It’s been 20 years since 18-year old Zebb Quinn vanished from Asheville, North Carolina.
Zebb’s case is notable for the bizarre nature of his disappearance – and the vague clues that were left behind, which ultimately left the public with more way more questions than answers. Furthermore, the turns that the investigation took led investigators down a rabbit-hole in which they, along with amateur sleuths, still find themselves today.
Quinn was a reserved, shy young man. A member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, he was well known for his disciplined and studious demeanor. When he wasn’t with the ROTC, he supplemented his income by working at the local Walmart.
Quinn’s old Mazda was aging by January 2000, and Zebb wanted to save up for a new car – perhaps to celebrate the new millennium in style. He had heard about a Mitsubishi Eclipse for sale in nearby Leicester – so he agreed to a friend’s offer to go and check out the car after work one night – on January 2nd.
That friend was Robert Jason Owens. The two young men worked together (Owens had two jobs at the time) and hung out together out of hours. We all know how dull a Sunday night in January can be – so in order to kill some time, the two left for Leicester after work – with Quinn in his vehicle and Owens in his. The two were captured on CCTV at a nearby gas station some 15 minutes later, at 9.15pm. The pair purchased soft drinks on the brief detour, before continuing on with their journey.
The two continued driving until Quinn flashed his headlights at Owens, signaling him to pull over. The two were pulled over and Owens asked Quinn what was wrong – and Quinn informed him that he had just got a message on his pager and had to return to the gas station to make a brief phone call. Owens agreed to wait where he was, and Quinn said he’d return shortly.
Less than 20 minutes later, Quinn returned – but seemed nervous. He did not share the details of the call – and did not reveal what his earlier page had said. Owens said he seemed ‘frantic’ and nervously sped off into the night, colliding with Owens’s car in the process of his getaway. This was the last confirmed sighting of Zebb Quinn.
As Quinn did not return home after work, his mother called the police. It was unusual for Quinn to be out all night, let alone without informing his mother of his whereabouts. A missing person’s report was immediately filed – as Quinn suddenly taking off without a word was so out-of-character. The next day, the Walmart branch in which he worked received a phone call – Zebb was on the line. He said that he could not make it into work as he had developed a fever, and apologized for his absence. However, the woman on the other end, who had known Quinn for a while, immediately noticed that the voice on the call did not belong to him. After calling the number back, she was transferred to a Volvo dealership – the other workplace of Robert Jason Owens.
The police, of course, questioned Owens about the impersonated phone call. He admitted to making it but stated that he only had done so as Quinn had told him to. The authorities questioned why Quinn didn’t just call himself – to which Owens bizarrely responded by saying that his suspicious actions were due to a concussion he had received in a second car accident he had been involved in on the night that Quinn vanished. Police discovered that Owens had admitted himself into the hospital on the night of January 2 with broken ribs and a concussion. However, the damage on his car was not consistent with this, and the only damage it had received was when Quinn rear-ended him on his getaway. Owens had also failed to file an accident report, and no other witnesses could corroborate his claim of an accident on the road.
Misty Taylor Enters the Picture
After the police did some digging into Quinn’s personal life, they quickly discovered Misty Taylor. Quinn was infatuated with Taylor, and the two were involved in a secret relationship. Taylor had a boyfriend – Wesley Smith, who she’d also recently had a baby with. Smith was an abusive and domineering partner, so Taylor kept her secret affair with Quinn under wraps to avoid any conflict. However, Smith found out about the couple eventually and had threatened Quinn severely before he went missing. However, no evidence pointed towards Smith being involved in Quinn’s disappearance, and police dropped him as a suspect. Several weeks had now gone by, and authorities were no closer to uncovering any answers.
They did, however, trace the origin of the page that caused Quinn to act so nervously on January 2nd. The message had come from the home of Quinn’s paternal aunt, Ina Ulstich. The two were not close by any means and rarely spoke to each other. Ulstich’s home was visited by the police, but she denied sending the page. In fact, she had a strong alibi – she was having dinner with friends on January 2nd at another home. Police asked her who was present, to which Ulstich replied that she was with Misty Taylor and Wesley Smith (for some reason) along with Misty’s mother, Tamra Taylor. Furthermore, Ulstich claimed her home had been broken in to on the evening of January 2nd. She said although nothing was stolen, picture frames and other household items had been moved around.
