Gruesome details about woman’s death emerge

At right, Bernard K. Howell, III, 26, of Tenino, appeared in Thurston County Superior Court Monday on second-degree murder charges following the death of Vanda Boone, 60, of Yelm. Howell told Thurston County Sheriff’s Office investigators he had sexual contact with Boone’s body. Photo by Dan Schreiber/The Daily Chronicle

A Tenino man is behind bars after the body of a Yelm woman was found in his truck Sunday evening in Tenino.

The woman, identified Tuesday afternoon as Vanda Boone, 60, was the victim of homicidal violence.

Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock said Boone’s throat was slit and she had blunt force trauma to her head and neck.

Other contributing factors to her death include asphyxia due to strangulation or smothering.

Police suspect Boone was attacked by Bernard K. Howell, III, 26, of Tenino, while she was on the Yelm-Tenino Trail near Churchill Road.

An initial crime scene was discovered early Sunday morning just off the trail, said Chief Jim Chamberlain of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff’s spokesman Chris Mealy confirmed Wednesday that location is the crime scene.

Howell was arrested and booked into Thurston County Jail on suspicion of second-degree murder and first-degree theft. He is being held in lieu of $750,000 bail.

As of press time, Howell wasn’t arraigned, but a review hearing was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

During interviews, Howell repeatedly said “he heard voices and that he wanted to be alone,” according to court documents.

After his arrest, Howell met with a mental health provider at the jail, according to a pretrial report.

The report recommends that Howell be seen by experts at Western State Hospital as soon as possible, based on his “display of extreme mental instability.”

Boone’s body was discovered in a truck driven by Howell at 8:15 p.m. Sunday near Parkside Elementary School in Tenino.

A deputy pulled Howell over after being flagged down by a citizen who said a man asked him to help move a body, court documents said.

As the deputy talked to the citizen, Howell drove by and the man identified him.

When confronted, Howell admitted to having a body in his truck, police said.

Boone’s body was found in the truck wrapped in plastic and a sleeping bag.

When confronted, Chamberlain said Howell appeared agitated, but not under the influence of any kind of substance.

Mealy said police also believe they recovered the murder weapon from inside Howell’s truck.

Several tools and knives were found in his truck, Mealy said. “But we won’t know until the lab results come back.”

Boone’s wallet was also found in Howell’s truck, under the seat.

Howell is a self-described independent meat peddler in Tenino. He carries a chest freezer in the back of his truck.

Police suspected early on that the victim was Boone, whose vehicle was found near the Yelm-Tenino Trail.

Howell told police he found Boone’s body while walking on the Yelm-Tenino Trail.

He reportedly told police “he wanted to give her a free funeral and not have the family pay any money.”

Howell allegedly left the scene in Boone’s vehicle to gather supplies including a sleeping bag, plastic and a 10-pound weight.

Later, however, investigators said Howell changed his story. He allegedly told police he became aroused when he found Boone’s corpse, and had sex with the body.

Howell denied being involved in her death.

Warnock said swabs were taken during the autopsy, but it will be unknown for several weeks if Boone was sexually assaulted.

Official time of death is also still undetermined, but Warnock said she definitely died Sunday.

Boone moved to Yelm from New York in March and was a student attending Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment in Yelm.

While driving across the country her moving truck caught fire and she lost all her belongings, Warnock said.

In a press release, RSE founder JZ Knight said Boone moved to the area to be close to the school and friends she met there.

“We are deeply pained to learn of the tragic death of Vanda Boone and saddened that a murder occurred in our tranquil rural community — a rarity in the Yelm-Rainier-Tenino areas,” Knight said.

Boone has no living family. Her only brother died recently in Brazil.

“Right now she’s an unclaimed individual,” Warnock said Tuesday. “Thurston County may be making arrangements.”

When asked Tuesday by the Nisqually Valley News if RSE had any plans to help, Knight issued a press release that said the RSE community will step up.

“In the absence of next of kin or relatives, Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment will take care of funeral arrangements,” Knight said.

“We are disheartened at the loss of any one of our students, but to lose them to homicide is shocking.”

“This unfortunate and horrific crime affects us all and many lives will be affected because of Vanda’s passing.”

“We hope this crime will be solved and justice will prevail quickly.”

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