Murder charges were filed Monday and announced by the sheriff's department Tuesday against Neil Howland Jr. after his mother's body was found in a burning car off Scott County Road 323 on Aug. 7.
Howland is charged with first-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence, knowingly burning a vehicle and abandonment of a corpse, according to a probable-cause affidavit signed by Lt. Jerry Bledsoe of the Scott County Sheriff's Department. He is in the Scott County Jail without bond. The murder charge carries a life sentence if he is convicted.
Howland is charged with killing his mother, Cynthia Canoy of Scott City, on Aug. 7 by strangling her with a dog leash. Howland transported her body and two of Canoy's dogs to a field near the county road and set the vehicle on fire in an attempt to destroy evidence, according to the affidavit.
On Aug. 7, crews responding to a car fire off County Road 323 discovered a body in the car and called the sheriff's department. Sheriff Rick Walter activated the SEMO Major Case Squad for an investigation. Because of the condition of the body, authorities did not release the victim's identity until Aug. 14 because they awaited confirmation through DNA tests. An autopsy showed Canoy died before the fire.
Howland was questioned Aug. 10 as a person of interest while he already was in jail on another charge of threatening his mother and her husband.
During questioning, Howland admitted he killed his mother at their home at 919 Oak St. in Scott City after he sent his girlfriend and son out for gas, the probable-cause statement said. Authorities say Howland strangled his mother and left her in an upstairs room until his girlfriend left for work, then put her lifeless body into the back of her SUV with her two pets and drove to a corn field, setting the vehicle ablaze after dousing the exterior and interior with gasoline. He walked back to his house, the probable-cause statement said.
Howland was arrested Aug. 9 on charges of third-degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon stemming from a May 18 incident in which Canoy and her husband, Jerry Canoy, told police Howland had threatened them with a machete and firearms, and they feared for their lives.
Cynthia and Jerry Canoy did not immediately pursue charges after the May incident for fear of retaliation, according to a probable-cause statement filed by Scott City police officer Amber Saupe. Jerry Canoy contacted Saupe on Aug. 1 and said he wanted to pursue charges, but the charges were not filed against Howland until Aug. 9 -- two days after Cynthia Canoy's body was found.
On June 30, Jerry Canoy was charged with misdemeanor domestic assault in connection with an altercation with Howland at 919 Oak St. The victim's name was redacted from the report, but was identified as Cynthia Canoy's son.
A Scott City police report shows Howland was arrested Aug. 5, two days before Cynthia Canoy's death, on a Jackson warrant. Lt. Casey Dodd of the Scott City Police Department said there were no additional outstanding warrants for Howland's arrest at the time, so he was in custody for about one hour.
Sheriff Rick Walter said once the burned vehicle found Aug. 7 was identified, investigators began piecing together the case.
"The car was so badly burned, there were no license plates left or VIN numbers to go by, but evidence taken from the vehicle led us to addresses for questioning," Walter said.
Documents inside the vehicle also led investigators to believe it belonged to Cynthia Canoy, Bledsoe wrote in his probable-cause document.
Howland is scheduled to appear in court for his arraignment at 9 a.m. today. Court records show public defender Amy Commean is representing Howland for his assault charges, but the Southeast Missourian was unable to verify whether she would represent him for the new charges as of Tuesday afternoon. Commean was out of the office Tuesday afternoon.
Walter said investigators continue to pursue other leads in the case and asked that anyone with information call the Scott County Sheriff's Department at 573-545-3525.
County Road 323, Kelso, MO