As Missouri Man Is Convicted of 5 Murders, a Look at the Case of the 'Cul-de-sac Killer'
Brandon Howell faced his own reckoning on Monday, when a jury took less than two hours to find him guilty on all 11 counts he faced.
In a matter of minutes, Brandon Howell irrevocably altered the lives of countless individuals one fall day in the tight-knit Kansas City neighborhood of Woodbridge in 2014.
With his fists and a shotgun, he played judge, jury and executioner to five people whose killings were as senseless as they were brutal.
But Howell faced his own reckoning on Monday, when a jury took less than two hours to find him guilty on all 11 counts he faced in the deadly rampage for which he has come to be known to some as the "cul-de-sac killer."
“There’s a sizable group of people with broken hearts, but they know justice is there for them,” Jackson County, Missouri, Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker told KSHB-TV after the verdict.
Howell’s conviction comes more than four years after his crime spree Sept. 2, 2014.
Officers with the Kansas City Police Department dispatched to Woodbridge Lane that day quickly realized a horrific series of events had unfolded on the picturesque and typically quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac.
Responding to a call made a little before 1 p.m. by a woman from one of the homes in the impasse saying, “help … shotgun,” the police first discovered the body of 69-year-old Susan Choucroun, who had been hit by a shotgun blast in her own driveway.
Next door, they found George Taylor, 80, and Anna Taylor, 86, left for dead in their basement. The elderly couple had been severely beaten. Investigators would learn that Anna, or “Ann,” as she known to those who loved her, had made the 911 call. She and her husband were rushed to area hospitals in critical condition, but they later died from their injuries.
Several doors down, police found the bodies of Lorene Hurst, 88, and her 63-year-old son, Darrel Hurst. Like their neighbor Susan, they too had been attacked by someone with a shotgun.
Witnesses told police that after hearing several gunshots coming from the area near the Taylor home, they peeked out of their homes in time to see a beige Toyota Highlander that looked like theirs driving north.
But instead of continuing on its way, the car stopped in front of Choucroun’s home. There, a man in a black hoodie got out at and shot her once, witnesses said. The shot proved fatal.
The man then sped away, but police about three hours later were called to a Motel 6 on Prairie View Road, where three victims had been randomly attacked by a man matching the Woodbridge Lane shooter’s description.
Two of the victims told police they were followed to their room by a man asking for a cigarette who came inside with them, shut the door and began attacking them. They tried to get away, but the man followed, punching a third person in the face as he passed her, police said.
He continued to attack one of the motel occupants in the parking lot, and then ran away, jumping over a fence and fleeing on foot, officials said.
Police found the Taylors’ Toyota Highlander abandoned in a restaurant parking lot not far from the motel.
They finally caught up to the man in the black hoodie around 11:50 p.m., when officers responding to a suspicious person in the area came across Brandon Howell walking on the shoulder of I-29, gripping his right pant leg to keep in place the 12-gauge shotgun he was carrying.
Four shells were in the magazine, “making it readily capable of lethal use,” police said.
In his pockets were two spent shotgun shells and a set of keys. They proved to be a match to the Taylors’ car.
Investigators learned Howell had purchased the shotgun in January 2000, nine months before he would plead guilty to aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, attempted aggravated robbery and cruelty to animals.
Those charges stemmed from a 1999 home invasion out of Johnson County, Kansas, where Howell was among a group who robbed, assaulted and abducted several others. When one of the victims made it back to his ransacked home, he found his pet cat had been beheaded.
“Threw its head out in the backyard off the balcony and hung it from the light fixture in the living room,” one of the victims’ mothers, Dianne Remfert, told WDAF-TV in 2014.
Howell was sentenced to 12 years in prison for that crime.
It was not Howell’s first run-in with the law.
He faced charges including theft, criminal damage, battery and aggravated battery as a child, going on to spend time in the state youth center, the Kansas City Star reported.
Police and court reports obtained by the Star showed Howell once got in trouble for punching and cutting another teen with a knife. A witness in that case later sought an order of protection against him, the Star wrote.
When Tabitha Brewer and Nick Travis went missing in 1998, their schoolmate Howell became the prime suspect. The body of one of the students was found buried in the yard of a home Howell’s father was renovating, and though Howell was charged in that case in 2006, a jury in 2009 acquitted him.
After pleading guilty in the 1999 home invasion case, Howell was sentenced to 12 years in prison and was transferred to the Kansas Department of Corrections in September 2000.
He got out of prison in February 2011 and appeared to be getting his life on track and was.
He was reportedly released from parole in August 2013 and seemed to be staying out of trouble, according to his family.
“He was working six days a week,” his father, Romez Howell, told the Star. “I was trying to help him get a car.”
But about a month before the September 2014 killings, Howell was laid off after being injured while working on a construction site.
“What happened there, he doesn’t seem to be the person that would have done it,” Romez Howell said of the murders. “But I don’t know.”
Authorities were able to piece together a timeline of the Woodbridge Lane murders, saying Howell brutally beat the Taylors inside their home after trying to steal their classic Jaguar. Unable to start the antique car, Howell instead stole their Toyota Highlander.
“Three innocent old people had to die for what? Because this spoiled brat wanted a car,” Remfert, the mother of one of Howell’s victims in the 1999 incident, said before the Taylors died from their injuries. “A vintage car. He has not thought for anybody but himself. He is very selfish, he is very controlling, he is very manipulative. He's evil, he's pure evil.”
The Taylors died one week after being attacked. Theirs was a marriage that lasted 47 years and saw the blending of “two beautiful families,” their joint obituary read.
“They were vibrant, young at heart and dedicated themselves to family,” the memorial read.
George Taylor served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and went on to work as a union brick mason.
“As a member of The Over the Road Gang, he had a passion for classic street rods,” the obit said. “George was also an avid Chiefs and Royals fan.”
Ann Taylor wore many hats throughout her life. She worked as court clerk, owned and operated an antique shop called the Cottage, was involved in the Missouri Historic Society's preservation work and as the founder of a local chapter of the Red Hat Society, the Flaming Dames, she was active in the area’s art and culture scene.
“Ann wished to have her body donated to science, but due to the circumstances, this was unable to happen,” a GoFundMe page said. It was created at first to assist with prolonged medical and rehabilitation care, but after their passing, the funds were dedicated to create a memorial fund in George and Ann's name, for an educational scholarship in the field of medicine.
“They were a vibrant, gentle, and loving couple who have touched our hearts so deeply,” the page said. “We are all so fortunate to have had such amazing people in our lives.”
Susan Choucroun had been happily married to her husband, Charles, for 34 years when she died. With him, “she created a warm, loving household,” her obituary read.
“She was a true activist who cared deeply about humanity,” a mourner said of her after her passing. “Her loss will be deeply felt far and wide.”
The Hursts were believed to be returning from shopping when they were killed.
“Darrel … passed away … alongside his mother Lorene Hurst during a senseless act of violence,” his obituary read.
He was survived by his wife of 40 years, their daughter, their son, two grandchildren and his brother.
Those same people were left to also mourn Lorene, but they found solace in knowing the pair were together when their lives were taken.
"They came in this world together — my husband did with his mom — and they left together,” Darrel’s wife, Kathy Hurst, told KMBC-TV. "They were hear one minute and gone the next … this monster has taken away some very special people. It's impacted all of our lives and I just want to say I hope this never happens to anybody else."
A sentencing date for Howell has not yet been set.
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