Details of Disappearance
Tabitha visited her father and stepmother at their apartment complex in Shawnee, Kansas on April 27, 1998. Her 19-year-old boyfriend, Nicholas Travis, accompanied her during the late evening hours. A photograph of Travis is posted with this case summary.
The couple was last seen departing the residence with a friend, Brandon B. Howell, at approximately 12:00 a.m. They were going to run an errand together. A photograph of Howell are posted below with case summary. He told authorities he dropped Tabitha and Travis off at the Circle K convenience store near 75th Street and Interstate 35. They never returned home.
Authorities initially assumed the couple ran away together, but soon discovered foul play was likely involved in their disappearances. Both Travis and Tabitha's charred identification cards and Tabitha's purse, with her jewelry and photos of her family inside, were discovered in a dumpster on the corner of 55th Street and Paseo Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri approximately three days after they vanished. There were no other signs of Tabitha or Travis at the scene.
Travis's body was discovered in August 1998, buried in a shallow grave in the 5400 block of the Paseo in Kansas City, Missouri. His corpse was only found four doors down from the location where the couple's belongings were located more than one year earlier. He was the victim of a homicide; he had several fractures in the back of his skull. There was no sign of Tabitha at the scene. She has never been heard from again.
Tabitha and Travis had been dating for over a year prior to their disappearances; both lived with Tabitha's mother. They had both dropped out of the alternative high school they attended. Tabitha's mother stated her daughter had wanted to marry Travis and have his children. Tabitha is a good typist and was employed as a secretary at a mortgage company at the time of her disappearance.
Authorities identified Howell as a suspect in Tabitha's disappearance and Travis's murder not long into the investigation. Travis's body was found in the backyard of a home Howell's father had renovated, and blood spatters matching his DNA were located. There was a scuff mark like a shoeprint on the underside of the Howell's car's trunk lid as well.
Investigators initially lacked the evidence to charge Howell. He was convicted of kidnapping, aggravated assault, attempted aggravated robbery and animal cruelty and has been incarcerated since 1999. The charges stemmed from a home invasion robbery.
In 2006, eight years after Travis and Tabitha disappeared, Howell was charged with the murders of both of them when witnesses came forward with additional information.
A witness stated that on a night in April 1998, they heard Tabitha's voice from inside Howell's father's home, then a man and a woman screaming, and after that the witness saw Howell with blood on his shirt. Howell had also allegedly spoken to several people of a plan to kidnap Tabitha and Travis and rob and kill them. Tabitha had received a $40,000 car accident settlement shortly before her disappearance, but the money was held in trust and she didn't have access to it.
Howell was tried in March 2009. He was acquitted of both murders, but he was serving a twelve-year prison sentence for a 1999 home invasion robbery at the time of the double murder trial and wasn't paroled for another several years. During the 1999 robbery, he and an accomplice held several people at gunpoint in their Gardner, Kansas apartment and decapitated one of the victims' pets.
In November 2014, Howell was charged with a dozen crimes, including five counts of murder. In September of that year he allegedly burglarized a married couple's home and severely beat them, shot three of their neighbors to death outside the residence, then assaulted three other people at a hotel thirty miles away. The two people whose home he burglarized later died of their wounds. Three of the five murder victims were in their eighties.
Howell is awaiting trial. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against him.
Tabitha has never been found, but foul play is suspected in her disappearance due to the circumstances involved.