He killed a happy couple and their unborn child, before dismembering their bodies and burning them. But what drove Robert Jason Owens to become a brutal murderer?
They were a beautiful couple, looking forward to welcoming their new baby.
Cristie Schoen Codd, 38, and her husband Joseph ‘JT’ Codd, 45, lived an envious life in Carolina, USA.
A stuntwoman, Cristie had worked on films including Terminator Genisys, and Before I Wake.
She’d also been a contestant on the TV food programme Next Food Network Star, and had been catering for the rich and famous ever since.
Joseph worked as a lighting and rigging technician on Hollywood film sets. And Cristie was five months pregnant with their first child, who they’d already named Skylar.
But, in March 2015, Cristie and JT’s family reported the couple missing.
Police went to their home in Leicester, Buncombe County. Their cars and two dogs were there, but Cristie and JT were nowhere to be seen.
Days later, their handyman Robert Jason Owens, 36, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and the murder of an unborn child, as well as breaking and entering, and taking property that wasn’t his.
Shortly after, Cristie’s and JT’s dismembered remains were found in Owens’ wood-burning stove.
In April 2016, Owens admitted three counts of second-degree murder (including that of Skylar) and two counts of dismembering bodies.
As part of a plea deal, he avoided the death penalty, and was sentenced to a minimum 60 years in prison.
The horrific murders were described as ‘among the most disturbing killings in Buncombe County history’.
No-one could understand why they’d happened.
People said Owens – a construction worker – ‘seemed like a normal bloke’, ‘a doting uncle’ and a ‘big-brother figure’.
But, delve a little deeper, and a better picture emerges of what really turned him into a monster…
Owens was born in 1978, in Leicester, USA.
His mother Betsy was named on his birth certificate, but there was no reference to a father.
Described by classmates as a normal lad, and looking like ‘the boy next door’, one said he was ‘the kind of guy you’d take home to meet your mom’.
After high school, Owens became a manual labourer. A good worker, his employer told local reporters, ‘He was just a quiet person and you know he didn’t cause any trouble.’
But, in 2000, Owens, then 21, became the prime suspect in the disappearance of Zebb Quinn, 18.
Good friends, the pair had worked together. On 2 January 2000, Quinn was going to look at a car for sale. Owens went, too.
Travelling there in separate cars , according to Owens, Quinn flashed his lights. They pulled over, Quinn made a phone call, then cancelled their plans and drove off.
Never to be seen again.
Two days later, a supervisor at the supermarket where Quinn worked received a call, supposedly from Quinn, saying he wouldn’t be at work. But the call had come from a construction company where Owens was employed.
Refusing to co-operate with police enquiries, Owens remained a suspect – and, in the years that followed, had numerous encounters with the law.
He was charged with trying to distribute controlled prescription drugs, and being in possession of stolen goods.
Owens had money problems, too, filing for bankruptcy in 2004. And, three years later, in 2007, he was involved in a police chase while driving with a revoked licence.
Owens’ former sister-in-law Carrie Smith said she believed much of this trouble was brought about by the Zebb Quinn case – that Owens was harassed by police.
‘He’s always been a very loving person, he’s never shown any signs of ever hurting a fly, much less a person,’ she told Press.
‘I still don’t believe he did it. He’s had a rough past, but a lot of people have.’
In 2011, Owens got married in Buncombe County Courthouse.
Two years later, Cristie and JT moved to the area, less than a mile from him. Owens started working for them as a handyman, later becoming a friend.
After his arrest for their murders, Owens told police he’d accidentally run over the couple as they were trying to get JT’s truck out of a ditch…
After dismembering JT with a saw, Owens then cut up Cristie in the shower and put her body parts in a bag, before burning them both in a stove on his land.
‘I’m not a bad guy,’ Owens told investigators. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt them. They were my friends.’
Defence lawyer Victoria Jayne said that, at the time, Owens was psychologically and mentally impaired, and on painkillers which caused him to have irrational judgement.
He’d also been diagnosed with PTSD after the disappearance of Zebb Quinn.
During the trial, Owens ‘accepted responsibility’ for what had happened. But, because there were no witnesses and the bodies were nearly cremated when they were discovered, many questions still remain unanswered.
Owens’ bank account was overdrawn – so could money have been a motive?
The court heard he’d sold several items he’d stolen from the couple, and used the money to take his wife out for dinner.
But why Owens would dismember the bodies remained a mystery… Was it premeditated evil or panic?
After sentencing, Owens addressed the victims’ families.
‘I want you to know that I am sincerely sorry for the loss of your loved ones, and the pain and suffering it’s caused you… I am truly sorry.’
Whilst Owens’ prison sentence might provide some closure for friends and family of Cristie and JT, Zebb Quinn’s family still have no answers.
Whether or not Owens had anything to do with Zebb’s disappearance, that day certainly seemed to shape the course of Owens’ future for the worse.