"No beast is more savage than man when possessed with power answerable to his rage."
It was the 8th of July 2010. A Thursday. Friends and family did not know where forty five year old Brittany Jeniveve Tavars was. She lived alone in a beach house in St. Augustine, Florida, United States and they had not heard from her in a couple of days. She was reported missing from her home on South Beach Drive.
Brittany was last seen the evening of the 6th of July. She attended a neighborhood party with friends. She stopped off at a gas station later that night, around 9pm, to buy gas for her Toyota Rav4. But nobody knew where she went after that. When her friends checked her house, it looked normal from the outside. There seemed to be no activity inside the house. Her car was gone which initially led some of them to believe she may have just left her house to go somewhere for a few days but her family were worried as they knew it wasn't like her to go anywhere without telling anyone at all.
Police did not begin an investigation immediately as nothing seemed out of place and there was no evidence of foul play or that Brittany had come to any harm. Friends and her partner, Tim Martin, gained access to her house via a locksmith and one thing really stood out to them. There was a smell of cleaning products, bleach in particular, and the house was extremely clean. Brittany's two little dogs, small white bichon frise dogs called Ku Bear and Huey, were missing too. But her cats were still at the house. The other thing they found unusual was that the air conditioning was on which would not normally be the case if Brittany had left to go somewhere.
Brittany's friends told police that Brittany was worried about something and she told some of them that she was afraid. She had been engaged in a bitter dispute with her neighbor Ann. At one point, things got so bad that they turned physical and on one occasion, Brittany was arrested on battery charges. The day she went missing raised suspicion amongst them due to the timing of her disappearance as she was due in Court in relation to a civil suit. She wanted to file a permanent restraining order against Ann. Ann arrived at the Court house for the hearing but there was no sign of Brittany. Her friends and family didn't believe she would willingly miss the hearing as she had been waiting for it and had been preparing and collecting evidence that she could show to the Court.
Brittany and Ann had initially been friends but when Ann's boyfriend moved over from Ireland, Ann needed to find a room for her roommate so that she could make space for her boyfriend. Brittany agreed that the roommate could move in with her but she later changed her mind and that caused problems between Brittany and Ann. It was alleged that Brittany struck Ann during an argument and she was arrested on battery charges.
Brittany, on another occasion, claimed that Ann threw her video camera in the pool at the Serenata Beach Club, which was a local fitness facility that they both used and were members of. Brittany carried around the video camera with her so that she could document any interaction she had with Ann so that she would have proof for Court. Police spoke to Ann after Brittany was reported missing but they were satisfied that she had an alibi.
A few days after Brittany was last seen, on the 10th of July, her two dogs were found wandering the streets separately in Hopkins, South Carolina.
Brittany's friends and family told police that over the years, at least eight different homeless people lived in her spare room. Brittany had welcomed them into her home so the she could help them out and in return they helped her by doing some work that was required around the house. And one of the men, twenty six year old Joseph Dean Roberts, who had recently been staying with Brittany was missing too. And her friends recalled that he was with her the evening of the 6th of July at the neighborhood party. Brittany met Joseph at a Barnes & Noble bookstore just a few weeks before she was last seen. She only spoke to him a few times but he told her how he had become homeless after losing his job at a Kangaroo gas station on St. Augustine Beach and she told him that he could stay with her for a while.
Some of Brittany's friends met him and weren't concerned. They thought he was normal and just a typical average young man. Joseph told Brittany's friends that his parents died and the people he was living with kicked him out of his home.
When Joseph moved in, Brittany purchased a computer for him so that they could start a business together. They wanted to start a business designing websites. That was typical of Brittany. She loved trying new things and getting involved in new ventures.
Police wanted to speak to Joseph. He was no longer at Brittany's house and they discovered that he was actually stopped by a police officer on the 11th of July for speeding in Evanston, Wyoming. He was driving Brittany's car and was alone at the time but he wasn't arrested or questioned in relation to Brittany at that point and was released with a warning. The police officer who stopped him did not know he was wanted in connection to Brittany's disappearance at that point. Joseph was seen later that same day. He was seen at a Wal-Mart in Ontario. He purchased a tent, a black T-shirt and tan cargo shorts.
