Working a Cold-Case (Update, Arrest Made, Read Here)
photos show Rich and Betsy working on one of their cold-case homicide
cases, the Shauna Howe abduction and murder. The first picture to
the right shows Rich visiting the death site just a few weeks before
the 10th anniversary of Shauna’s murder. He is standing in
a dry portion of a creek bed just a few feet from where Shauna’s
battered corpse was found beneath an old, abandoned railroad trestle.
the photo to the left detective Betsy Ross is shown standing on
the former railroad bridge at the point where Shauna was thrown
off. She fell more than 30 feet to her death. Note that the retaining
walls have been constructed in recent years. The trestle is now
part of a public bicycle trail.
is a photo of Betsy Ross as she examines the abduction site at West
First Street and Reed Street in Oil City, PA. Betsy is positioned
in the location where a witness saw an unidentified man grab Shauna
Howe as she walked home from a Halloween Party at a Girl Scout meeting.
Here is a photo of Rich consulting on the case with famed FBI
profiler Robert Ressler. The photo was taken when Rich was on the
case as a state trooper in 1998..
Shauna Howe was eleven years old when she was abducted as she walked
home from a Halloween Party she had attended with her Girl Scout
troop in Oil City, PA. The incident occurred at 8 pm at the corner
of West First Street and Reed Street on October 27th, 1992.
Three days later, at 8:30 AM, October 30th, Shauna’s body
was found in a dry portion of a creek bed beneath an old, abandoned
railroad trestle. She was alive when thrown from the trestle. She
died from injuries she received in the fall. Investigators believe
she was held alive in captivity most of the time she was missing.
Rich Graham had been assigned to this case for several years prior
to his retirement from the state police. Soon after his retirement,
Shauna’s mother, Lucy Howe-Brown, who now resides near Camp
LeJeune, NC, contacted Rich. Lucy was aware that ill-informed supervisors
had prevented Rich and other investigators from pursuing certain
leads that Rich considered credible. Plus, he was busy with numerous
other cases, critically reducing the amount of time he could devote
to this case. So, when she learned of his retirement and that he
and Betsy had begun their own investigative agency, Lucy asked them
to begin a private inquiry into her daughter’s murder.
The Pennsylvania State Police continue to have an open investigation
into the case. FBI agents from offices in Pittsburgh and Erie have
also provided valuable assistance, along with the Oil City Police
Department. But Shauna’s killer(s) remains at large. A reward
of more than $15,000 is available for information leading to the
arrest and conviction of Shauna’s killer(s). You can learn
more about the case by visiting the Pennsylvania State Police web
site at www.psp.state.pa.us
or go directly to the page by clicking
here.. Follow the links to “PSP Case Files” and
then “PSP Unsolved Case Files”.
Update – Arrests made
in Howe Case!
Oil City Brothers Arrested
On Friday, July 2, 2004 the Pennsylvania State Police charged two
Oil City brothers with Kidnapping, Sexual Assaults and Murder relating
to the abduction and death of eleven year old Shauna Howe. Timothy
Michael O’Brien, 37, and James Eric O’Brien, 32, were
arraigned before Venango County District Justice William Martin.
Both brothers are currently incarcerated in state penitentiaries
for crimes unrelated to the Howe murder.
On Saturday, July 3, 2004 a third suspect, Eldred “Ted”
Walker, 44, was taken into custody at his Oil City area residence.
Walker was arraigned before DJ Martin, and then placed in the Venango
County Jail after failing to post a $250,000 bond.
Other Arrests Possible?
Venango County District Attorney Marie Veon told reporters that
no other arrests are contemplated. However, some persons close to
the investigation believe that others might have participated in
the crime. Ms. Veon declined to provide a specific reason as to
why, when a DNA match had been made between James O’Brien’s
DNA profile and certain physical evidence, it has taken two-and-one-half
years to finally bring charges. She simply commented that, “…
the answer to that question is complicated.”
Investigation Focuses on O’Briens
It was PI Rich Graham (then Trooper Rich Graham) who had developed
information in late 2001 that suggested the O’Brien brothers
might have been involved in the crime. Due to misinformation
provided to investigators during the first week or two of the case,
investigators had always believed that the O’Briens were in
jail when Shauna Howe was abducted. Thus, they were considered “cleared”
Rich credits state parole agent Ed Flick (now retired) with
convincing him (Rich) to further investigate the O’Briens.
During an early December 2001 meeting with Mr. Flick about another
matter, the conversation turned to the Howe case. Mr. Flick commented
that he had always felt the O’Briens could have been involved,
except that they were reportedly in jail when the crime occurred.
