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Crime News Buried in the Backyard

'Just Something That Wasn’t Right About Him’: Student's Killer First Masqueraded As A Witness

Florida college student Amy Blount went missing after walking away from her crush during a late-night fight.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

On a fall night in November 1990, college senior Amy Blount went out to have fun with her group of friends — but it would tragically be her final night with them.

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The group of college students went to St. George’s Tavern, a local hotspot near Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. They were having a good time when Kelly Brockman, Blount's roommate, decided to leave early because she wasn’t feeling well. When she left, Blount was spending time with her crush, Shawn Nolan.

However, when Brockman woke up the following morning, Blount had still not returned home and failed to show up at her morning classes. Her friends initially assumed she was still with Nolan, but when they asked him about Blount, they were shocked by what they heard: Nolan told them he and Blount had walked out to the coastline the night before at around 2 a.m. but got into a fight while waiting for a taxi to take her home. When Blount began walking off by herself, Nolan took a cab home alone.

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Upon hearing Blount had been left to walk home alone in the middle of the night, Blount’s roommates were immediately concerned and suspicious of Nolan.

“As much as Amy liked Shawn, I thought Shawn didn’t seem like he was really too concerned, to be honest,” Brockman told Oxygen’s “Buried in the Backyard,” airing Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.

Brockmann reported Blount missing to police, and investigators launched a search for Blount, checking local hospitals for reports of any Jane Does who may have matched Blount’s description and reaching out to local cab drivers. These first steps went nowhere. 

Since there was not yet any evidence of foul play, police could not officially declare Blount a missing person, despite her friend’s belief something bad may have happened to her. With no answers, Brockman realized it was time to call Blount’s parents.

“That was probably one of the toughest calls I’ll ever make in my life,” she recalled to producers.

The search for Amy Blount leads to numerous dead ends.

The following day, Blount’s loved ones began searching for her around town, putting up missing person’s flyers and forming search parties to scour the woods, but no one found anything. When days passed and Blount still had not materialized, authorities finally launched an official investigation into her disappearance, and the first thing they did was bring in Nolan, Blount's crush, for questioning.

When speaking to police, Nolan gave a different story than the one he’d given Blount’s roommates: At the end of the night, when he was ready to go home, he’d used a nearby payphone to call a taxi to take Blount home, he said, but when he turned around after making the call, she was gone. Although he waited for awhile, he said she never reappeared, so when the cab arrived, he went home.

Police reached out to the cab driver to verify Nolan’s alibi, and he confirmed  he’d picked Nolan up that night. He also said when he arrived, Nolan had been slumped over, asleep on a public bench. Most importantly, however? Nolan was alone.

“We knew that Shawn was the last person [Blount] was actually seen with,” Steve Fricke, an investigator with the St. Augustine Police Department, told producers.

After Blount had been missing for nearly 10 days — with no activity on her bank accounts — authorities offered a $10,000 reward for information about Blount’s disappearance, leading to an influx of tips. One such call came from a man named Timothy Gatchell, who told police as soon as he saw Blount’s face on the missing person poster, he recognized her as a young woman he’d seen in the downtown area on the same night Blount had disappeared.

Gatchell met with police in person and told them he’d seen Blount approached by someone in an older-model car – a Camaro or a Firebird – and Blount had spoken to what looked to be two people who were in the car before getting inside and leaving with them.

While police now had a promising lead, they were also suspicious of the person who’d hand-delivered it to them, though they could not initially explain why.

“You could call it police intuition, but there was just something that wasn’t right about him,” Fricke said.

Police convinced Gatchell to take a polygraph test and he passed. Their doubts assuaged, police followed up on the tip, searching for cars that matched the description, but after interviewing everyone they could find with a car of that type, they were back to square one. They were no closer, it seemed, to finding Blount.

Weeks had passed, and Blount’s family was struggling with having to celebrate Christmas without her.

