BOISE, Idaho — This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
Two men went missing in the early 2000s, and people invested in the case have speculated that they disappeared under the same mysterious umbrella of mutual connections.
Ahren Barnard disappeared in 2004; Jeramy Burt in 2007. Mutual acquaintances still link them together — two lawyers who were good friends, according to police — with theories of a possible hit man, and strings of connections to multiple people. The web of mystery, growing larger over time, have put the cases in cold water for nearly two decades.
The last time Ahren Barnard’s mother, Vicki Barnard, talked to her son, he was in a good mood, eating macaroni and cheese.
“To this day, I cannot get (the public) interested in his case,” Vicki said.
Ahren Barnard went missing on Dec. 4, 2004, at the age of 35, leaving behind his mother and his two children, plus a possible third child that may or may not be his.
Ahren, nicknamed “Benjy,” worked as a disc jockey at dance clubs and helped out at Vista Pawn, a pawn shop located in the Boise Bench neighborhood. As a gun dealer, he loved working with weapons and trading parts for them. Ahren owned multiple businesses in his lifetime, including a gun store and a motorcycle shop. He was always finding a knack for something he was good at, and was extremely creative, Vicki said.
Ahren was disinterested in school, but had a passion for music. The only thing that helped him stay in school was being a part of the orchestra and jazz bands, Vicki Barnard told the Idaho Press.
Regardless, Ahren passed his GED exams with flying colors, and set out to find his next adventure — and he found quite a few of them.
Ahren spoke with his mother on the phone the day before he went missing. That was the last time she heard his voice. Ahren’s 3-year-old son was in the bedroom, playing on his computer, while his father cooked up his macaroni. He was lively, making plans for the next few days.
Ahren dropped his son off with the child's mother on Dec. 4 at a McDonald’s off Cole and Overland roads. He then headed home to his residence off Sunderland Drive.
His last call came around 7:15 p.m. According to Vicki Barnard and the Boise Police Department, Ahren Barnard was on the phone with his friend Yvette. According to Vicki, Ahren told Yvette he was on his way home when his roommate, Tyler Deen, called him. It is unclear what they spoke about.
“Benjy was not reported missing right away,” Vicki Barnard said. “That's my biggest regret. And I'm so ashamed of that. But you know, he was 35 years old.”
However, Vicki said that when Ahren went missing, Deen took some of Ahren’s furniture in the house. In addition, a single computer chair in Ahren’s room was not there the day he disappeared. Vicki believes Ahren was murdered, and whoever killed him disposed of his body with the chair from his desk.
Vicki also said she heard rumors from a local businesswoman who knew Deen at the time. Vicki said that around the time Ahren went missing, Deen ran into a house the businesswoman was at, exclaiming in a panic that something bad had happened. Vicki remains suspicious of this interaction.
In addition, Vicki Barnard said Deen had conflicting stories about the phone call he had between him and Ahren that day. Around the same time, Vicki said, Deen had posted a message on his Myspace page.
"Remember... A good friend will help you move... A REALLY good friend will help you move a body... Let me know if you ever need me to bring a shovel," the post said.
No one has seen Ahren in the 18 years since.
Multiple attempts to contact Deen through Facebook messenger and at his residence for this story were unsuccessful.
Jeramy Burt was last seen in the 2200 block of Hervey Street at 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 11, 2007. Burt, who was 33 at the time, left his father's house and was en route to a friend's home, but never arrived there, according to his mother, Sheryl Burt.
Jeramy Burt was a military man serving in the U.S. Navy who loved his daughter, Mackenzie — so in love with her when she was born, Sheryl Burt said, he wrote a poem about her. He never would have left his daughter, Sheryl Burt said.
Sheryl loved Jeramy, describing him as “so damn stubborn.”
“You could tell him that if he went out there and climbed that tree, he might fall out and break his arm. He would go out there one day, he would fall out, break his arm and he still wouldn't believe you,” she said.
When Jeramy Burt disappeared, his ex-wife Kim George reported him missing.
George, who later died in 2016, received cryptic texts from her ex-husband's phone shortly after he disappeared, saying that he was leaving to start a new life, Sheryl Burt said. George didn’t believe they were from him, and neither did his mother.
