Laura Howard: Unsolved Death Investigation

Sole suspect still on the loose, preying on women
Posted at 11:36 PM, Nov 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-08 11:28:57-05

For the very first time, a family with ties to Fort Myers sits down with Four In Your Corner to talk about how their mother's trust cost her her life. Police say a mysterious man preyed on Laura Howard in Fort Myers back in May 2013. Detectives believe he still may be targeting others. He's been on the run for the past few years. The family wants her story told to prevent other women from becoming his next victim. 

"My mom was a character, the school volunteer. the CCD teacher, the adventure seeker, " Cassandra Howard, Laura's daughter said.

Like many in middle age, Laura Howard wanted a change in life. She set out from Massachusetts to seek sunshine and sand in Southwest Florida.

"She was sick of the winter so she thought Florida sounded like a great spot to go," Cassandra said.

Friends of Laura's say she felt very lonely being miles away from her family and it often lead to risky decisions. 

"She would sometimes drink a little too much," Sally Berger, Laura's friend said. "I would get nervous for her."

Berger tells Four In Your Corner Howard took two men in to stay with her on separate occasions to help around the house and help them in a time of need. One of those men was Simon Storm.

"Laura had such a good heart," Berger said. "She was lonely and wanted a man around the house to feel safe but she also felt bad for people and just wanted to help them out." 

Simon Storm was one of two men Howard took in the course of months during her time in Fort Myers. Simon Storm pulled on Laura's heartstrings seducing her with an idea he would fill an empty space she longed for. 

"They were in a friendship that had benefits," Berger said. "She didn't want a relationship but Simon kept pushing and pushing for more. Laura was beautiful, kind, and generous." 

Storm roped Howard in with the story he illegally immigrated from Canada sneaking through the border and hitch hiking his way to find his ex-wife and only daughter. .

"He was working for a landscaper that did my yard," Berger said. "We believed him and felt sorry for him. Laura ended up taking him in."

Sympathy led to a relationship well kept from most of Laura's family, including her daughter Cassandra. 

"I didn't know he existed," Howard's daughter said. "I didn't know this man was in her life at all."

Howard's son Greg knew very little about this mystery man, but was sure his mother didn't want Storm in the picture the week in April he planned on visiting Southwest Florida. 

"I'm certain that she did not want him there," Howard's son said. "She wanted the house for me and her, she didn't need him around."

As the trip got closer, the family says strange things started to happen.

"I could just sense in her that she was just like longing for me to be there," Howard's son, Greg said. "I said, 'ma, I'll be like two weeks and I'll be there, don't worry."

Laura was acting out of character abruptly sending Greg messages contradicting her feelings about his visit. 

"I got a text message on my phone that said, 'don't come down, I won't be here.'

Family and friend's of Howard believe the messages were sent by Storm intended as a distraction. Howard's son Greg flew in to Fort Myers anyway, but Laura never showed to pick him up.

"For her to go off and do her own thing wasn't the strangest thing in the world," he said. "The fact she did it when I was coming down, knowing how close we were, and how excited she was is what was off."

Howard's son Greg tells Four In Your Corner, once he got to the house he tried getting in through all the doors but everything was sealed shut.

"Even the back door that I knew how to prop open when it was locked was completely shut," he said.  "So I went to my mom's friend, Sally's house and told her my mom wasn't home. Her face kind of went pale and dropped."

At this point, friends and family members are calling Howard and Storm to find out where they are, by the second day, both of the phones were off.

"On Sunday, I called her again and I said, 'Laura, if you don't call me back by 6 o'clock tonight, I'm going to call the police and report you as a missing person,' and I did it," Berger said.

The next day Berger and a neighbor went to check up on Howard's home. Little did they know what they saw on the outside were just clues of what had happened behind closed doors. 

"When we got to the house, all the curtains were drawn and you could not see inside the house," Berger said. "We noticed the moisture outside the windows, and they were dripping."

"By Friday, I called the police and I was just done with it," Howard's daughter, Cassandra said. "I couldn't wait any longer. I knew something in my gut was wrong. I said, 'I need you to go force entry into that home or meet me, I'm going to get on the next flight, meet me there and arrest me, I'm going to force my way into that house.'

Detectives say when they walked into Howard's apartment, they found her in a state of severe decomposition, having to identify using her dental records because she had been in water for several days. 

"The air conditioning was turned down to the lowest point to prevent an odor from getting out and alarming anybody," Howard's daughter, Cassandra said.

"We can't tell if she was strangled, we can't tell if she was suffocated," Trish Routte with Crimestoppers said. "We can't tell what happened to her."

What investigators can tell is the man Laura thought she knew wasn't really named Simon Storm. His name is Robert Khuen but uses a list of aliases: Alex Defrey, Simon Croft, Alex Frost, and Simon Storm. All names have been flagged on multiple places. Detectives say the same day Fort Myers Police found Howard's body, they also found her car abandoned on the east coast.

Howard's car was found near a home where a suspicious incident was reported in Margate, Florida. According to an incident report, police say, Khuen was living with a woman around Howard's same age. She was suspicious about Storm and asked him to show her his ID to prove to her who he really was. Storm agreed, went upstairs to get his ID but instead jumped out the window and was never seen again. 

"You don't just leave a woman dead and then jump out of a second story building to avoid being caught if you've done nothing wrong," Routte with Crimestoppers said. "This man is capable of very violent acts. We have no idea how many other victims are out there past and present."

During an investigation, detectives found Storm, legally known as Robert Khuen, to have left behind his ID and a passport, birth certificate and old marriage license belonging to Laura Howard.

Detectives have a clear pictures of Khuen, the sole person of interest for Laura's death but haven't found him yet. 

"When we're dealing with someone who is living off the grid, it's really difficult," Trish Routte with Crimestoppers said. "Especially when he's using an alias that other people aren't questioning."

Police say Khuen is the only man they're looking for that may be responsible for Laura's death and possibly others. 

"He left her in a bathtub to rot," Howard's son, Greg said. "Either he's really good at hiding or we're not looking hard enough."

Police say this man is still on the run and is believed to be living in the state of Florida. If you have any information, you are urged to call Crimestoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS.