A California Highway Patrol captain on leave in Tennessee was found dead of a gunshot wound days after an arrest in the fatal shooting of her husband in Kentucky and her own arrest on suspicion of home invasion from his girlfriend, according to police reports obtained by The Times.
Julie Harding, 49, was found dead Saturday in a rural home near the Kentucky border, said CHP spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Wayland. Her death comes two days after a Napa, Calif., man was arrested in connection with the October slaying of her husband, 53-year-old Michael Harding.
Julie Harding’s death is being investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, but officials have said foul play is not suspected.
A source familiar with the Kentucky investigation who was not authorized to speak publicly about Michael Harding’s death said investigators are focusing on whether the Napa man was involved in a murder-for-hire plot involving the CHP commander.
Julie Harding, who had 22 years of service with the CHP, has led the department’s Yuba-Sutter office since 2018, Wayland said. She could not say how long Harding had been on leave, but officials said she and her husband owned property in Tennessee, where Harding was staying.
Two days before her death, Harding was booked into the Rutherford County Jail in Tenn., about 100 miles from the home where her body was found in the city of Celina, on suspicion of criminal trespass, according to a sheriff’s spokeswoman.
According to police reports, the Hardings were going through a divorce and the CHP captain had been stalking her husband’s girlfriend, who was identified as Natasha Davis.
Davis told police that Harding had trespassed on her property in October and tried to retrieve the Hardings’ dog, which Davis had kept.
Michael Harding was reported missing in September. 18 from his home in Celina. It was not immediately known who filed the missing persons report. He was last reported to be in Kentucky, in nearby Cumberland County, according to police appeals to the public for help in finding him.
His body was discovered in September. 26 in a vacant home being sold in Cumberland County, authorities said. He had been shot multiple times, according to the county medical examiner’s office.
Kentucky authorities contacted law enforcement in Tennessee and California, as well as the FBI for help in the investigation, said State Police Trooper 1st Class Jonathan Houk.
Thomas Francis O’Donnell of Napa was identified as a suspect in Michael Harding’s death, Houk said, and was arrested Thursday at Sacramento International Airport.
O’Donnell, 60, is being held without bond pending extradition to Kentucky, booking records show.
Authorities are still working to determine if there is a connection between the Hardings’ deaths, but police have already outlined a disturbing relationship between the CHP captain and Davis.
Tennessee police records state that “Davis expressed fear of Julie because Michael was shot in the head.”
Two weeks after Michael Harding’s body was found, Julie Harding was caught on a Ring camera entering the Davis home without consent to take a dog named Charlie, which was owned by the Hardings, police records show. Davis told police she had indicated she would turn the dog over to a police station, but Harding answered her front door in October. 10 and grabbed the dog by the collar and grabbed it, according to a Tennessee report seeking a warrant for Harding’s arrest.
Three days later, Davis reported to police that her Netflix account had been hacked. Davis said one profile had been altered to show her name with a picture of a monkey, and that “the second profile was called Julie with a picture of an angry princess.”