Sheryl Burt said the police obtained Jeramy’s phone records, which showed a 20-minute call made from a payphone in Mountain Home, about a half-hour from Boise, around the time of his disappearance. There were no security cameras outside the store at the time to confirm who this person was.
Former Boise Police Detective Jeff Wudarcki doesn’t remember the phone call, but he did remember Jeramy’s debit card was used a couple of times in Mountain Home.
In the months after Jeramy Burt went missing, his 2003 Mercury Cougar was found burned up in the Owyhee Desert.
There were many searches in the area where the vehicle was found — Wudarcki never saw the car in person at the time, but said he studied evidence photos extensively to track down anything of concern. The car was swabbed for evidence but nothing came of it since it was so severely burned, Wudarcki said.
Wudarcki also sought out an arson expert to review the photos, and nothing came of that either.
Sheryl Burt believes there were two people involved in disposing of the car. It was too secluded of an area, and driving it to the location where it was found would have proven difficult, she said.
Wudarcki said the reason for the concealment of the car truly depends on what someone’s theory is regarding Jeramy’s disappearance.
“If you have the theory that something happened to Jeramy then I would say yeah, it was probably burned to conceal evidence. I don't see another reason to burn it. It was way out in the middle of nowhere,” Wudarcki said.
“If he was just trying to get away, he just dumped the car and you go do your thing. So to me, it concerns me that something happened to him, and somebody did something to get rid of evidence in the car.”
Boise police spokeswoman Haley Williams said that detectives will continue to work on the two cold cases as tips come in. Anyone with information is urged to contact police, she said.
Constance Norris and Jeannie Braun, now Jeannie Hughes, were good friends in the early 2000s, according to Wudarcki. Both were divorce and family lawyers with potential mutual connections. Hughes was considered a person of interest in the case of Jeramy Burt, and Norris was interviewed in the case of Ahren Barnard.
In a YouTube video posted by Into Darkness Northwest, a local true crime investigative group, Norris maintained that she was not familiar with Ahren when the group questioned her at her home this year.
When the Idaho Press visited Norris at her residence, she said she would not talk about Ahren and that she also does not know Jeramy.
However, Ahren's mother Vicki Barnard claims Norris knew her son very well.
Vicki said that Norris dated Ahren for a period of time. Also, according to Wudarcki, she owned a motorcycle shop with him.
According to Ada County property records, there was a transfer of a deed between the two.
“(Norris) was in his house sleeping in his bed when I was there on Christmas. She knows him, she was in business with him,” Vicki Barnard said.
Norris and Ahren had a falling out that was tied to the motorcycle shop, but it’s unclear exactly what it was, Vicki said. Norris had allegedly told people she was the only owner of the shop at the time, Vicki said.
Hughes, the other attorney, had an affair with Jeramy Burt for a short time, according to Sheryl Burt and Wudarcki. While Jeramy was in the process of divorcing his previous wife and trying to get married again, Hughes came into the picture as his attorney, Sheryl Burt said.
She was also convicted of forgery, destruction or concealment of evidence and intimidating a witness, according to court records, which led to her being disbarred and spending time in a state correctional facility in the early 2000s.
Jeramy Burt tape-recorded conversations with Hughes about the illegal activity she was involved in, and testified against her before a grand jury in 2004, Sheryl Burt alleges. She believes that this incident could have led to Jeramy’s disappearance.
Wudarcki said that he has statements from people who said Hughes and Jeramy Burt were still in contact after she was released from jail.
The Charley Project, an investigative website that profiles and publicizes missing persons cases, said that Hughes said she hadn’t been in touch with Jeramy in the months before he went missing.
Hughes now resides in St. George, Utah, where she owns a nutritional food business. She has never been charged in relation to Jeramy's disappearance.
She did not respond to requests for comment from the Idaho Press through email, Facebook messages and phone messages.
Additionally, Vicki and Sheryl both said the two lawyers had attended a wedding together with Ahren and Jeramy as their dates in the early 2000s, further solidifying the connection between the two, the two mothers said.
