In January 2000, a car belonging to Zebb Quinn, an 18-year-old Walmart employee from Asheville, North Carolina, was found in a restaurant parking lot. The car was totally empty—save for a dog inside, a hotel key, and a pair of lips and exclamation points drawn on the rear windshield—and with the headlights on.
Local authorities were understandably baffled by what they’d found. Were these clues or some kind of riddle to his whereabouts? No one could be sure.
Little did police investigators know that the mystery of Zebb’s disappearance was only just beginning…
On a cold day in January 2000, local authorities in Asheville, North Carolina, found the abandoned car of Walmart employee Zebb Quinn in a restaurant parking lot. Inside was a dog, a hotel key, and, on the rear windshield, someone had drawn a pair of lips with several exclamation points.
Local authorities were baffled by this discovery. Were these innocuous details or were they clues to some sort of riddle left by a potential attacker? One thing was clear: they would work tirelessly to learn what happened to Zebb.
The last known person to have contact with Zebb was his coworker Robert Jason Owens. Said to have been friends, the two often played pool with each other after work. On the day of his disappearance, Robert suggested they go to nearby Leicester, North Carolina, to take a look at a vehicle…
Zebb was in the market for a new car, so when he finished his shift on January 2, 2000 around 9 pm, he headed to the town to meet Robert in separate cars. He had hopes of returning with a new car that night.
About 15 minutes later, both Zebb and Robert were recorded on gas station surveillance cameras buying soda. As the two left, Zebb flashed his headlights to his friend, who then pulled over. He’d apparently received a message on his pager and had to make a call at a nearby payphone. After he returned, Robert noted that his friend seemed “frantic.”
According to Robert, Zebb suddenly cancelled their plans and jumped into his car. While backing up, he managed to strike Robert’s car before speeding off. Strangely, later that night, Robert checked in to a hospital with fractured ribs and a head wound. He told authorities that the injuries were related to a different accident.
The next day, Zebb’s mother, Denise Vlahakis, got in touch with local authorities and reported her son missing. No one had any idea about his whereabouts. Then, two days later, the Walmart where Zebb was employed received a call from someone claiming to be him, stating that he was sick and wouldn’t be showing up for his shift that day.
The Walmart employee who took the call noted that something seemed off, as Zebb’s voice sounded totally different. Furthermore, the call had suspiciously been traced back to a Volvo factory where Robert worked at a second job. Not long after, Robert admitted to making the call; he said he did it at Zebb’s request.
Following this bizarre call, authorities reached out to Misty Taylor, a woman with whom Zebb had recently become romantically involved. They soon discovered that she also had another boyfriend named Wesley Smith, who, according to Zebb’s family and friends, had a history of violence and had previously threatened Zebb.
In the meantime, someone had reported seeing a woman driving Zebb’s car in the downtown Asheville area. It appeared as if the composite sketch of that person matched the description of Misty, too. Had authorities gotten their first big break? Was Misty involved somehow?
Strangely, on the night of Zebb’s disappearance, both Misty and Wesley had dinner with Zebb’s aunt, Ina Ustich, at Misty’s mom’s home. Authorities claimed that Ina was not close with her nephew, so they couldn’t draw any specific clues from this information.
Yet, after tracing the message that was sent to Zebb’s pager on the night of his disappearance, police found that it had mysteriously come from Ina’s home. When questioned, she denied making the call and said that her home had been broken into that evening. However, while checking the home, police found that nothing had been stolen.
On January 6, 2000—just four days after Zebb was last seen—authorities found his abandoned Mazda Protegé in a restaurant parking lot adjacent to the hospital where his mother worked. Zebb’s mother believed the location was planted there on purpose. Inside was the aforementioned puppy, ominous hotel key card, and writing on the window.
“We all feel very certain that he was killed that night,” his mother explained in an interview. “There are people, more than one person, who know what happened… it is hard because we can’t say goodbye and kind of put everything at rest.”
Unfortunately 17 years later, Zebb’s bizarre disappearance was still unsolved. Even though authorities and many others attempted to connect the strange coincidental occurrences surrounding the case, they’d repeatedly been unsuccessful.
Many people pondered the significance of the mysterious lips drawn on the rear windshield of Zebb’s vehicle. Some thought it might’ve been a reference to his relationship with Misty, but this was never confirmed. Also, no one was able to make sense of the puppy or explain who made the call to his pager that night.
In March 2015, however, police did find a clue. When Food Network Star contestant Cristie Schoen, her husband, and unborn child were murdered, police tied the crimes back to none other than Robert Owens—Zebb’s coworker who was the last person to see him before he disappeared. When searching his property for the Schoen murder, they discovered a series of incriminating items buried there.
While on trial, Robert openly admitted to committing the murder of Cristie, her husband, and unborn child, in a plea deal agreement. Ultimately, he was sentenced to 59 and a half years in jail without the possibility of parole.
Then, on July 10, 2017, Robert was also indicted on Zebb Quinn’s murder in the first-degree. “This indictment is the result of years of investigative work and persistence by detectives of the Asheville Police Department,” the police wrote in a statement, “as well as ongoing partnerships with members of the Quinn family and the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office.”
It was believed that this indictment followed Robert’s cooperation to offer up details as part of a plea bargain. Soon, it would be up to the court to determine his guilt or innocence. Hopefully, after all these years, Zebb’s disappearance will finally be solved.
Hopefully the court can determine what happened to Zebb all those years ago so he and his family can finally get some closure.
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