A Bellefonte man killed his wife and set the house on fire with a child inside, police say

A Bellefonte man is facing charges, including first and third degree murder, in the killing of his wife.

Police said in a release that Courtney McGhee, 41, was hit with a blunt object several times, though an official ruling has not been made on the cause of her death. Her husband Charles McGhee, 37, became a suspect, police said, because he was witnessed fleeing the home after a fire began in the house. Police believe he intentionally set the fire to destroy evidence.

A child was in the home at the time of the fire, woke up to the sound of smoke detectors and went to a neighbor’s house for safety, according to police. The neighbors then called 911 to report the fire.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said police and fire personnel responded at about 11 p.m. Monday to the 1000 block of Shady Lane Extension for a fire. Logan, Undine and Pleasant Gap fire companies were dispatched to the scene where the body was discovered in the basement. After firefighters extinguished the fire the scene was turned over to Bellefonte police.

The child was interviewed by officers and said her parents had been arguing Monday, according to the affidavit of probable cause. She told police she awoke to the fire alarm at about 11 p.m. and found Charles McGhee rushing around.

The child said Charles McGhee was “startled” when she opened the door, police said, and told her he had to go. She stated she “realized he was going to leave her to die.”

She walked to a neighbor’s house and watched Charles McGhee drive away, police said. Neighbors told police they were aware of alleged marital issues between the McGhees and claimed Courtney McGhee was pursing divorce options.

Two cats were also found in the house dead from the fire, police said.

Surrounding departments were notified of Charles McGhee’s vehicle, and he was arrested by state police at Lamar after he crashed his vehicle at 11:44 p.m. on Interstate 80 near the Jersey Shore exit. He was taken to Lock Haven Hospital for treatment and then released with no injuries.

The Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal indicated fires had been set in three specific areas in the basement, police said, including to piles of clothing and a couch. The fires were extinguished before they could completely destroy the basement area.

“After all visible evidence collected and statements obtained, it is apparent Charles McGhee intentionally and willfully killed his wife, Courtney McGhee,” the affidavit said.

The state police fire marshal, Bellefonte EMS and the Altoona Fire Department K-9 team also assisted Bellefonte police.

Charles McGhee was arraigned Tuesday before District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker and charged with numerous counts, many of which carry potential life sentences. Charges include homicide counts of first-degree murder and aggravated arson; felony charges of third-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated arson and flight to avoid apprehension; and misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of children, possession of instruments of crime, reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and cruelty to animals.

Bail was denied by Centre County Judge Katie Oliver, owing to the severity of the charges. A preliminary hearing was set for June 14.

“What ever happened to divorce?” District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller asked after the arraignment. “Centre County has had repeated domestic homicides, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping.

“It’s just not acceptable,” she said, “and we need to work harder and we need to reach out to people having trouble.”

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