At this point, it is obvious that the case is highly confusing. Owens checks in to the hospital on January 2nd after a phantom car accident, although he is sporting legitimate injuries, he fails to report the accident or tell anyone about it until questioned. He also phoned Quinn’s workplace badly impersonating him but said he had only done so because Quinn told him to. Quinn’s page message came from his aunt’s house, but she claimed she wasn’t at home – and was with people very familiar to Quinn despite not being close with him at all. Furthermore, her house was definitely burgled, but the thieves didn’t steal anything and instead re-arranged her living room. Somewhere in this confusing mess, there are several lies. I had a hard time keeping this as easy-to-follow as possible, and yet the case is only going to get more confusing from here.
The Mystery of Quinn’s Car
Four days after Zebb Quinn vanished, his car was discovered in the car park of a barbeque restaurant, adjacent to the hospital where Quinn’s mother worked. The car had been defaced with the drawing of a pair of lips and an exclamation mark. Inside the car was a live puppy, a keycard from an unknown hotel, a jacket that didn’t belong to Quinn, and empty soda bottles. The headlights were on and it seemed that someone shorter than Quinn had parked it due to the position of the seat.
The puppy was unharmed and later adopted by a police officer. The symbolism of the animal is unknown but it is believed that the car was left in a state as conspicuous as possible in order to ensure its discovery, preferably by Quinn’s mother, as her workplace (Mission General Hospital) was mere yards from the car park.
A couple came forward to say that they had seen this car being driven in downtown Asheville, near the hospital, shortly before its discovery. From their testimony, a composite sketch was created.
This abomination of a sketch bore a strong resemblance to Misty Taylor, who had allegedly severed contact with Quinn the week before he went missing. Despite this sketch, no concrete evidence against Taylor, Owens, or any other party could be found.
The Zebb Quinn case was beginning to go cold. Despite the obvious lying by the people involved, there was neither a strong motive, suspect, or body to attach the case to. ”In the back of my mind, there is still that little bit of hope”, Quinn’s mother said in a TV interview. No new pieces of evidence were being discovered – and it took yet another bizarre instance for the case to get the shot in the arm it needed.
Cristie Schoen and J.T. Codd
In March 2015, Food Network Star contestant Cristie Schoen and her husband, J.T. Codd, went missing. Their families called police after the couple, expecting their first child, stopped responded to phone calls and had not been seen in public for a little while. They were last seen on March 15, and their absence immediately alerted those close to them. The next day, a man phoned the police with a tip saying he had seen a man carrying two large garbage bags to be disposed of outside, in the area the couple was last seen. The police quickly found the identity of the man – and his name was Robert Jason Owens. His property was searched and the couple’s remains were found in a woodstove. Owens was arrested and admitted to the killings – saying that he had accidentally run over the couple after they helped him with his stalled car, before disposing of the bodies to avoid charges. He was sentenced to 75 years in prison without parole.
The Quinn Case Today
Owens’s property was again searched by detectives after his 2015 arrest. They discovered that he had created a pond in his garden some years ago, and underneath it were fragments of leather, fabric, and an unknown hard substance that had been pulverized. Police did not confirm if these were human remains. However, in July 2017, Quinn was formally charged with the murder of Zebb Quinn, and he currently awaits trial in prison.
Ultimately, there are still several mysteries about the night of January 2nd, 2000. Were Misty Taylor and her boyfriend involved? Why did Owens have rib and head injuries shortly after Quinn went missing? Were these injuries caused by Quinn fighting back? What message did Quinn receive on his pager that caused him to speed off into the night? In fact, did any of this happen at all? We have only the testimony of Owens to go on, and he’s hardly a trustworthy man.
The case of Zebb Quinn may well be solved with Owens’s arrest, but the bizarre nature of his disappearance will perhaps always go unknown. It has been over twenty years now, and we’re still as perplexed as ever.