Police: Suspect admits destroying bodies of Food Network finalist, spouse

Police: Remains found in suspect's wood stove could belong to missing Food Network contestant, husband

The man suspected of killing Cristie Schoen Codd, a contestant on "The Next Food Network Star," and her husband told authorities that he had stored and destroyed the couple's bodies at his home, according to documents released by North Carolina authorities Thursday.

According to a series of search warrants released by the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department, Robert Jason Owens, 36, also admitted to his wife that he had hit Joseph "J.T." Codd with the victim's truck and killed him. The couple was reported missing over the weekend.

Sheriff's deputies say that they have found what they believe to be human remains and that at least some of those remains were discovered in a wood stove during a search of Owens' property.

The remains have been sent to forensic experts for examination and identification, said Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan.

Two bodies were sent Thursday to the University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., for identification, Buncombe County medical examiner Dr. Sharon Sweede told the Los Angeles Times.

“Identification may take a little bit of time, I’m afraid,” Sweede said. 

Owens was arrested Monday in connection with the deaths of the Leicester, N.C., couple. He was charged Tuesday with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of murder of an unborn child, and breaking and entering and larceny, said Buncombe County Dist. Atty. Todd Williams. The first-degree murder charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole or death, Williams said, and the murder of an unborn child charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole. Owens is being held without bail.

Cristie Codd, 38, a contestant on Season 8 of "The Next Food Network Star," was pregnant when she went missing, according to authorities. Joseph Codd was 45, according to the Associated Press. 

Owens had previously done construction work on the couple’s Buncombe County home and lived about a mile from their residence, sheriff's officials said.

"He is a contractor, does handiwork type things, and he had worked with the Codds there at that residence for a period of time," Duncan told reporters Thursday.

Authorities have released few details about the case. Cristie Codd's father called local authorities Sunday afternoon after she failed to appear in Mississippi that day and couldn't be reached, Duncan said. Authorities believe the couple died on or around March 12.

Deputies went to the Codd home to investigate, and a neighbor with a key to the house let them in. When they entered, Duncan said, deputies found the couple's wallets and their dogs, and "it was obvious that they hadn't been taken care of."

"When we went in, we knew we had to follow up on it further," Duncan said. Detectives immediately opened a missing persons report, the agency said, and requested cellphone data on the couple.

Investigators also discovered that a break-in had occurred at the Codd home.

Sunday night, deputies received a call reporting "suspicious dumping" on a dead-end road in nearby Candler, N.C., about six miles south of Owens' home. According to the warrants, Owens had been seen "dumping large garbage bags. When they arrived, deputies found some "items which we knew belonged to Cristie Schoen Codd" including her ID, Duncan said.

Around 1:30 a.m. Monday, investigators interviewed Owens at his home, and he admitted to taking some items from the Codd home. Deputies served a search warrant at Owens' home in relation to the alleged break-in and arrested him shortly after. They also searched his F-150 pickup truck.

When deputies interviewed Owens, the sheriff said, Owens admitted to "several things" referenced in the warrants released Thursday. "He did admit to taking the bodies, storing them on his property, and destroying them," during the interview, Duncan said, but he declined to comment on whether Owens had confessed to the killings.

According to the search warrants, investigators also interviewed his wife, who said her husband had admitted to hitting and killing Joseph Codd in front of their residence with a 2008 Dodge Ram pickup the couple owned.

Investigators seized, among other items, his cellphone and tablet, debris from the stove and his yard, a saw blade and 11 knives, the warrants say.

Joseph Codd appears to have sent Owens "multiple text messages" in the two days leading up to when authorities believe the couple was killed, according to search warrants.

Adding to the mystery, Duncan said a fire was reported on the Owens property Thursday morning. The fire occurred in a building that is "not his primary residence." Duncan declined to say whether the wood stove where the remains were found was located in that building. Arson detectives are investigating.

"It sure does raise a lot of questions, and it would not be truthful to say that it didn't," Duncan told reporters.

He is also suspected of being connected to the disappearance of 18-year-old Zebb Quinn, who vanished from the same area in 2000, the Associated Press reported. Authorities were never able to get enough evidence for charges. 

"It's definitely a significant event, the fact that he has been arrested on three counts of murder," said Ashville Police Department Sgt. David Romick, whose department is investigating Quinn's disappearance. Romick said Owens had not been re-interviewed about the Quinn case since his arrest, but declined to provide further information about the progress in that case.

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