Police discovered that Brittany's credit card was still being used and they tracked the credit card transactions. Brittany's card was used in multiple states from North Carolina to Idaho and Oregon.
Police put out an alert asking for help locating Joseph. There were active arrest warrants for him for grand theft auto and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. The public were informed that he was considered a person of interest in Brittany's disappearance and may be armed and dangerous.
Joseph Dean Roberts
On the 12th of October, Joseph was arrested for shoplifting in Seattle and police from Florida went to Seattle to question him. They hoped that there was still a possibility that Brittany was alive somewhere and may be found.
Joseph told police exactly what happened to Brittany.
He explained that he had been helping her prepare for her case against Ann. Brittany had footage of Ann that she thought would assist her case and wanted him to make a DVD so that she could bring it to Court with her. According to Joseph, they argued the night of the 6th of July and when he woke the next morning, Brittany was still angry. He didn't do what she wanted him to do in relation to the DVD. She was screaming at him, telling him to get out of bed and to get it done.
Joseph told police that he grabbed a hammer in the kitchen and hit Brittany in the head a couple of times with it. Joseph told police that at that point, Brittany wasn't dead and she was still alive for a little while, so he took a knife that was in the kitchen and cut her throat.:
"I was standing over her and she's dead, and there is blood everywhere."
There was a significant amount of blood and Joseph recalled how he needed to use bleach and a lot of towels to clean it up. Afterwards, he put the towels in six trash bags. Joseph told police that he initially planned to put Brittany's body in the attic but she was too heavy for him to carry her up the stairs so he wrapped her body in sheets and garbage bags and put her body inside her car.
When asked why he took Ku Bear and Huey with them, he said that he knew people would not believe that Brittany left her two dogs home alone and he needed to buy time. Joseph then drove her car with her body inside and left her body in woods off a state road not far from Interstate 95.
Joseph said that he tried to bury Brittany's body but digging was difficult so he just left her body out in the open. He went home afterwards and when asked if he went to sleep, he confirmed that he did. After he slept for a while, he began to drive across the country and left Brittany's car in a Seattle library parking lot.
Joseph told police the spot where they could find Brittany's body. He gave them directions and drew a map. Her body was so badly decomposed that she had to be identified through her dental records but the cause of death could still be determined and it was determined that her death was caused by blunt force trauma.
Joseph was charged with first degree murder and he pleaded not guilty. Before a Trial took place, there were many discussions and legal arguments in relation to Joseph's state of mind and the Prosecutors agreed to accept a guilty plea to a lesser charge. Joseph pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in a Florida state correctional facility.
Police discovered that everything Joseph told Brittany was a lie. He had spent several months living in the woods near the bookstore where they first met.
Police believed that Joseph walked along the beaches in Florida looking for women to try to make them offer him a place to stay. It worked on a number of occasions. Brittany was not the first woman who offered him a room to stay in. Women who invited him into their homes said that when they first met him, they didn't find him intimidating and some felt sorry for him. Those who lived with him saw a change in his behavior after a short period.
One woman he worked with at the Kangaroo gas station offered him a room in her house that he could rent and he was there from August 2008 to January 2009. He told her that he couldn't afford a motel and was living in his car. She didn't feel that it would be a problem if he lived with her as he was pleasant at work. She felt he was honest with her too. He spoke about mental health issues and he told her he had dealt with depression and angry outbursts. But while the first few weeks were fine, things began to go downhill. He seemed disinterested, stopped bathing and just stayed in his room. When she saw him taking drugs inside the house, she asked him to leave. He moved out the same day.
A month later, another employee at the gas station, a woman called Cheryl Davenport, told Joseph he could stay with her after he was fired from the gas station for stealing. She thought of him as a friend. He told her that he didn't speak to his family because they “wanted to put him in a psych ward.” In return for a place to stay, Cheryl asked Joseph to look after her three young children.
But the same pattern soon emerged. Joseph stopped bathing and took drugs. Cheryl asked him to leave and he did. He then moved in with Brittany but before she had the chance to ask him to leave, he brutally murdered her. He had dealt with significant rage issues in the past, issues that Brittany had not been aware of when she invited him into her home.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
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