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Crime News Dateline

Did A Florida Woman's Kindness Cost Her Life?

Brittany Tavar and her two dogs mysteriously disappeared in July 2010, but alarm bells went off for her friends and family when the dogs were found hundreds of miles away in South Carolina 

By Jill Sederstrom
What Happened to Brittany Tavar?

Brittany Tavar was known for her generous spirit — but that compassion may have cost the 45-year-old her life.

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Tavar mysteriously disappeared in July 2010 from her St. Augustine, Florida house, the same day she was expected in court, where she had hoped to bring charges against a friend turned enemy.

Tavar never showed up, despite what some of her friends described as an obsession with filing a restraining order against neighbor Anne Lydon, a woman who, she told others, she believed might kill her.

Those who knew Tavar initially believed it was possible the beautiful free spirit may have just decided to take off on a new adventure.

She was known by her friends and family as someone who went to the beat of her own drummer and was constantly reinventing herself — whether it was trying her hand at being an actress in Hollywood earlier in life or selling real-estate in Florida.

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“She wanted certain things in her life and she just thought if she believed in herself and she went out and tried, you know, she would get those things,” her sister Pat Bellamah told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered," airing Wednesdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.

With the help of some family money, Tavar appeared to have settled in St. Augustine, where she was a regular at the oceanside Serenata Beach Club.

There Tavar had found a close group of friends, who were increasingly concerned when she suddenly vanished.

“I called a few times and I didn’t hear anything and then Thursday came and I called Thursday and I knew. I knew Thursday that something happened,” her close friend Brenda recalled.

Brenda called Tavar’s family, who were spread out across the United States. They asked her to go to the house to check on the 45-year-old, but when Brenda did as they asked, no one came to the door and there were no outward signs of trouble.

Pat Bellamah consulted with a police officer friend, who instructed her to call a locksmith to help Tavar’s friends get into the house. Once inside, Tavar’s friends noticed that her two beloved dogs were also missing, although Tavar had seemingly left behind her cats.

“My sister loved her cats very, very much and she would never just go away on a trip and leave them to fend for themselves,” her brother Andrew Bellamah said.

A police handout of Joseph Dean Roberts

Initially, law enforcement officers didn’t feel there was enough evidence to suggest Tavar had met with foul play, so her family hired a private investigator, who made a chilling discovery.

Her two beloved dogs had been found roaming the streets separately, without collars, in the streets of Columbia, South Carolina.

It was enough to give Augustine police probable cause and they began to investigate the mysterious disappearance.

Investigators looked into Lydon, that friend turned foe who Tavar had been expected to meet in court that morning.

The two neighbors had initially been friendly, but the relationship soured after Tavar began dating one of Lydon’s friends and the romance eventually ended.

Lydon and her husband had gone with the man to help him get his stuff from Tavar’s home. But Tavar had been furious and asked them not to come into her house. They went inside and eventually Tavar hit Lydon in the head with a wine bottle.

“She was sitting on top of me, strangling me,” Lydon remembered.

Tavar, who claimed Lydon had started the assault first, was arrested for battery. She was sentenced to probation, anger management courses, community service and a 1-year order to stay away from Lydon.

But the conflict would only escalate after Lydon and her husband joined Tavar’s beloved beach club.

“I felt so bad for her because that was a place that she really, really got peace and she was able to socialize with people and enjoy herself there and then all of a sudden here they show up in the hot tub all the time,” her friend Joanna told "Dateline" correspondent Keith Morrison.

Tavar became obsessed, accused Lydon of keying her car and began carrying a video camera in an attempt to try to document any harassment. After Lydon knocked the camera into the pool, Tavar felt she had enough evidence to get a restraining order against Lydon and had been slated to appear in court the morning she disappeared.

“She was just very, very afraid of this Anne,” her sister recalled.

Despite the bad blood between the two women, Lydon insisted she didn’t know what happened to Tavar.

While investigating her disappearance, Tavar’s family had also discovered another disturbing secret. Tavar, who had been known for her generosity and kindness to both pets and people, often lent her spare bedroom to people down on their luck.

“We didn’t know that over the years, eight different homeless people lived in her spare room,” Pat recalled. “She usually had some kind of arrangement with these fellows that they would help her with stuff, like the first guy would do the yard work. I mean, she would never tell us that because of course we would say ‘bad idea.’”

At the time of her disappearance, Tavar had invited a young man named Joe Roberts to stay in her home after meeting him at a local Barnes & Noble. In exchange for a free room, Roberts had agreed to help Tavar do some computer work for a new business venture she hoped to start and was even planning to help her create a DVD of her video footage to bring to court in the allegations against Lydon.

“He seemed like he could be my brother, my younger brother,” Brenda said after meeting Roberts at the beach club. “He just seemed like such a nice guy.”

But others who knew Roberts said he wasn’t the nice guy he initially seemed to be.

After working together at a local convenience store, Cheryl Davenport — a single mother — had invited Roberts to stay at her house, but she soon began to suspect he was using drugs and he confided in her that he left home because he had been running some type of credit card scam and didn’t want to get caught.

Davenport eventually asked him to leave before Roberts found Tavar.

Investigators soon discovered that when Tavar disappeared, Roberts had vanished as well. They were initially able to track activity on Tavar’s credit card showing someone had seemingly moved West and learned that Roberts had been pulled over for speeding in her Rav4 while traveling through Wyoming.

But then the trail vanished, until Roberts was arrested in Seattle, Washington for trying to steal lunch meat.

After he was taken into custody, Roberts confessed to killing Tavar after she had angrily woken him up on the morning of her court appearance because he failed to properly make the DVD she hoped to use in court.

In anger, Roberts said he grabbed a hammer and beat her to death. After dismissing his initial plan to hide the body in the attic, he ultimately took her dogs to try to buy himself some time and make it look like she had just gone out of town and then threw her body into the woods. He later provided the location of her body to authorities.

“One of the most terrible things would be to know that someone you loved died in fear, you know, died in a moment of terror and pain and that was a very, very hard thing for me to accept,” Pat said. “It just was, even today, it just was chilling for me to think about that.”

Roberts pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2014 and was sentenced to 30 years behind bars.