degree murder and concealment of a body. Outside court, Kerrilee’s tearful mum, Hope Wagner, said that justice had been done.
“It won’t bring Kerrilee back to us, but we know that we’re going to finish her race,” she said.
Family face the killer
In April this year, Jason, 49, faced sentencing.
Kerrilee’s sister, Tiffany Thompson, who had taken in her three nieces, described how they would cry for their mum at night.
“It haunts us to know someone who was so loving, so caring, could be thrown away like she was nothing,” she said.
Kerrilee’s mum had damning words for Jason and said their relationship had been abusive for years.
“What you did to Kerrilee was calculated,” she said. “You tortured her with psychological grief, slowly peeling everything away that Kerri had within herself. You planned her death, premeditated her final days and it was years in the making.
"It’s not about jealousy and envy, it’s about power and control. And people like you thrive on the active abuse and created chaos.”
Jason continued to claim his wife had taken her own life and he’d acted to protect their children.
“I would never, ever harm Kerrilee,” he insisted, adding he loved her.
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The judge was in disbelief over Jason’s statement. “That either shows you are completely, totally delusional or you have no heart in that body whatever,” he said. “You should never be allowed out of state prison.”
The judge added he hoped Jason never sees his daughters. He was sentenced to 25 years to life and was also given up to four years for concealing a corpse.
When a person makes the break from an abusive relationship, it can be a race against time to escape the potential dangers posed by a scorned partner. And as fast as Kerrilee was running, she just couldn’t get to the finish line.
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