Sheryl also said she believes a man who lives in Utah was involved in Jeramy’s disappearance, and possibly assisted Hughes if she had anything to do with Jeramy going missing. The man allegedly dated or knew Hughes for a short time and was interviewed by police, but was never charged, Sheryl Burt said.
POSSIBLE HIT MAN
A source, who asked to remain anonymous because he believes there is still a threat to his safety, was close with a man in the early 2000s who was one of Ahren Barnard's business partners as a gun dealer and the previous owner of a pawn shop on Vista Avenue. The source believes this man hired someone to kill Ahren.
Additionally, Hughes was the source’s lawyer at one point, he said. He also said he has seen Jeramy Burt before, and believes the name is familiar to him.
The business partner invested money into Ahren Barnard’s business, the source said, when Ahren supposedly came into a large sum of money regarding a specific part for a gun desired by high-end investors.
Ahren Barnard “crossed” the investor by planning to take the money and cut him out of the deal, the source said, which could have led to the investor taking out a hit on Ahren Barnard.
The source also believes that the business partner's son, who worked at one of the partner’s pawn shops in Mountain Home, died the same way — from knowing too much about something his father was involved in, he said.
“I believe that (the business partner) took out a hit on many people, Ahren being one of them,” the source said. “If I would have stayed, I would be in the same boat.”
The source said that the investor had mines hidden near his pawn shop where Jeramy Burt’s last phone call was from and that is where Ahren Barnard's body could be.
Additionally, Sheryl Burt said during Christmas one year, Jeramy had bought a television to give to his daughter. He told his mother he bought it at a pawn shop in the area, she said, which makes her suspicious of the ties surrounding both Ahren and her son’s case.
This investor later died from health complications.
According to Into Darkness Northwest, the true crime group, someone came forward to them about a local inmate with ties to a Chicago mob. Allegedly, the inmate told his previous cellmate that he took out a hit on Ahren and buried him next to a warming hut in Idaho City.
Furthermore, another inmate in prison for murder is said to have done “collections” for the business partner, according to Into Darkness — it’s another person that adds more suspicion to the web of possibilities.
Sheryl Burt thinks something similar happened to Jeramy — she believes someone took a hit out on him and burned his car from evidence, or that Hughes, Jeramy’s previous lawyer, did something to him in retaliation for his testimony.
WAITING FOR ANSWERS
Former Boise Police Department Detective Brian Lee, who worked on Ahren's case, said his report is nearly 60 pages, which is extensive.
“I think there's foul play that's happened,” Lee said. “There's so many things that could have happened and nobody really has any recollection of anything or can point to one thing."
“We would run across stuff. It'd be like, OK, that makes no sense. We look into it, and there's really never an explanation around it. So we never really got any momentum in any one direction.”
Wudarcki said cold cases like these are especially hard to work, since the one thing that could spark any action is new information. Some departments have cold case detectives, Wudarcki said, but the Boise Police Department doesn’t have that luxury.
He said there are so many different stories, they are hard to nail down. With Ahren Barnard’s case, Wudarcki said, there are so many versions. With Jeramy Burt, there are fewer possibilities.
In the end, he said, there just needs to be someone willing to speak out.
“We just weren’t able to get enough leads to get where I could charge somebody in a crime. I think you have to let people know we're still waiting for that information to come out or for remains to be found,” Wudarcki said.
“The hardest part is not being able to get closure for the family, by far. That was my primary goal,” he said. “First, I wanted to get closure for the family. Second, I wanted to prosecute somebody. And I just couldn’t do either one.”
Vicki Barnard said she hasn’t been able to declare Ahren dead yet, even though she believes he’s no longer alive.
“I still love him with every breath I take,” she said.
Sheryl Burt declared Jeramy legally dead on Oct. 1, 2018.
“He didn't deserve any of this. I never would have thought I would be looking at this many years,” Sheryl Burt said. “I pray to him all the time. I wish he'd send me some signs as to where he's at.”
As of March 2022, there have been no new updates in Ahren's or Jeramy’s cases.
People with information or tips are encouraged to contact the Boise Police Department at 208-570-6000.
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