Police Chief Andrew Mills said investigators contacted the family of Gary Lee Bullock, suspected of killing the Rev. Eric Freed, 56, "and they told us where he was," the (Eureka) Times-Standard reported.
Police arrested Bullock at about 12:30 p.m. PST in a house near Briceland, about 60 miles south of Eureka. He was being held by Humboldt County sheriff's deputies. Freed's missing car was found near the house, the newspaper said.
Freed's body was found at the St. Bernard Church rectory after he failed to show up for 9 a.m. mass Wednesday. Humboldt County Coroner David Parris said Thursday Freed's death has been ruled a homicide, CNN reported.
Eureka police said there were signs of a forced entry, a "violent struggle" and blunt force trauma on Freed's body -- but the exact cause of death has not been determined. An autopsy has been scheduled for Saturday.
Mills said Bullock has no history of criminal violence. The Times-Standard said Humboldt County court records indicate Bullock has been arrested on a cocaine charge and has been convicted of two misdemeanors.
The Eureka Police Department said in a news release Thursday Humboldt County deputies detained Bullock for public intoxication Tuesday after receiving complaints he was "acting strangely" near Garberville, about 67 miles south of Eureka. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation, booked into jail shortly after 4:30 p.m. and released at about 12:45 a.m. Wednesday.
Eureka police, responding to call at about 2 a.m. of a "suspicious person" at the church, found Bullock there and referred him to an emergency shelter.
The police statement said a security guard investigating "a noise in the area of the church" later that morning found a man matching Bullock's description and ordered him to leave.
Mills released few details about Freed's death or the investigation at a news conference Wednesday, not even identifying the priest by name as the victim, the newspaper said. Mayor Frank Jager, who talked to local residents at the church, later confirmed Freed had been killed.
Winette Treder said Frank Weber, a deacon at the church, went to the rectory when the priest did not appear for the 9 a.m. mass.
"He came in and said there was something terribly wrong with Father Eric," Treder said.
Freed, who was last seen in the church at about 6:20 p.m. Tuesday, had been pastor at St. Bernard since 2011. He was also an instructor in the Department of Religious Studies at Humboldt State University, in Arcata, Calif., where he served as director of the Newman Center on campus.
HSU President Rollin C. Richmond said in a statement released by the university Thursday Freed's death was "tragic and difficult."
"Through his work and commitment, Eric had a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of individuals in our area," Richmond said.
"He is remembered for his kindness, warmth and ability to connect with students, both as a teacher and a mentor," the statement said.
The statement said the campus counseling center was providing help for students who need support in dealing with Freed's death, and faculty and staff members could get counseling through the employee assistance program.
Freed lived for 20 years in Japan. He translated haiku by Hiroko Takanashi, a survivor of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, and wrote an introduction to her collection, "The Experience of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima in Poem."