Murdered PhD student’s boyfriend told family he’d ‘ran off’ days before his body was found in a shed

The body of a missing PhD student has been discovered and his boyfriend named as a person of interest in the homicide investigation.

Deundray Cottrell, 31, was found dead on July 6 after he was last seen at a Fourth of July party at his sister’s home in Birmingham, Alabama.

His body was discovered in a shed two blocks from his sister’s home after his shoe was spotted outside, WVTM reported.

Jefferson County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Cottrell’s manner of death as a homicide. No arrests have been made.

Birmingham Police Department later named Julian Taylor Morris, 31, as a person of interest in the investigation and are trying to locate him, according to a news release. The pair were believed to be in a romantic relationship.

Angelica Cottrell, the victim’s sister, told WSB-TV that her brother and Morris had driven from Atlanta, Georgia, to Birmingham to celebrate the Fourth of July with family.

“My children started to pop fireworks and because my brother had his dog with him, he was gonna run into the house real quick and go and check on the dog,” Ms Cottrell said.

She said Morris was the one who then alerted her that her brother was missing.

Morris allegedly told Angelica that her brother had jumped off the patio balcony, then “took off running.”

But as the family began to search for him, she said that Morris’ behavior was strange.

“While we looked – Julian didn’t,” she told the TV station. “At one point when everybody was searching, Julian had fixed a plate and was sitting there eating, and he looked at me and said, OMG, the food is so good.”

Birmingham police officers said they were dispatched to a missing person call at a residence in the 7900 Block of 4th Avenue South on July 4.

On July 5, police recovered some of Cottrell’s clothing in the area, and a neighbor provided officers with surveillance footage of him.

Officers discovered Cottrell’s body the following day. “Details surrounding this investigation are suspicious,” Birmingham police said.

After learning that Morris was named a person of interest, the victim’s brother, Tim Cottrell, said it was “hurtful” because “my mom was there, staring her son’s killer in the eye.”

Police asked anyone with information on the case to contact the Birmingham PD’s homicide unit at 205-254-1764 or Crime Stoppers at 205-254-7777. A cash reward of $5,000 is available for tips.

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