http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20100117/NEWS01/301170049A mother's decade of suffering could end if someone does the right thing in Zebb Quinn case
John Boyle • January 17, 2010
For most of us, it’s impossible to fathom what 10 years of anguish would feel like.
Denise Vlahakis knows the feeing all too well.
“It just pops up sometimes, anywhere, anytime — a song, a memory, a commercial, nothing at all — it just pops up,” said Vlahakis, a registered nurse at Mission Hospital. “At work a lot of times, when you’re taking care of someone’s child, they want to know that you understand, so they ask me if I have children. I’m working in intensive care, and I always fumble at what to say and how much to say.”
She’s waited a decade to learn what happened to her only son, Zebb Quinn, a devoted, naive 18-year-old who remained a source of joy till the day he went missing: Jan. 2, 2000.
“Basically, all of us are, at least to a point, stuck on that day in January when he disappeared — as to having any sense of what happened, where he is, where his remains are,” Vlahakis said last week, sitting in the Mills River home she shares with her husband, local restaurateur Kosta Vlahakis. “There are people in Asheville who know what happened and could tell us.”
Kosta Vlahakis also was close with Zebb. The kid always stopped by his restaurant for chicken strips, and he loved driving Kosta’s Camaro.
“There’s not been a day that goes by that I haven’t had a person ask, ‘Have you heard anything?’” he said.
“Closure,” Denise Vlahakis says, is a word people toss around too easily, but it does carry a grain of truth.
“Just not having anything is torture,” Vlahakis said, tears welling in her eyes. “It doesn’t go away.”
10 years of investigation
The Asheville Police Department’s Cold Case Unit is working 23 cases, including Quinn’s.
“We have never stopped working on Zebb Quinn’s case — 10 years’ worth of investigation,” said Detective Yvonne Coburn, who with her partner, Kevin Taylor, works in the Cold Case Unit. “What we’ve done in the last year is go through the case and do some housekeeping, if you will.”
It is one of the more bizarre and puzzling cases in recent memory. Quinn got off work at the Hendersonville Road Walmart at 9 p.m. and planned to go look at a Mitsubishi Eclipse with a co-worker, but as the two headed down Long Shoals Road, Quinn got a page and said he had to go. He was last seen at 9:15 p.m. at a Citgo station on Hendersonville Road.
Quinn took no clothes, no contact lens solution, no extra money — nothing that would indicate he was going away. He liked his job and had attended Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College after graduating from Roberson High School.
Plus, his mom, says, he was a “bit of a mama’s boy,” in a good way, and always called her and let her know where he was going. He wouldn’t ever leave her or his sister, Brandi Stamey, hanging for a few hours, much less years.
Two weeks later, his car, a 1990 Mazda Protégé, turned up in the parking lot of Little Pigs Barbecue on McDowell Street, with a Labrador-mix puppy inside and a large pair of lips drawn in lipstick on the rear window. The car contained several drink bottles and a jacket that was not Quinn’s, and the driver’s seat was close to the steering wheel, indicating a shorter person was driving.
Tantalizing clues, but no case-breakers.
'He was naive'
In October, APD detectives gathered hair, fingerprint and saliva samples from a woman, although police said she’s not considered a suspect or person of interest. A search warrant indicated the woman and Quinn were friends, that he had a strong interest in her, partly because she was embroiled in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend.
Quinn had told family and friends that he was in trouble with the woman’s boyfriend because of his affection for her. In the weeks before his disappearance, Quinn had told a Walmart co-worker that his life had been threatened.
“He was naive,” Coburn said.
Denise Vlahakis says all the key witnesses have all “lawyered up” and won’t talk about the case.
Capt. Tim Splain, head of the APD’s criminal investigations division, said they’ve considered the case a homicide from early on, and they don’t think the killer worked alone.
“Just the mechanics of killing someone and disposing of the body would lead us to believe more than one person had to be involved,” Splain said. “There’s people out there who know what happened.”
Obviously, the top priority for police is solving the case and taking a dangerous killer off the streets, but investigators also would like to afford Vlahakis a small measure of comfort by finding her son’s body.
“If you go back through and look at solved homicides, there was always somebody who knew — the person who did it told somebody something,” Coburn said.
“So going by the psychoanalysis of homicide, we know there’s somebody who heard something that night or was told something,” the detective continued. “It may seem insignificant. They may think we’ll figure it out on our own, but we need them to come forward. It may be one small little key to solve this case and bring Zebb home.”
She and Splain are understandably cautious in what they’ll say about the case, but they do believe new DNA testing techniques could provide some new clues.
Over the years, they’ve received hundreds of tips and leads, and they’ve followed up on them all. But they know it’s more likely the case will be broken by somebody who knows what happened simply doing what’s right.
That knowledge has to eat at a person, especially when you know you can give a long-suffering mother some measure of peace.
Ten years of anguish is long enough.
Know something?Anyone with information about Zebb Quinn’s disappearance is asked to contact police. You can leave an anonymous tip through at 828-255-5050. The Asheville Police Department has established an e-mail address for tips: email@example.com. Asheville Police Detective Yvonne Coburn can be reached at 828-259-5923, Detective Kevin Taylor at 828-259-5945.