A homeless man has been arrested and charged with the murder of Betty Jane Willis, a 76-year-old former soul singer who recorded songs such as "Someday You'll Need My Love," "Act Naturally" and "Take My Heart" in the 1960s.
Rosendo Xo Pec has been charged with murder with special circumstances because he was allegedly attempting to rape Willis when she died on Jan. 1, according to KABC. Pec could face life in prison if convicted.
Willis, who worked for years as a mail clerk after leaving the music business, was also living on the street at the time of her death, according to KABC. According to police, Willis was sleeping in a strip-mall parking lot in Santa Ana, California, when Pec found her at about 4 a.m.
Pec allegedly stole Willis' blanket and began sexually assaulting her, according to KABC. Willis screamed for help as Pec punched her in the head and choked her.
A witness called police, who arrived while Pec was on top of Willis with his pants down. Pec tried to run from the officers, but was quickly caught. Willis died at the scene.
Before she worked at the post office, Willis had a career as a soul singer, working with well-known artists such as Bill Medley and Leon Russell, according to a Facebook post from her friend Anthony Reichardt.
According to Reichardt, Willis never mentioned her musical past to her coworkers at the post office. Reichardt's knowledge of music allowed him to discover Willis' past and track her career through the '60s.
Willis began singing at Santa Ana clubs in the early '60s, according to Reichardt. Her local presence eventually gave her the opportunity to record several records throughout the decade. Her career ended with her last single, "Ain't Gonna Do You No Good," in 1968.
"A few years ago, I met with Betty and brought copies of all her original 45's and a CD containing the music and presented them to her," Reichardt wrote. "We sat in my car and listened to the music. Not more than 30 seconds after the opening notes of one of her old recordings had played, I turned to see Betty staring straight ahead with tears streaming down her face."
"I told her people from all over the world now pay big bucks for original copies of her old records and told her to share her musical history with her grandchild," Reichardt continued. "After we laughed and reminisced for a couple of hours, we hugged and I went on my way."
Willis is survived by her daughter and granddaughter, according to Reichardt.