Following that conversation, Rich decided to check official records
regarding the O’Briens’ incarceration and found that
the O’Briens had actually bonded and were not in custody when
Shauna was abducted. For that very same reason, investigators had
never requested DNA samples from the O’Briens.
Rich then began efforts to interview the O’Briens and to
obtain DNA samples for comparison to certain evidence that had been
gathered at the crime scenes and during the autopsy. At that time,
both of the O’Brien brothers were incarcerated in different
facilities on separate charges.
James “Jimmy” O’Brien had been arrested in 1995
by Oil City PD and was convicted in 1996 for assaulting a young
woman and attempting to force her into the trunk of his car. The
woman escaped and O’Brien was later apprehended. He has been
in custody ever since, and was then incarcerated at SCI Mercer,
not far from Oil City.
Timothy “Timmy” O’Brien was arrested in the fall
of 2001 by Oil City PD and charged with sexual assaults against
two children. He was later convicted and has been incarcerated since
Note: Interestingly, Rich had arrested
Timmy O’Brien in 1994 on a felony charge of Sexual Abuse
of Children. O’Brien was later convicted and served a
term in a state correctional facility for that crime. Rich was not
assigned to the Howe case when that took place.
On December 20, 2001, the day after notifying his state police
supervisors that the O’Briens were possible suspects, Rich
was removed from the case and transferred to a new unit. No longer
on the case, Rich requested one of his fellow troopers, Trooper
Jon McClain (then assigned to PSP Meadville Station), to visit James
“Jimmy” O’Brien at the state correctional facility
in Mercer, PA and to request a DNA sample. Trooper McClain complied
with the request and obtained a DNA sample in early January, 2002.
DNA Match Discovered
James O’Brien’s DNA sample was submitted to the FBI
laboratory for further disposition. In early February, 2002 the
FBI lab notified the state police of the match. With news of the
match, the state police and the FBI assembled a team of investigators
who now were able to focus on James O’Brien’s involvement
in this despicable crime.
As word spread about a match, local news reporters interviewed
James O’Brien and published details about his interviews.
Mr. O’Brien confirmed to the media that he had provided a
state trooper with a DNA sample. He further stated that a state
trooper and an FBI agent had told him he was a match. But, Jimmy
insisted that he was not involved in the crime and suggested that
his DNA was not an “exact” match.
FBI Profilers Were Wrong
This is a case that was profiled on three different occasions by
the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. Those units had always
suggested that the crime was perpetrated by “a lone offender”.
Robert Ressler Had It Right
However, in 1998 Rich sought the professional services of famed
criminal profiler, and best selling author, Colonel Robert Ressler.
Mr. Ressler was one of the original agents who started the Behavioral
Science Unit. However, Mr. Ressler was never involved in assessing
this case during his tenure with the FBI. Mr. Ressler, who worked
on the case pro-bono, was the one profiler who suggested that there
might have been more than one perpetrator involved in the crime.
Note: You can learn more about Robert Ressler and his books
by visiting his web site at www.robertkressler.com.
The Howe case is unique in that it does not confirm to the usual
offender behavior in child abduction/murder cases. Usually, the
child is abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered within hours.
The perpetrator usually acts alone. But, investigators believe that
Shauna was held in captivity and was not killed until the night
before her body was discovered. Plus, several perpetrators were
involved during Shauna’s captivity.
Nearly two months after the long-awaited arrests, a day long preliminary
hearing was held in Venango County Central Court. District Justice
William Martin presided. Justice Martin ruled that a prima-facie
case had been made and all three suspects were bound over for trial.
Each defendant was assigned two attorneys to defend them. All of
the costs of prosecuting and defending the case will be born by
the Venango County taxpayers. Estimates of total cost to the county
to try the defendants range in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
What About the Reward Money?
Authorities have not commented about the disposition of the $15,000-plus
reward money that remains deposited in an Oil City bank account.
That figure presumably has grown considerably over the twelve year
period since the account was established.
Ross-Graham Investigations, LLC
has a suggestion for use of the reward money, assuming that no person
qualifies to claim the reward. Shauna’s mother, Lucy Howe-Brown,
now resides in North Carolina. The expenses involved in attending
court proceedings are prohibitive for her and her family. Each trip
back to Pennsylvania means lost wages in addition to other expenses.
Why not reimburse Ms. Brown for these losses to ensure that she
can attend all proceedings in coming months and years?
Death Penalty or No Death Penalty?
Can anyone believe that the Venango County District Attorney might
not seek the death penalty in this case? At this writing she has
not so notified the court, as required!