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After allegedly dismembering his dead fiancée, Pleasanton man simply moved on with his life. But police were watching

After allegedly dismembering his dead fiancée, Pleasanton man simply moved on with his life. But police were watching

PLEASANTON — Joseph Roberts didn’t know it, but before authorities found the dismembered body of his fiancée on the Alameda Shoreline, police had spent the past week surveilling him as he played golf, smoked cigarettes with friends and ate Mexican food.

They’d listen to voicemails from another women calling him “handsome” and wishing him well, new records show.

And now they were ready to arrest him on suspicion of killing Rachel “Imani” Buckner based on DNA evidence, in one of the Bay Area’s most shocking homicides in recent memory.

On Sept. 6, police and the U.S. Marshals entered a Pleasanton apartment at 4857 Willow Road where Buckner and Roberts lived and immediately noticed strong indicators that they were standing inside a possible crime scene.

There was an open bottle of Drano resting on the edge of a bathtub. The carpets had been removed just days earlier, and FBI cadaver dogs alerted to the scent of human decomposition in the bathroom, bedroom and laundry area, authorities said.

After an interview in which he denied not just wrongdoing but any knowledge of Buckner’s death, Roberts was booked into jail on a murder charge and is being held on a no bail.

The story behind the allegations rattled even seasoned detectives, who struggled to identify Buckner’s body, let alone her killer.

A passerby called Alameda police on July 20 to alert them to the discovery of human remains, concealed in black garbage bags and wrapped in duct tape. When police opened it up, they realized it was a woman’s headless body also missing hands and feet. A coroner later determined that a power saw was likely used to dismember who police then knew only as “Jane Doe,” according to court records.

The only real clues to Doe’s identity were unique body tattoos, including one of an Aztec Jaguar warrior and another that referenced Jan. 28, 2017 in Roman numerals, a date important to one of her relatives, authorities said. Detectives tried to follow those leads, to no avail.

Then in late August, a Contra Costa County laboratory technician called investigators. Doe’s DNA had matched to a woman who was arrested in 2022.

Police now knew Buckner’s name, and they knew something else about her, too. In early 2022, she’d been arrested twice on suspicion of burglary, assault and elder abuse, in connection with a child custody dispute that had turned heated. The San Ramon police reports said Buckner and her fiancée had entered an elderly family member’s home and that she’d been struck and suffered a broken arm.

The fiancée, according to police reports, was Roberts, a former U.S. Navy man and Georgia native who’d come to California for his education. The two had met, years earlier, as law students at Golden Gate University, and they’d quickly fallen for one another.

A GoFundMe page for Buckner says that she recently received her Juris Doctorate from GGU, after graduating from Howard University.

“To anyone that got to know and be around Imani, she was a beautiful and radiant light,” the GoFundMe page says. “She had an infectious spirit that you could not help but smile when around and gravitate towards.”

Quickly, police had a suspect — or at least a person of interest — in Roberts. They began digging into his background and recent activities, and realized that he’d paid the registration on Buckner’s car in early August — roughly two weeks after Buckner’s body had been found. They also realized from GPS records that Roberts had left Buckner’s phone on, and was taking it with him as he went about his routine, often while driving Buckner’s car, authorities allege.

They also looked into his phone records, and found a voicemail from an unidentified woman who greeted Roberts with “Hey, Handsome” and reminded him they were supposed to grab lunch together soon, authorities said.

“You have a great personality and a beautiful soul and a wonderful vibe — period,” the woman said, according to police.

The final piece to the police’s puzzle came on Aug. 30, when a technician confirmed that Roberts’ DNA had been found on the duct tape and bags that had been wrapped around Buckner’s dismembered body.

It was time for detectives to speak with Roberts. With a warrant for his arrest, they went to his Pleasanton apartment and knocked on the door. Roberts agreed to be questioned, and later told police he assumed he was being arrested in connection with a pending eviction, authorities said.

Roberts denied any knowledge of Buckner’s death. He referred to her as his current significant other, claimed that Buckner’s mental health had deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic and that it was not uncommon for her to leave the home for a day or two at a time, authorities said. He said that despite her lengthy absence, he assumed she’d be coming back, authorities said.

When detectives then told Roberts that his fiancée was dead, he said he assumed it was by suicide. But he had no answer when they asked him why his DNA would be on the duct tape used to dispose of her body, police say.

The interview ended a few minutes later. Roberts was booked into Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where he remains. He has not yet entered a plea.