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Man charged with murdering ex-wife, setting her home on fire in Franklin

Firefighters from several towns along with police and SWAT members converged at Grace Lane in Franklin Friday morning after a fire.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

FRANKLIN — In a horrific case of domestic violence, a woman was allegedly murdered in her home Friday by her ex-husband, who then set fire to the house where the victim was living with her mother and the former couple’s two teenage children, according to authorities and court records.

Brendon J. Owen, 47, is charged with murdering Shirley Branco Owen, his wife of 11 years before she filed for divorce in 2014, citing years of verbal and physical abuse, police and prosecutors said.

He was ordered held without bail at his arraignment Friday afternoon in Wrentham District Court.

“The facts of this matter are incredibly egregious,” Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Anne Yas said during the brief hearing.

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Brendon Owen’s alleged violent assault began sometime after 7:15 a.m., when he entered the 11 Grace Lane home he used to live in and began menacing Shirley Owen’s 75-year-old mother with a lead pipe and a hammer, according to a police report filed in court.

Her mother, Mary Branco, would later tell police he had “hit her over the head with the lead pipe and smashed her cellphone,” before duct taping her legs and mouth and saying “you better not warn her,” the report said.

Her daughter, she told police, had returned to the house after briefly leaving to take the couple’s children, who are ages 13 and 15, to school.

Branco managed to free herself from the duct tape, and as she fled the house “she could hear her daughter screaming,” the report said.

Branco ran across the street to the home of a neighbor, who called 911, Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey told reporters at Franklin Police headquarters.

When police approached the home’s rear door, they spotted Brendon Owen standing next to a flaming couch, spraying what appeared to be lighter fluid, and lighting a match, the report said. Officers kicked in the door, but were overtaken by a cloud of smoke. Another officer spotted Owen exiting through the garage, and they were able to subdue him with a taser and arrest him.

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After Owen was taken into custody, Branco and the neighbors began telling the officers “She’s still in the house!” the report said. An officer who entered the home through the garage discovered Shirley Owen laying unresponsive and pulled her from the smoke.

Yas said police rendered aid to Shirley Owen “but she had suffered obvious trauma to the back of her head.”

The house quickly went up in flames, and is likely a “total loss,” Morrissey said.

Brendon Owen showed no outward signs of emotion in court, keeping his head down. He wore a face mask and a white poncho.

He is charged with murder, home invasion, kidnapping, arson of a dwelling, and assault and battery causing serious bodily injury. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf.

Owens’s lawyer, Neil Madden, requested $100,000 bail and said he couldn’t comment on the specific allegations since he’d only just received the police report.

He said Brendon Owen has no memory of what transpired earlier in the Franklin home.

He is slated for a probable cause hearing Jan. 19.

According to court records, Shirley Owen filed for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences” and has spent the succeeding seven years in Norfolk Probate and Family Court struggling to protect herself, working to end her ex-husband’s efforts to control her, and insisting he pay court-ordered child support.

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Shirley Owen obtained an active restraining order barring Brendon Owen from having direct contact with her — and it was in effect Friday, officials said.

Brendon Owen, who once worked for John Hancock Financial Services, was unemployed from 2015 through at least 2018 and was so often behind in child support that he was sent to jail in 2017 for non-payment, getting released only when he provided a $5,000 payment, records show.

Shirley Owen’s death was the first murder in Franklin in 24 years. (In October 2020, 26-year-old Attleboro resident Deandre Akeem Scott was fatally shot in a home on Elwood Road, Morrissey’s office said, but no murder charges were brought in that case.)

According to court records, when Shirley Owen filed for divorce, she wrote in a sworn affidavit that Brendon Owen was irrational, wanted to know her whereabouts at all times, and that she feared for her safety.

“I believe my husband will react irrationally to the restraining order and divorce and will do things to harm me including shutting off utilities, withdrawing money, hiding money, and anything else he can think of to harm me financially,” she wrote. “His controlling behavior with regard to our finances leaves me and my children vulnerable because of his anger and desire to harm me.”

John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Andrew Brinker can be reached at andrew.brinker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnbrinker.