OLYMPIA - A 27-year-old man arrested in August after he was pulled over in Tenino with a dead woman in his pickup has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.
The Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will recommend that Bernard Keith Howell spend more than 26 years in prison for killing Vanda Boone, according to his plea deal. A conviction for first-degree murder carries a mandatory minimum 20-year prison sentence, the plea deal states.
The sentencing date for Howell has not been set, according to a clerk for the prosecuting attorney. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney James Powers could not be reached for comment Friday.
Boone, 60, died after her throat was slit on the Yelm-Tenino Trail, according to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office. Blunt-force injuries to her head and neck and asphyxia resulting from strangulation also contributed to her death, Coroner Gary Warnock has said. Detectives have said they think Boone was walking or riding a bike when she was killed.
Boone had moved to the Yelm area from New York City in March 2010 to work as a massage therapist. She worked at Radiance Herbs and Massage in Olympia and studied at Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment.
Howell was arrested the night of Aug. 8 when a Thurston County sheriff’s deputy pulled him over in his pickup near Parkside Elementary School in Tenino. Boone’s body was in the passenger seat, wrapped in a sleeping bag. Howell denied killing her; he said he had found her dead on the trail and was going to dispose of her body because he “just wanted to save the family of this woman the $5,000 it would cost to bury her,” court papers state.
Moments before Howell was pulled over, he had approached a man in a pickup and asked for help moving a body. The man declined Howell’s request and instead flagged down a passing sheriff’s deputy. The man pointed out Howell’s pickup, and the deputy pulled Howell over.
Although Howell initially denied killing Boone, he admitted to detectives that he had sex with Boone’s body. In Howell’s pickup, detectives found “plastic bags, zip ties, bungee-type elastic cords and a 10-pound weight,” court papers state.
Boone’s friends in New York, Brazil and Yelm were shocked by her homicide and held memorials and vigils on both coasts.
Howell operated a meat-delivery business from his pickup at the time of his arrest. He lived with his father in Tenino.
In September, a Thurston County Superior Court judge found Howell incompetent to stand trial, meaning that he could not understand the proceedings against him or assist in his own defense “as a result of mental disease or defect.” However, after being treated at Western State Hospital, Howell in January was judged competent to stand trial.
After Howell’s arrest in August, he told court officials he heard voices and that he wanted to be left alone, court papers state. Howell’s father, also named Bernard Keith Howell, has said he feared his son might have gotten involved with methamphetamine.
Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Elwin said Friday that Howell is considered a “person of interest” in the disappearance of Nancy Moyer from her Tenino home in March 2009.
Moyer, a mother of two, was 36 when she went missing. She has never been found.
Moyer’s home is about a mile from the Tenino house where Howell lived with his father.
Moyer vanished from her home March 6, 2009, leaving behind her car, purse, wallet, credit cards and identification. Her husband came home to find the front door ajar, the television on, and a glass of wine on the coffee table in the living room.
Despite repeated searches, clues in Moyer’s disappearance have been scarce.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 firstname.lastname@example.org