Eighteen-year-old Zebb had recently graduated high school and was working his way through college at a local Walmart in Asheville, North Carolina.
On the evening of January 2nd, after having made just about enough money to replace his old Mazda, Zebb and his friend Robert decided to take a ride over to the Mitsubishi dealership outside town and look at the new Eclipse models. The two young men had no idea what would happen that night…
New Car Found
Zebb was a quiet and reserved young man. The full-time A-B Tech student had only just graduated from Roberson High School and was working full-time at Walmart while he attended Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. But Zebb was making money and doing well. He was even thinking about purchasing a new car.
Zebb was friends with another local youth named Robert, who worked at the Volvo plant in Asheville, North Carolina. On the night of January 2, 2000, Owens had arranged to meet up with Zebb in the Walmart parking lot after he finished his shift. Then the two were going to drive separately to look at a vehicle Zebb was thinking about buying. They would never make it to the dealership…
That evening, Zebb Quinn had gotten off work at the Hendersonville Road Walmart at around 9 p.m. The car he wanted, a Mitsubishi Eclipse, was at a dealership just outside of town. The two made their way down Long Shoals Road, when suddenly, Zebb got a page and had to stop his car.
Pager Goes Off
The two stopped at a Citgo station on Hendersonville Road, and Zebb ran to a payphone. When he had finished the phone call, he walked over to his car. He was frantic, according to Owens. He hastily told Owens that he needed to go and that he had to cancel their plans to look at the car. Something was very wrong…
At around 9:45 pm, Zebb jumped into his car and drove off in a panic, his tires screeching on the cold, January ground. On his way out of the Citgo parking lot, he rear-ended Owens’ vehicle. But with no idea where he was going and no way to contact him, Owens decided that nothing could be done. He’d talk to Zebb the next day about paying for the damage. But that conversation it seemed, would never happen.
The next day, Zebb Quinn never returned home. His mother and sister had no idea what had happened to him. Zebb wasn’t an outgoing individual, he had struggled with a learning disability all his life of course, but he liked his job and enjoyed going to college. He hadn’t packed anything, no clothes, contact lens solution, and no money. He had simply driven off into the night and vanished….
Treated for Wounds
Hours after Zebb Quinn had driven off into the evening, Robert Owens was treated at a local hospital for fractured ribs and a head injury. He said that he said he sustained in a second car accident after Zebb had driven off. No accident report was filed with police. It was an odd coincidence to be sure.
The day after Zebb disappeared, his mother filed a missing person’s report. Then, two days later, the Hendersonville Road Walmart received a strange phone call. The man on the other end said that he was Zebb Quinn and that he was calling out for the day because he was sick. But Zebb’s coworker knew Zebb’s voice, whoever had called out of his shift was certainly not Zebb Quinn…
Prank Phone Call
Police traced the phone call back to the Asheville Volvo plant where Robert Owens worked. Once questioned, Owens admitted to making the phone call on his friend’s behalf. According to Owens, Zebb had called him and asked for him to call in sick for him. But there was no proof of this conversation having occurred. The police were now very interested in what else Rober Owens knew about Zebb Quinn’s disappearance.
Once they were able to track down the page sent to Zebb’s pager, the police found that it was from the home of his aunt, Ina Ustich, his father’s sister. Before his disappearance, Zebb’s contact with Aunt Ida has been minimal. She even denied having sent the page. She told police that she had been having dinner at the home of Tamra Taylor, the mother of another suspect in Zebb’s disappearance, Misty Taylor…
Misty and her boyfriend, Wesley, were also present at the alleged dinner. Misty and Zebb had apparently been friends, and there was some evidence that Zebb had some interested in becoming more than that. But Misty’s boyfriend, Wesley Smith, was abusive, and it seemed that he had threatened Zebb after he had discovered she was telling tales to her new “friend’ Zebb.
Meanwhile, as police were investigating Misty and Wesley, Aunt Ida was filing a police report. She stated that her house had been broken into on the morning of Zebb’s disappearance. Nothing had been stolen, but she said that a few picture frames had been moved around. As odd as all these coincidences were, nothing could compare to what the police found two weeks later…
Locating the Car
Two weeks after his disappearance, police found Zebb’s 1990 Mazda Protégé in the parking lot of the Little Pigs Bar-B-Que on McDowell Street. The car seemed untouched at first until police looked a bit closer. A pair of large lips and exclamation points had been drawn in lipstick on the back window of the car.
The car also contained several empty drink bottles and a jacket that did not belong to Zebb. The driver’s seat and steering wheel had been pulled forward, which indicated that someone much shorter than Zebb had been driving. An untraceable hotel key was also found in the car. But the strangest item of all, was a live Labrador mix puppy sitting in the back seat, a puppy that also did not belong to Zebb Quinn…
Worried for His Life
In the weeks before his disappearance, Quinn had been heard discussing some rather sensitive topics with his Walmart co-workers. Apparently, in addition to discussing his crush on Misty and his concern over her well-being in her relationship with Wesley, Zebb had also mentioned that he feared for his life. He felt threatened apparently, by his involvement with Misty. But though it’s been almost 17 years, Misty and Wesley still deny any participation in the disappearance.
Not Acting Alone
The ongoing police investigation indicates that it is most likely that Zebb Quinn was murdered on the night of January 8th. But they don’t think the killer worked alone. The past sixteen years have turned up hundreds of tips and leads and all of them point to the possibility that more than one person was involved in Zebb’s disappearance. For the longest time, the case went cold, and no links between Owens and Misty were found. That is, until 2009…
In October 2009, detectives gathered hair, fingerprint and saliva samples from a 28-year-old West Asheville woman, believed to be involved in some way with Zebb Quinn’s disappearance. Although the official position of the police is that she was not a person of interest, there is some evidence that indicates she was involved in some way, if only after the fact.
Then, on March 17, 2015, police finally arrested Robert Owens. The arrest was for an unrelated incident, regarding the disappearance and murder of Food Network Star television contestant Cristie Schoen, as well as her husband J.T. Codd, and their unborn child. Still, if Owens could make three people disappear, who was to say he hadn’t been responsible for Zebb’s disappearance too?
Robert Owens finally admitted and pled guilty to the murder of Cristie and JT Todd as well as their unborn child. As part of his admission he told detectives that he dismembered and burned their remains. Detectives worked hard to try to get Robert to also give them details on Zebb Quinn but continued to deny his involvement even though he was the last person to see Zebb alive. While detectives were frustrated they refused to give up and continue to pursue Roberts in Owens’s cold-case.
On Monday July 10th, 2017 the Buncombe Country Grand Jury formally indicted Robert Owens with the charge of first-degree murder in the death of Zebb Quinn. At the time of the indictment Robert Owens was in custody and serving a prison sentence for the murder of Christie and JT Codd as well as their unborn child. Here is the official statement from the Asheville Police:
“Today a Buncombe County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging Robert Jason Owens with First Degree Murder for the death of Zebb Wayne Quinn on January 2, 2000. This indictment is the result of years of investigative work and persistence by detectives of the Asheville Police Department, as well as ongoing partnerships with members of the Quinn family and the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office.
Robert Jason Owens is currently in custody and serving an active prison sentence for the murders of Cristie and Joseph Codd.
Detectives are continuing to work on this investigation and encourage anyone with additional information to contact the Asheville Police Department at 828-252-1110 or Crime Stoppers at 828-255-5050.”