Murder and Mounting Mystery in the North Carolina Mountains

jtcristie J.T. and Cristie Codd wedding photo (via Cristie Schoen's Facebook)

The mystery behind a mountain murder case in North Carolina has only intensified for some despite the fact that a man long suspected in another disappearance is behind bars, awaiting trial for the March crime.

J.T. Codd , 45, worked as a grip in the film industry on movies such Terminator: Genysis and McFarland, USA. Cristie Schoen, 38, was a contestant on Food Network Star in 2012 and a film-set caterer who ran Tree Hugger Catering with her former fiancé, Dirk Long.

The pair bought a house on 36 acres of land at 87 Hookers Gap Road in Leicester, N.C., with the intent of starting a hydroponic farm. They married in October, and Cristie was five months pregnant at the time of the couple’s disappearance. Friends of J.T. Codd who talked to PJM characterized the relationship as troubled; others who knew the couple have given a positive opinion of the relationship to various media outlets.

On Monday, March 9, J.T. withdrew more than $40,000 from the bank. The next day he was supposed to meet a local real estate agent and friend, George Lycan, but canceled via text message. He rescheduled to meet Lycan at 5 p.m. the next day for beers yet never showed up.

That same day, Wednesday, March 11, Cristie was reportedly witnessed in the house – along with a contractor who had been working on the property, Robert Jason Owens, 37 – by pest-control technicians who came to the property for a regularly scheduled appointment.

On Thursday, March 12, Lycan received a text from Cristie’s phone: “Sorry. We both have this stomach flu. Throwing up and such. We both have just been trying to sleep it off.”

According to Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office search warrants, Cristie’s father, Bill Schoen, called the department at 3:23 p.m. on Sunday, March 15, to request a welfare check for his daughter, who was supposed to arrive in Mississippi by 4 p.m. that day. “Bill Schoen advised that he has not had contact with his daughter and that is not normal for him not to have contact with his daughter,” the warrant states. “Schoen advised that his wife did speak with Cristie Codd on 3/14/15.”

Deputies went to the residence and the door was opened for them by neighbor Cecilia Owens, an aunt of Jason Owens by marriage. Long reportedly arrived on the scene around this time.

They found the couple’s dogs “unattended”; they’d gone to the bathroom in the house. The warrant states that deputies found “a medicine cabinet open inside the residence with band aids removed.” Cristie Schoen’s purse and J.T. Codd’s wallet were inside the home.

A check of the couple’s cell phone records found multiple text messages from J.T.’s phone to Jason Owens’ phone. At 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 15, Owens “was observed dumping large garbage bags into a dumpster.” These reportedly included personal effects such as Cristie’s identification and a pot card.

Detectives interviewed Owens, “who admitted to going into the residence… and stealing the items.” They obtained a warrant to search his residence, a nearby property with single-wide and double-wide mobile homes. Items seized in the search included photos, computers, three flash drives, a saw blade, 11 knives, an extension cord, and “debris” from the wood stove and yard, later determined to be human remains. Owens was arrested on Monday, March 16.

Owens’ wife, Samantha, told detectives that her husband was driving a Dodge pickup belonging to J.T. Codd when he struck and killed him. That truck was still on the Codds’ property, and taken into evidence. The warrants noted the presence of the pickup and two other cars, but said nothing about any signs of damage or other evidence.

On March 20, a suspicious fire on Owens’ property destroyed the trailer with the wood stove where remains had been found. Eleven days later, sheriff’s officials were back at the 1.4-acre property searching for evidence with a team of Western Carolina University criminal justice students. The very next day, there was another fire on the property – a downed power line, a family member said.

Owens has been indicted on two counts of armed robbery, two counts of dismemberment, and three counts of murder (the Codds and their unborn child). The grand jury found that Owens was "knowingly and willingly dismembering or destroying human remains" to conceal evidence while knowing that the Codds "did not die of natural causes." No motive has been revealed, and the indictment says he committed the crime "by means of an assault consisting of having in his possession and threatening the use of a dangerous weapon, to wit: a kitchen knife approximately ten inches in length, and/or a motor vehicle, and/or a firearm."

The indictment says Owens stole jewelry, a handgun and a computer from Cristie, and a backpack from J.T. The search warrant from the deputies’ original sweep of the Codds’ home showed that they found an iPad, tablet computer, revolver, “3 gun cases and contents,” ammunition, and a ring untouched. One source said the ring was found on the floor, but accounts vary widely of how the crime scene otherwise looked. Deputies did remove two pieces of carpet, swabbings and a spray bottle, according to the warrant.

In mid-April, a sizable coalition of J.T. Codd’s friends wrote to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper with concerns about how the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department was handling the investigation. “Many of us have visited Cristie and JT in North Carolina and we believe that we have information and observations that might prove helpful to the investigation of the brutal murder of their family,” they wrote in the letter provided to PJM. “Thus far, Sherriff [Van] Duncan and his staff have not returned any of our telephone calls or inquiries; they have not spoken with persons outside of North Carolina, Leicester County, in particular.”