“There was no news,” Blount's sister, Kim Blount Potter, told producers. “I really felt numb.”

A gruesome discovery leads to answers.

Weeks after Blount’s disappearance, a man walking his dog on New Year’s Day 1991 on the outskirts of St. Augustine made a horrifying discovery. After the man’s dog was attracted to a pile of logs and rocks in a deserted area, the man went to investigate, only to find what looked to be human bones.

He immediately called the authorities, who, upon their arrival, found a body that had been wrapped in a floral bedsheet and buried in a shallow grave.

“I really started thinking that this truly could be Amy Blount,” Mary Fagan, a detective with the St. John’s County Sheriff, told producers.

An official autopsy confirmed Fagan's hunch. It also revealed Blount had been stabbed five times in the front of her body. Additionally, there were bruises on the left side of her head and on her left shoulder, suggesting a struggle had taken place prior to her death.

After authorities delivered the devastating news to Blount’s loved ones, they were heartbroken to find their search had reached the worst possible conclusion.

“It made me sick to my stomach, but there was a little bit of relief that I could start the grieving process,” Brockman recalled. “I could start mourning, really mourning, the loss that I’m never gonna see my friend again.”

As Blount’s family and friends began to grieve, police continued the investigation by identifying the owner of the property on which Blount was found. However, because that man was very cooperative with police, they soon ruled him out as a suspect and instead zeroed in on other possibilities: The property owner had rented out two mobile homes on that plot of land and he told police he’d been having problems with one of the tenants — a man named Timothy Gatchell.

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The truth of what happened to Amy Blount finally emerges.

Investigators rushed to search Gatchell’s home, where they found a sheet that matched the kind that Blount was found wrapped in as well as a long hair that was the color of Blount's caught in a screw on a weight-lifting bench. Crime scene technicians also discovered there were traces of blood throughout the home.

Police also found a scrap of paper with the name "Toby" written on it and a phone number, leading them to a man who could help them finally fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. When contacted by police, this Toby agreed to come in for questioning.

He told investigators he was with Gatchell on the night of Blount’s disappearance and that the two of them had been out bar-hopping when they spotted Blount walking alone. Gatchell told Toby to stop the car so he could talk to her, and Toby watched as Gatchell went to talk to Blount and led her back to the car. She got inside willingly, Toby said, and he drove them all to Gatchell's house. Once there, Gatchell began coming on to Blount, but Blount wasn’t interested. At that point, Toby said, he went to the bathroom and left the home without seeing either of them again.

Weeks later, after Toby realized the missing girl everyone was talking about was the same one they had picked up that night, he confronted Gatchell, who claimed he’d given Blount a ride downtown and then saw her talking to a couple of guys in a Camaro before he drove away. Toby pressed him to report what he’d seen to the police, which prompted Gatchell to reach out to investigators and give them the tip regarding the old car.

At that point, authorities had heard enough: They rushed to Gatchell’s home to take him into custody. He didn’t resist and instead told officers he’d been expecting them.

Once at the station, Gatchell told the same story as Toby and claimed he’d given Blount a ride back into town using the property owner’s truck. Investigators immediately knew then Gatchell was lying: The truck in question had three flat tires.

With a little more coaxing from authorities, Gatchell slowly started to confess: He claimed he and Blount had gotten into a fight and at some point a knife had gotten got involved, but he wasn’t sure because he may have blacked out. He said the next thing he knew, Blount was lying on the floor with blood coming out of her mouth and the knife was in his hand.

He claimed he then went outside, got a shovel, and dug a hole before going back inside, wrapping Blount up in a sheet, and carrying her outside, where he buried her body and said a prayer for her.

Gatchell was arrested for first-degree murder and stood trial in July 1991. In order to avoid the death penalty, he pled guilty and is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

For more information on this case and others like it, watch “Buried in the Backyard” on Oxygen on Thursdays at 8/7c or stream online any time at Oxygen.com.

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