Vanda Boone was murdered on the Chehalis Western Bike Trail on August 8, 2010. Bernard Keith Howell III pled guilty to her murder the following spring.
Vanda Skau Boone
Vandu Skau Boone was a 60-year-old woman who worked as a Massage Therapist at Radiance Herbs and Massage in Olympia, WA. She was a student of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment and had relocated to Yelm, WA, from New York City only a few short months before her death.
On August 8, 2010, Vandu had been walking along a paved bike trail known as the Chehalis Western Trail just outside of Tenino, WA, when she was viciously murdered.
According to investigators, a person had reported to police that someone had approached them to ask if they would help to move a body. They declined to help and notified the police immediately. They offered a description of the man and his vehicle, a silver-colored Nissan pickup. While talking to the police, the vehicle in question drove by them and was immediately identified by the witness.
According to news sources, at approximately 8:15 p.m., police observed the vehicle driving through Tenino and initiated a traffic stop near the Parkside Elementary School. Boone’s body was found, propped up in a sitting position in the passenger seat. “Her body was covered with a sleeping bag, sheets, plastic bags, grass clippings, and weeds.” police said.
Police immediately arrested Bernard Keith Howell III, 26, a local Tenino, WA resident and owner/operator of the vehicle, on suspicion of second-degree murder.
Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock said that Boone could not have been dead for more than a few hours before she was discovered, as “she was still warm and flaccid when I got the call.” Boone was covered in bumps and bruises. She had blunt force trauma to her head. She had been asphyxiated due to strangulation or smothering. Also, “Her throat had been slit” Warnock stated.
Howell told police he had found Boone already deceased on the bike trail and that he was going to do the family a favor by saving them the $5,000 cost of burial. He explained he had a 10-pound weight in his pickup and had intended to use the weight to sink her body in a local swamp. Police had also discovered Boone’s wallet (including her identification), and her car keys in Howell’s vehicle. Although he initially denied killing her, he admitted to police that he had had sexual contact with her deceased body because he became aroused when he had found her. He stated he left the scene in Boone’s vehicle to gather the sleeping bag plastic, and weight, but he later changed his story. Police noted that Howell did not appear to be under the influence of any substances, but he appeared agitated. Investigators did find tools and knives in Howell’s vehicle. Police had suspected that the victim had been Boone because they had already found her vehicle parked near the bike trail but had not yet located her. Upon further investigation, police did find the scene of Vanda’s murder on the bike trail. According to court documents, during the initial interviews, Howell stated repeatedly that “he heard voices and that he wanted to be alone.”
Following his initial arraignment, he was held on $750,000 bail until a mental evaluation could be performed. Western State Hospital performed the evaluation, which determined that Howell was competent to stand trial.
Howell Pleads Guilty
The following March 17, 2010, Howell changed his plea to guilty of first-degree murder of Vanda Boone. There was no plea agreement. When asked why, Howell’s defense attorney, Robert Jimerson, stated, “Why? Because he knew he did it. He knew he was going to get punished, no matter what happened. He simply wanted to get that punishment started.” Jimerson also explained that Howell did not want to prolong time with a two to three-week trial with “horrible details and horrible photos.”
Despite his competence to stand trial, Howell’s family, his attorney, and the prosecuting attorney all agree that Howell’s struggle with mental health issues (before Boone’s death) certainly had a play in events. “Mental health was an issue before this event and it’s going to be for the rest of his life. That, without question, is the case.” Jimerson stated.
Bernard Keith Howell III
Known as Keith, he lived with his family in the Tenino-Yelm area for most of his life. He resided with his mother in Lakewood, WA, for a short period. Keith did well in school and was on the wrestling team. His father, Bernard Howell II had helped Keith start The Tenino Meat Company, a door-to-door meat sales company. This would explain why he had a freezer/cold storage unit in the bed of his Nissan pickup. Police determined that no human remains had ever been in the unit. Although the company had done well initially, Keith had been stressed at the decline of business, due to the recession.
According to his family, Howell had struggled with mental illness for several years. They had encouraged him many times to seek help and support. He would keep initial appointments but would refuse to follow through with further support.
Once the news broke of Howell’s arrest, several investigators from neighboring communities and counties, contacted Thurston County investigators to inquire about possible victims in their own respective areas. One, in particular, was Nancy Moyer, who had gone missing March 6, 2009, the year before Boone’s death. Moyer lived less than a mile from Howell. When questioned, Howell was adamant that he had nothing to do with Moyer’s disappearance and knew nothing about her case. At the time of this writing, Moyer remains missing, and Howell has not been linked to the case.
Bernard Keith Howell III was found guilty of first-degree murder of Vanda Boone and was sentenced to 26 years and 8 months, which is the maximum sentence allowable under Washington State law for a crime of this nature. Howell’s father has stated all along that he had hoped that Keith would get the help that he needed.
In a press release, JZ Knight, the founder of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, stated they would take care of funeral arraignments for Vanda Boone because she had no living relatives. The entire community was deeply saddened by Vanda Boone’s passing.