Plenty of unanswered questions remain after Owens plea in Codd case

FILE - It's been more than 17 years since Asheville teen Zebb Quinn vanished. Quinn’s disappearance and the search for him still have locals talking and speculating.

Robert Jason Owens pled guilty to three counts of 2nd-degree-murder and 2 counts of dismemberment for the 2015 murders of JT and Cristie Codd and their unborn child, Skylar.

Jason Owens agreed to a plea deal that will keep him in jail for decades, but he will not face trial nor the death penalty.

The DA's office says Owens admitted to killing the Codds but that he said he accidentally ran over them when his truck got stuck in the mud near their house.

The Assistant District Attorney said he then took the bodies inside, cut them up, and then burned them, disposing of the remains in trash bags in a dumpster.

Owens defense team says he was heavily impaired on medications that day and that he didn't want to report the accident once he has run over them, that's why he disposed of the bodies.

This case ties to a well-known cold case in Asheville, the still unsolved disappearance of Zebb Quinn.

The disappearance of Zebb Quinn

It's been more than 17 years since Asheville teen Zebb Quinn vanished. Quinn’s disappearance and the search for him still have locals talking and speculating.

The events surrounding Quinn's disappearance are bizarre, and a horrifying case in 2015 brought renewed hope that Quinn's disappearance might finally be solved. But the murders of J.T. and Cristie Codd and their unborn child resulted in more questions than answers.

Here are some of the questions:

  • If Quinn is dead, why was he killed?
  • Who paged Quinn the night he disappeared?
  • What happened to Quinn’s car in the days after he went missing?
  • Where did the puppy that was found in his car come from?
  • What's with the lips that were drawn on his car?
  • Where does the hotel key that was found in his car fit in?
  • What were the “unknown hard fragments” found on Robert Jason Owens’ property?
  • Whose remains were found in the mobile home that burned on Owens’ property?

The disappearance

What started out as a typical Sunday night took an odd turn when Quinn, 18, of Asheville, left his job at Walmart on Hendersonville Road, on a January night in 2000, on his way to meet a friend.

When Quinn left work that Sunday, Jan. 2, he intended to meet with friend Robert Jason Owens to look at a vehicle Quinn was interested in buying. Surveillance footage shows the two inside a CITGO convenience store a little after 9 p.m. A few minutes later, the tape shows Owens’ Ford pickup truck pulling away with Quinn’s light blue Mazda Protege following, headed toward Long Shoals Road.

According to Owens, after leaving the gas station, Quinn flashed his headlights, signaling for Owens to pullover. The two were near T.C. Roberson High School on Long Shoals Road. Owens said Quinn had received a page and needed to make a call. This was before everyone had cell phones, so Quinn had to find a pay phone. Owens said Quinn left to find a payphone. He said Quinn was “frantic” when he returned 10 minutes later. Owens said Quinn canceled their plans and was in such a rush to leave, Quinn rear-ended Owens’ vehicle. Owens said Quinn apologized then drove away. Owens said it was the last time he saw Quinn.

Later, in the early morning hours of Jan. 3, Owens went to the hospital with head injuries and a broken rib he claimed to have sustained in a second car crash that night. Owens told authorities the crash happened near the Waffle House restaurant on Long Shoals Road, near the Interstate 26 intersection.

Two days later, a man claiming to be Quinn called Walmart and told an employee he was sick and wouldn’t be able to work his shift that day. The co-worker who took the phone call knew Quinn’s voice and told police it wasn't Quinn on the phone. Authorities traced the call to the Volvo plant where Owens worked. Owens admitted making the call, claiming Quinn had asked him to make it.

After giving his initial statement about Quinn’s disappearance, Owens refused to cooperate with police.

The other people connected to the case

The next afternoon, Jan. 4, Quinn’s mother, Denise Vlahakis, filed a missing person report.

During the investigation, police interviewed Misty Taylor, whom Quinn was interested in romantically. In the weeks before his disappearance, Quinn told friends and family Taylor’s boyfriend, Wesley Smith, was abusive. Quinn had also claimed Smith had threatened him when he found out he had been talking with Taylor. Taylor and Smith denied any involvement in the disappearance.

