PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — For the past week, WAVY.com has been looking into William Devin Howell’s past. Sources in Connecticut link him to the deaths of seven people, whose remains were found buried in New Britain earlier this year.
Howell has been in jail since 2005. He was arrested in Hampton, where he grew up, then taken to Connecticut to face charges in the death of Nilsa Arizmendi. In that trial, he entered an Alford plea and is now serving a 15-year sentence for manslaughter.
Arizmendi’s body wasn’t found until this spring, when police uncovered them in New Britain, near the other six victims’ remains.
A close friend of Howell talked to 10 On Your Side about her time with the Howell, years ago.
WAVY.com has chosen not to identify this woman, because she feels Howell is still connected to dangerous people in Hampton Roads and fears for her safety. But she wants the public to know — sometimes it’s the people you trust the most who you don’t really know at all.
The woman has known Howell since the late 1980s. The pair grew up in the Michael’s Woods and North Hampton neighborhoods and both attended Bethel High School. Although, Howell never graduated.
“We were all a bunch of kind of wild kids, the ones that skipped school,” she said.
The woman said Howell as never a poster child. She described him having a hard life: a sick mother and an alcoholic father.
“They were really poor,” the friend explained. “I can remember all the parents in the neighborhood getting him school clothes, getting him school shoes. We all felt so sorry for him.”
She also remembers Howell as having a good heart. She said he used to offer to mow lawns for neighbors, and despite his financial status, she said he always offered to do it for free.
Like many in his circle of friends, she said Howell experimented with drugs and drank. But she said he “never grew up” like the rest of them did. Eventually, Howell earned the reputation: Dirty Devin.
“He was shady, shady Devin, dirty Devin, because he did what he had to do to get by,” she said.
Still, his friends stayed close. She said Howell had a long-term relationship and fathered a child with a woman in their group of friends. But she said she remembered him being abusive, and the relationship was rocky.
“Physical, verbal, I’m surprised there were no assault and battery charges along the way, real surprised,” she said.
At some point, she said, Howell moved to a trailer in Bertie County, N.C. She visited him there often and remembered his old beat up van.
“It was odd colors. It was a mismatched, like it had been put together like a puzzle. He did not want anyone in that van, near that van for any reason, constantly kept it locked,” she said.
That’s a detail she didn’t think much of at the time, but not long after that visit, police seized the van, saying the blood-stained back seat proved Howell killed Nilsa Arizmendi in 2003.
Still, while the court proceedings dragged on, Howell’s friend stuck by him, not believing the accusations could be true.
“We were all like, ‘not Devin, no way. It’s got to be because he’s the country boy from Virginia up north,'” she said.
Still, when she asked him about his van, something seemed off, even before police eventually filed the manslaughter charges.
“Something did just not seem right about Devin’s answers. For us to have grown up together and for him to not look me in the eye to answer questions, something about him seemed different,” she said.
Now, police sources link him to six more murders. Court papers show many of his alleged victims were prostitutes — a detail that’s not overlooked by his friend.
“He was always, constantly getting rejected because he was not good looking. He was overweight and he was kind of dirty. There was not much attractive about him besides his personality. It was always like he looked for girls who had weaknesses or drug issues or prostitution, like he purposely sought out that kind of person out,” she said.
And now that Howell is connected to so many more murders, this friend said she can’t ignore it any longer.
“I feel betrayed. I feel like, you were somebody fake the whole time, and that could easily have been me,” she said. “I truly believe he did it. I really do.”
WAVY.com has reached out to several local police departments to see if they’re reopening any cold cases to check for links to William Devin Howell. So far, there are no links being investigated.