A shy brunette with a page-boy haircut, 11-year-old Shauna Howe left her home dressed as a gymnast on Oct. 27, 1992, to head to school, and later, a Girl Scout Halloween party, which she left around 8 p.m. She never made it home from the party. Three hours after a witness called Oil City police to report he’d just seen a thin, disheveled white man force a young girl into a red car on the street, Shaunas’ mother reported her missing.
After three days, widespread searches led to the discovery of Shaunas’ body. She was sexually assaulted, her battered and broken body thrown off of a railroad track six miles away. It was there, in the dry creek bed, that Howe would lose her life after sustaining severe injuries to her upper body. An autopsy showed she died of head and chest injuries. The three men responsible for her death would not be caught or sentenced until 2005, 13 years after the incident.
Just two blocks away from her home, Howe was snatched off the street by Eldred “Ted” Walker. Mr. Walker told police that he, Timothy and James O’Brien had talked of abducting a child as a Halloween prank to make Oil City police look foolish. That night, as Shauna attended her Girl Scout Halloween party, the Oil City brothers were lurking and plotting the sinister act that would cut her young life short.
In court, Mr. Walker said he snatched Shauna from the street as she walked home from the party. He handed her over to Timothy O’Brien, who was riding in a car with James O’Brien. He said the brothers drove away with her and he later learned that the O’Briens had taken Shauna to his house. When he arrived to his house he heard a female voice crying, “Get off me, let me up, let me go” while the O’Briens were upstairs in a bedroom of the home. Walker testified that they subjected her to extreme acts of cruelty and sexual violence before throwing her from the bridge alive, leaving Shauna to die alone in the shallow creek below.
Walkers gave testimony against the O’Briens under an agreement that allowed him to plead guilty to third-degree murder and kidnapping. (He would later try to change the plea and was denied by the court.) He faces 20 to 40 years in prison.
At the time of their arrest in July 2004, the brothers James O’Brien, 33, and Timothy O’Brien, 39, were serving time in state prisons for unrelated attacks. Prosecutors presented DNA test results from a FBI laboratory that showed that semen found on Shauna’s body and clothing came from James O’Brien. One day shy of 13 years after Shauna Howe was snatched, after a two-week trial and a deliberation of 16 hours, the jury of six men and six women reached its verdict .
The jury found the O’Briens guilty of kidnapping, voluntary deviant sexual intercourse, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and second and third-degree murder. Shockingly the jury found them NOT guilty of first-degree murder and rape… The convictions they DID receive, however, means the brothers will serve life in prison without parole. After the verdict was read, due to high publicity, the Jury was whisked away from the court-house. Prosecutors and defense attorneys did not comment and remained under a gag order imposed by Judge Oliver Lobaugh. The order didn’t prevent the prosecutor, Venango County District Attorney Marie Veon, and Erie County District Attorney Brad Foulk, who assisted her, from smiling and accepting handshakes and well-wishes from the Howe family and investigators.
As the verdicts were read, Shauna’s mother, Lucy Mae Brown, and other relatives embraced, held hands and bowed their heads. Shauna’s uncle, Keith Sibble, pumped his right fist and mouthed “Yes! This is justice.” Mrs. Brown said “I still have a hole in my heart but I needed it to be solved. They took a little girl’s life. They spent 12 years living their lives. My daughter would have been 24, but what does she have? Nothing.” Mr. Sibble praised investigators and prosecutors for their relentless pursuit of the case. “[Today] would be 13 years … we’re never going to get Shauna back, but this was the last step we had to get through. These people will never hurt anyone again.”
Shauna’s slaying terrified residents of Venango County and much of Western Pennsylvania. As word spread of the Jury outcome , residents began driving past the courthouse sounding their horns and shouting derisive remarks about the defendants. The sentences are to run consecutively with sentences the brothers were already serving for other, unrelated crimes. Both were determined to be sexual violent predators under Megan’s Law. “It was for their cruelty – for the life they took more than 13 years ago and the remorse they haven’t shown in the years since ” said Judge Oliver J. Lobaugh as he sentenced the two brothers to spend the rest of their lives in prison,”The world was a better place because of Shauna (Howe) and the world will be a much better place without you walking free ever again,”
Rest in peace Shauna.