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Brianna Armstrong murdered and decapitated by Justin Cornell: The Killer Beside Me investigates

Mugshot of Justin Cornell
Justin Cornell was found guilty of murdering coworker Brianna Armstrong. Pic credit: Virginia Dept of Corrections

The Killer Beside Me investigates the case of two massage workers from Virginia Beach, Virginia, who’s friendship ended in murder in 2015.

Brianna Armstrong was just 43-years old when she was murdered by her coworker, Justin Cornell, who then mutilated her body and dumped her remains by the side of the road.

On the evening of May 7, 2015, Brianna had gone for dinner and drinks at Cornell’s apartment in Virginia Beach. They were joined for a time by a neighbor, who was the first to leave. The neighbor would later state that he saw Brianna leave the apartment at 11 pm.

At 11:30, a picture of two guns was sent to Cornell’s cellphone from Brianna’s phone. The pic was captioned “Bri need this.” After that, she was not seen or heard from again.

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Six days later, her car was located in the parking lot of a shopping center beside Cornell’s apartment complex. And it was 24 days after she first went missing, that Brianna’s remains were discovered by the side of the road in Dismal Swamp Creek, VA.

The body had been placed in trash bags and was missing a head and the forearms. The remains were clearly visible from the road.

The medical examiner did not rule Brianna’s death as a homicide; instead, Dr. Stokes labeled the cause of death as undetermined. However, he did say Brianna had suffered “unspecified criminal violence with decapitation, dismemberment, postmortem mutilation.” Stokes also said there had been an attempt to conceal the remains.

Death by gunshot, blunt force trauma, or sharp force trauma and strangulation were all ruled out. Suicide was considered a possibility; Brianna was clinically depressed and had been prescribed medication for both depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, just how Brianna died remains a mystery today.

Evidence mounted against Justin Cornell

Despite the inconclusive analysis, the police remained highly suspicious of Cornell. Some trash found near Brianna’s remains was thought to have come from his apartment. And the trash bag was of the type used by Cornell.

Further investigation revealed a small amount of Brianna’s blood located on the carpet in his apartment. Furthermore, police discovered a Google map of the Great Dismal Swamp area on the killer’s phone when they found Brianna’s remains.

In May 2016, a jury found Justin Cornell guilty of second-degree murder, and he was subsequently sentenced to 40 years in prison.

More from The Killer Beside Me

Follow the links to read about more murders profiled on The Killer Beside Me.

Gail Spencer was held hostage before being strangled to death in her own home as her colleague Tracy Jones stole over a million dollars from her employer.

In 2011, Zachary Lapelusa embarked on a violent vendetta against his former manager, Antoinette Vendetti Bruce. He confronted her in a Connecticut parking lot and forced her into her car. Medical examiners said Vendetti Bruce was stabbed between 50 and 90 times.

The Killer Beside Me airs at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.

Jerry Brown


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