Christine Vendel did a good story about the case when charges were filed. It's available here as a Rich-Text document.http://blogs.kansascity.com/crime_scene/files/BREWER.rtfFirst glance
Brandon B. Howell, 25, faces two first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Nicholas Travis and Tabitha Brewer.
When Nicholas Travis and Tabitha Brewer disappeared nearly eight years ago, Kansas City police quickly zeroed in on a friend as a possible suspect.
Brandon B. Howell, then 17, was the last person seen with Travis, 18, and Brewer, 16, when the couple left her Shawnee apartment one night in April 1998. Howell's father owned the home where Travis' body was later found buried in the backyard. Brewer's half-burned purse was found in a trash bin not far away. Her body has never been found.
Although police suspected Howell, there was not enough evidence to file charges.
That changed Monday when Jackson County prosecutors filed two first-degree murder charges against Howell, 25, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence in Kansas for a home-invasion robbery in Johnson County in 1999.
Jackson County Prosecutor Mike Sanders said his office has prosecuted cases without a victim's body before.
"Circumstantial evidence is sometimes better than direct evidence," he said.
Police said the time that passed since the teens' disappearance helped the case.
"Most of the people with information were the same ages as Nick and Tabitha," said Detective Everett Babcock, who investigated the case. "They were reluctant to give up all the details they knew. They didn't know whether they could trust the police.
"They were a lot more forthcoming when I reinterviewed them."
Brewer's father, Tom Brewer of Parkville, praised Babcock.
"He took over and was relentless," Brewer said. "He wouldn't let it go."
Babcock has worked on the case since 2001 and interviewed more than 100 people.
He gave the 900-page case file to prosecutors more than a year ago. Prosecutors read the file and asked Babcock to tie up a few loose ends, which he recently completed.
His additional work gave police a motive: robbery.
Babcock said Travis and Brewer knew Howell from their former school, the Shawnee Mission district's alternative education high school, now known as Horizons High School.
Court records gave this account:
The teens left Brewer's apartment with Howell about 10 p.m. April 27, 1998. In the following days, relatives of the young couple called Howell and asked where they were. He claimed not to know and gave conflicting statements to different people.
Nearly four months later, a man preparing to pour concrete for a patio at a duplex in the 5400 block of the Paseo found Travis' body in a shallow grave. Travis had several fractures in the back of his skull.
Inside the duplex, police found blood spatters and smears that matched Travis' DNA.
A witness later told police he was outside the duplex in April 1998 and heard Brewer's voice from inside. He also heard a man and woman screaming and then saw Howell come outside with blood on his shirt.
An informant told police that two days before Brewer and Travis disappeared, Howell talked about a plan to "lure a guy and girl with a big bank account" to a hotel, where he planned on holding one of them hostage and forcing the other to withdraw money from a bank. Then Howell planned to kill them in a bathtub, the informant said.
Brewer recently had received a $40,000 settlement from injuries she suffered in a car wreck when she was 14. But she had no access to the money, which was kept in a trust fund.
Another informant told police he had talked with Howell about robbing Travis. The informant said Howell tried to talk him into robbing and killing the young couple, cutting up their bodies in a bathtub and throwing the remains in a river in suitcases weighted with rocks.
The same informant was locked up with Howell in prison after the victims were killed. He said Howell claimed he committed the murders.
Other people told police they had seen someone who looked like Howell throwing a yellow trash bag in a bin near where Travis' body was found. Police found a bag in the bin that contained Brewer's purse.
When police searched Howell's car, they found scuff marks that appeared to come from a shoe sole on the underside of the trunk's lid.
Howell's criminal record includes convictions in Johnson County for aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping, aggravated assault, attempted aggravated robbery and animal cruelty. The convictions stem from an incident in October 1999, about 18 months after the Shawnee teens disappeared.
In that case, Howell and two other men forced their way into a Gardner apartment. One man was armed with a shotgun and another with a handgun.
Over several hours they threatened the occupants and demanded drugs and money. A telephone line was cut, and one of the apartment occupants was cut on the hand with a butcher knife.
Eventually, all the occupants managed to get away. A cat was beheaded before the assailants left.
According to the Kansas Department of Corrections' Web site, Howell has been disciplined three times within the past nine months for fighting. He has racked up 17 disciplinary actions since his incarceration for offenses such as disruptive behavior, disobeying orders and dangerous contraband.
His earliest possible release date was November 2010.
Tabitha Brewer's father said he was glad to see Howell charged.
"It has taken a long time, and it will take forever to get to court," Brewer said. "But at least he can't be released from the prison he's in now and let out to hurt anyone else. That's what worried me."
Brewer's faith has carried him through the years since his daughter disappeared. He said he has forgiven Howell.
"I don't like what he did, but me harboring that kind of hurt isn't going to bring her back," Brewer said. "And it would jeopardize my own personal relationship with the creator. It took me years to do that."
His faith also has helped him come to terms with the loss of his youngest child.
Babcock said he was gratified by Monday's charges but not entirely satisfied.
"I'd really like to see Tabitha's body found," Babcock said. "That's really important to me."