Meanwhile, police traced the page Quinn received the night of his disappearance to the home of his aunt, Ina Ustich, who denied making the call. She told police she was having dinner at her friend Tamra Taylor’s house. Tamra Taylor is Misty Taylor’s mother. Misty Taylor and her boyfriend Wesley Smith were also at the dinner.

Ustich later filed a police report, saying while she was at Taylor’s home for dinner, her house had been broken into.

The car and other strange evidence

Quinn’s vehicle was found Jan. 16, two weeks after his disappearance, in the parking lot of Little Pigs Bar-B-Q on McDowell Street. Inside the vehicle, authorities found a live black Labrador puppy, a plastic hotel key, several empty drink bottles and a jacket that didn’t belong to Quinn. The puppy was also not his. On the back windshield, a pair of lips and two exclamation points had been drawn in lipstick, and the driver’s seat was adjusted for someone shorter than Quinn. The vehicle was parked close to Mission St. Joseph’s Hospital, where Quinn’s grandmother, mother and sister worked as neonatal nurses.

Investigators were unable to track the hotel key to anyone or any hotel. The puppy was adopted by one of the investigators.

A link to another case

The years went by, and the case went cold.

Then Owens was discovered with the dismembered remains of three people in his wood stove – Food Network star Cristie Schoen Codd, her husband J.T. Codd and their unborn child.

The Codds, like Quinn, were Owens' friends, and he was their next door neighbor.

The Codd case started March 15, 2015, 15 years after Quinn disappeared, when the Codds were reported missing by family members after Cristie didn’t arrive in Mississippi as expected. Deputies found the couple’s dogs and important personal items, such as Cristie’s purse and J.T.’s wallet, at the Codd’s home. Later that day, investigators received a tip that Owens was seen dumping bags into a dumpster on Donna Drive. Those bags were located and found to contain items belonging to Cristie Codd, including her identification.

Authorities interviewed Owens the next day about his involvement with the Codds' disappearance. Authorities charged Owens with breaking and entering and larceny after he admitted to breaking into the Codd’s home and taking the items that were found in the dumpster. After obtaining search warrants, deputies searched Owens’ home, where they found what appeared to be human remains inside a wood stove. Owens was then charged with two counts of first-degree murder and murder of an unborn child. Police said the killings happened March 12, 2015.

According to detectives, Owens’ wife said he told her he was driving a car that belonged to J.T. Codd when he hit and killed him with the vehicle. Owens was a contractor who had done handiwork for the Codds. Authorities have never said what happened to Cristie Codd.

In another strange turn, fire crews were called to a middle-of-the-night mobile home fire on the property belonging to Owens on March 20, 2015. The structure was destroyed. At the time, Buncombe County fire officials called the fire suspicious, but they were unsure if the fire was connected to the criminal investigation. A news release from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office revealed human remains were found inside the mobile home located at 8 Owens Cove Road. "That fire was located at the Owens' residence," Sheriff Van Duncan said. "It was located on that curtilage. That was a building that was not his primary residence."

Quinn case revived

Then a relative of Owens came forward with information the breathed new life into the mystery of Quinn's disappearance. On March 31, 2015, police obtained a warrant to search Owens’ property in relation to the Quinn case. The warrants listed details from an interview police had with an unnamed relative of Owens who said before and after January 2000, Owens dug a pit on his Owens Cove Road property to burn items. The relative also told police that sometime after January 2000, Owens poured concrete over the area and said he was going to make a fish pond. The pond was never completed, and the relative said Owens later covered the area with dirt.

Investigators said they found fabric, leather materials and "unknown hard fragments" buried on the property. Could they be connected to the disappearance of Quinn? According to search warrant documents released, the items were found under a layer of concrete on Owens' property. However, authorities have never said what the hard fragments are or whether or not they are related to Quinn.

In fact, many questions remain.

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