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Man who buried dead grandmother in backyard pleads guilty

Crime Watch

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Harley Howell at an earlier court date. | file photo

BLACKFOOT — A man pleaded guilty Monday to hiding his dead grandmother for nearly five years by burying her in the backyard.

Harley L. Howell, 24, pleaded guilty to felony failure to report a death, and as part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dismissed a felony abuse and neglect of a vulnerable adult charge. According to an affidavit of probable cause, Howell admitted to detectives that in 2014 he placed his dead grandmother, 78-year-old Naoma Ware, in a closet, and months later, buried her in the backyard.

For nearly five years, almost nobody knew Ware was dead and under the dirt in her backyard. The search for the woman began in December 2018 after her daughter, Danielle L. Howell, died in a car crash one month before. Friends were unable to find Ware to notify her of the death and called the sheriff’s office. Deputies discovered from the Social Security Administration that benefits were still being collected under Ware’s name. Bank records led detectives to the Howell family, according to court documents.

During an interview with investigators, Howell said that in October 2014, he pushed Ware down in her bedroom at their home at 1056 East 1100 North. He then shut the door and left Ware alone. Danielle Howell eventually found Ware dead on the floor of her bedroom in the fetal position, according to court documents.

Naoma Ware | Courtesy image

“Harley said Danielle told him she did not want to get in trouble because of Mrs. Ware looking malnourished,” detectives said in their report.

Ultimately, the Howells stuffed Ware’s body into a closet, where she remained for about two months. When the body began to stink, he said he moved her body to a shed in the backyard. As his mother began to worry the smell was becoming worse, she and Harley wondered what would happen when Doug Howell, 49 — Danielle’s husband and Harley’s father — would begin to use the shed.

Ware’s body was placed in the crawl space for two more weeks before Harley dragged the body to a duck pen behind the house. Danielle Howell began digging a hole in the area and Harley said he finished the digging before placing Ware’s body inside and covered her with dirt.

The house where Noama Ware was buried in backyard. | file photo

Prosecutors initially charged Doug Howell, Harley’s father, with felony abuse and neglect of a vulnerable adult, but after striking a deal with prosecutors, that charge was amended to a misdemeanor. Doug Howell admitted shoving Ware to the ground during an argument in 2014 because she had more than 30 cats living in her bedroom. His action left her bedridden for two months before her death, according to court documents.

It’s not clear if Doug Howell knew about the death, or wondered what had happened to Ware.

A judge ordered Doug Howell to spend four days in jail for the crime.

During the interview with investigators, Harley Howell reportedly said he kicked Ware in the hip the day he left her in the room. At one point in the interview, Howell allegedly said “I killed her,” referring to Ware, according to the probable cause affidavit.

Harley Howell is scheduled for sentencing April 13 at the Bingham County Courthouse.

Felony failure to notify of a death holds up to 10 years in prison and or a $50,000 fine.