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The Strange Case of Zebb Quinn’s Disappearance

20 years after he disappeared, has his killer been brought to justice?

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

On March 17, 2015, Robert Jason Owens was arrested for the murder of celebrity chef and former Food Network Star contestant Cristie Schoen Codd, her husband Joseph Codd, and their unborn child. As part of a plea deal, Owens admitted to killing the Codd family and dismembering their remains. When the police searched Owens’s home, they found “fabric, leather materials, and unknown hard fragments” buried under a layer of concrete, as well as human remains in Owens' wood stove.

The murder of the Codds wasn’t the first time that Owens had been involved in a mysterious disappearance, and it would soon become clear that those unknown fragments and human remains were remnants of an earlier case.

Some 15 years earlier, Owens seems to have been the last person to see Zebb Quinn alive. At the time, Quinn was a young man of 18, working in the electronics department of a Walmart in Asheville, North Carolina. On January 2, 2000, Quinn got off work at around 9:00 P.M. and met his friend and coworker Robert Jason Owens in the parking lot. The two were planning to go to the nearby town of Leicester to look at a car that Quinn was interested in buying.

Related: Gone in the Night: The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Rudolf Diesel 

Quinn and Owens drove separately and stopped at a gas station along the way to buy drinks. Surveillance footage from the gas station provides the last known photographs of Zebb Quinn alive. After leaving the gas station, Owens later told police that Quinn signaled for him to pull over, saying that he had been paged and needed to return the call right away.

After going to a payphone, Owens claimed that Quinn was "frantic" and had to call off the trip, speeding away in such haste that he actually struck Owens' vehicle. Later that same night, Owens was treated at a nearby hospital for broken ribs and a head injury that he claimed to have acquired in a separate accident, though no accident report was ever filed for either collision.

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

This was just the beginning of the bizarre circumstances surrounding Zebb Quinn's disappearance. Police eventually traced the call that was placed to Quinn's pager to the phone of his aunt, Ina Ustitch. Ustitch told police that she wasn't even home at the time of the call: She had been having dinner with a friend named Tamra Taylor.

Taylor was the mother of Misty Taylor, with whom Quinn had a relationship that may or may not have been becoming romantic at the time of his disappearance. However, Misty and her boyfriend Wesley Smith were both present at the dinner as well. Ustitch later reported to the police that her house had been broken into while she was out to dinner with her friend, though nothing was stolen.

Related: 7 Chilling Cases of People Who Vanished Without Explanation 

The next day, Quinn's mother filed a missing person's report for her son, but it wasn't until four days later, on January 6, that his car was found abandoned in the parking lot of the Little Pigs Barbecue restaurant, near the hospital where his mother worked. She later told police that she believed the car had been left there on purpose, so that whoever had abducted her son would be sure that she would find it.

In the car was a live puppy, several empty bottles, a jacket that didn't belong to Quinn, and a hotel key card that the authorities were never able to match with a particular hotel. The headlights had been left on, and a pair of lips and an exclamation point had been drawn in pink lipstick on the rear windshield. Of Quinn, however, there was no trace.

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  • Zebb Quinn with Misty Taylor.

    Photo Credit: Alchetron

Two days after Quinn's disappearance, before his car had yet been found in the Little Pigs parking lot, a phone call was placed to the Walmart where he worked. The caller claimed to be Quinn, saying that he was calling in sick, but the coworker who took the call said that the voice didn't sound like Quinn's. Robert Jason Owens would later confess to placing the call, at the time saying that he was doing it as a favor to his friend.

Related: Murder in the San Juans: The Strange Life and Death of Rolf Neslund 

For 15 years, the investigation went on, though seemingly little progress was made. Misty Taylor and her boyfriend were questioned, as were others, but nothing could link them to the disappearance of Quinn. In 2012, the case was featured on the show Disappeared, but still no answers were forthcoming. Quinn’s case became well known on the internet, where many communities attempted to discover the evidence that would either bring his killer to justice or make clear exactly where the teen had disappeared to.

While Robert Jason Owens remained the chief suspect, it wasn't until the murder of the Codd family that he was finally charged with a crime. According to Owens, he ran over the Codds while on painkillers and then dismembered and hid their remains in a panic. He never confessed to the murder of Zebb Quinn, but in 2017 a grand jury finally handed down an indictment charging Owens with Quinn's death some 17 years before. Authorities said that the indictment was "the result of years of investigative work and persistence," but whether it was ultimately prompted by new evidence discovered during the investigation into the murder of the Codd family hasn't been revealed by the police. 

All photos: Alchetron