For all the beauty of its forests and the arts and culture found in its cities, Washington state is also home to some of the most notorious murderers in history. At various times, serial killers Ted Bundy, Gary “The Green River Killer” Ridgway, and Israel Keyes called “The Evergreen State” home.
When Bernard Keith Howell III was pulled over in Tenino, Washington, with the dead body of Vanda Boone in the passenger seat of his truck in 2010, authorities thought of Nancy Moyer, who disappeared a year earlier in the same town, reported The Olympian newspaper.
Was there another serial killer on the loose, or was it just a grim coincidence?
Vanda Skau Boone was new to the Pacific Northwest. She hailed from Sao Paulo, Brazil, but she had spent the last 20 years of her life in Queens, New York, where she worked as a massage therapist. In March 2010, she moved to the small town of Yelm, Washington, about 60 miles south of Seattle.
She chose the area so she could study at Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, the new age spiritual sect led by J.Z. Knight. Once there, she got a job at Radiance Herbs and Massage, up the road in the college town of Olympia.
The ride west had not been easy. Along the way, her moving truck caught on fire, destroying most of her belongings, according to local newspaper the Nisqually Valley News. Several months after her arrival, she learned her brother had died back home in Brazil.
Andrea Seabert, her boss at Radiance Herbs and Massage, told the The Olympian that Boone faced such challenges with “amazing grace and beauty.”
“She was one of those bright lights,” Seabert told The Olympian. “She always had kind words to say and just had the highest integrity.”
Growing up, Howell III, who was known as Keith, lived in various parts of Washington’s Puget Sound.
“I was a membership manager at private RV resorts, the kids were all raised in beautiful places,” his father, Bernard K. Howell Jr., told local news website Lewis County Sirens.
According to his father, Keith was a good student, but he began having problems when he was 17. Keith would later tell investigators he heard voices, according to local paper the Peninsula Daily News.
After dropping out of both vocational school and college, he worked as a security guard before trying his hand as an entrepreneur, going door to door selling gourmet meat. While holding down the job, Keith, 26, lived on and off with his father in Tenino and began using methamphetamine, according to local NBC affiliate KING5.
“He wouldn’t go see anyone ... He was really aggressive and angry sometimes,” Bernard told Lewis County Sirens.
Bernard said on the day of the murder, Keith was upset about his fledgling business and a lack of money. In a rage, he ran off to a local park.
A 14-mile walking and biking trail runs between Yelm and Tenino. It was there on Aug. 8, 2010, that Keith and Boone crossed paths in one fatal encounter. Evidence points to it being a brutal attack. A coroner would later determine Boone’s throat had been slit and that she had suffered blunt force trauma to her head and neck. She had also been asphyxiated, either by strangulation or smothering, according to the Nisqually Valley News.
Keith would tell investigators he had sex with Boone’s body after she was deceased, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com.
Following the murder, Keith asked a man near Dave’s Thriftway grocery store if he would help him move the body. The man refused and flagged down a sheriff’s office deputy, and Keith was pulled over by the deputy a few blocks away.
On the passenger side, they found the body of Vanda Boone wrapped in a sleeping bag, sheets and plastic bags, according to the probable cause affidavit.
Keith initially said he had found Boone deceased and was going to bury her himself in order to save her family money, according to probable cause affidavit. He had a 10-pound weight that he intended to use to submerge her body in a nearby swamp, he told the deputy. Keith denied murdering Boone and was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder, according to the probable cause affidavit.
The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office soon began looking at Keith as a “person of interest” in the disappearance of Nancy Moyer, according to The Olympian newspaper. Moyer, a 36-year-old mother of two, had gone missing from her Tenino home in March 2009, leaving behind her purse and car. The initial investigation into her disappearance produced no leads — despite a $105,000 reward for information leading to her return — and her case is now being reexamined in “Searching For,” an original series on Oxygen.com.
Moyer and Keith lived less than a mile from each other.
“He lived close to her,” Thurston County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chris Mealy told Lewis County Sirens. Seattle Mariners player Ichiro Suzuki “could hit a baseball from his house to her house,” he said.
Another commonality between the two cases is the market where Keith was spotted with Boone’s body — Dave’s Thriftway is one of the last places Moyer was seen before her disappearance, according to the Seattle Times. In a search of Moyer’s home, investigators also found the same brand of meat Keith had been selling in her freezer, retired Thurston County Sheriff's Detective David Haller told True Crime Daily.
Haller later interviewed Keith about Moyer, but "he just absolutely refused to cooperate in any way. No polygraph, wasn't going to give any statements, denied ever selling her meat, denied ever knowing her,” said Haller.
No evidence has ever linked Keith to the Moyer case, and no further charges have ever been brought against him. She remains missing to this day, and her disappearance has been ruled a no-body homicide, according to The Daily Chronicle.
Earlier this summer, Moyer’s former neighbor and co-worker, Eric Lee Roberts, allegedly told detectives he murdered Moyer, but he later recanted his confession, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com. Roberts has not been charged and is currently free while the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office conducts its investigation.
If you have any information regarding Nancy Moyer's case, please contact the Thurston County Sheriff's Office at 360-786-5279.
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An original series that dives into disappearances across the U.S., "Searching For" hopes to raise awareness about the victims' cases and seeks help from their communities through local town hall screenings. Join the discussion and connect with other viewers.