Who killed Terri Howell? It's a question that has haunted her family and investigators for 30 years.
The body of the 24-year-old woman was found on fire in an abandoned farmhouse near Knottsville, Kentucky. Howell had gone out the night before her body was discovered.
She was last seen alive around 1:00 in the morning leaving the Hasty Tasty, an Owensboro restaurant and bar. Eyewitnesses said she and a girlfriend had gotten into a car with an unknown man.
Her girlfriend would live to tell the tale, but Howell would not.
"She had a cold and I tried to get her not to go," Ava Merle Wortheam, Howell's mother, said, "but she wouldn't have none of it."
Wortheam said she remembers the last time she saw her daughter, but she remembers even more the almost immediate dread she felt that her daughter wasn't coming back.
"I just had a feeling," Wortheam said, "It just came over me, she's gone, she has got to be, because Terri wouldn't stay gone without calling me if she had been alive."
Witnesses told investigators Howell had called an unknown man to pick up her and her best friend at a local bar and restaurant.
"I think once she did the introduction with her friend she alluded to the person being from Ohio County," Jeff Jones of the Daviess County Sheriff's Office said.
It quickly became apparent the man had no intentions on taking them home when he started heading the opposite direction. It scared them so much Howell's friend reportedly jumped from the moving car.
It's the last time she saw Howell alive.
"She was picked up from a location and ultimately lost her life," Jones said, "So, there are many unanswered questions."
Witnesses said the vehicle was a light blue 1960's model Ford passenger car with an automatic transmission and round lights. The driver was described as a white man with brown hair around 5 feet 10 inches tall with a slender build.
Howell's friend told investigators she never even knew his name.
"There were a number of polygraphs that that individual was asked to take and she did take and passed those polygraphs," Jones said.
Investigators said the woman also claimed there was a car traveling behind them that narrowly missed hitting her when she jumped out. Investigators could never find the driver to ask what they might have seen.
"It could be that one piece of information that would point us in the right direction," Jones said.
Later that day, on the evening news, Wortheam watched as the body of an unidentified woman was carried out of an abandoned house in a body bag.
"When I saw that, just for a fleeting second it passed through my mind, 'I wonder if that is Terri,'" Wortheam said, "Sure enough, it was."
Investigators were able to positively identify the body as Terri Howell the very next afternoon, but Wortheam suffered another blow when she learned her daughter had already been buried just hours after she'd been discovered dead.
"I was heartbroken for months, for years," Wortheam said, "I couldn't hardly stand to think about it. Of course, I had to come to grips with it, but it almost drove me out of my mind."
It left a boy without a mother. Kenny Howell was just 4-years-old when his mother was murdered.
"Sad. I wish I could have known her," Kenny said, "I think it is amazing that someone can actually get away with something like that. Someone should be held accountable."
"I'd ask them why?" Wortheam said, "That is the main question. I figure if they are not punished here on earth, God will punish them, that is the only way I can live with it."
Investigators said the location where Howell's body was found may also be a clue. Her body was found in an abandoned farmhouse by Free Silver and Lanham Roads near Knottsville, Kentucky. This is a rural area, definitely off the beaten path and not easy to find for people not familiar with the area.
Anyone with information in this case is asked to call the Daviess County Sheriff's Office at (270)-685-6131.
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