When 20-year-old Nichole Alloway left her home in Spring Hope, North Carolina in May of 2009 for Portsmouth, Ohio she was bright-eyed and full of dreams. She kissed her two young children goodbye for the last time before setting off to meet Dylan Maring — a man she had spent months speaking with over the internet — in hopes of finding work, affordable living accommodations, and a father figure for her two toddlers. Instead she found herself in a body bag in the wake of a fledgling internet romance gone awry.

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What happened in those weeks Nichole Alloway stayed in Portsmouth, Ohio? No one seems to know for sure, at least not anyone who’s talking.

Nichole stayed with Dylan Maring for approximately two weeks before the couple had a falling out. According to an interview with her family on CNN, Nichole said that Dylan was not the man she had expected and the two parted ways. She wanted to go back home, but needed her grandmother to wire her the money for a bus ticket.

After she left Dylan’s home it was reported that she had met up with another young man, who then took her to the home of a couple he was acquainted with in order to stay for a few days while she waited for her grandmother to send her the money she needed for her bus fare back to North Carolina. The last time Nichole was known to have been seen was on June 10, 2009, when surveillance footage at Portsmouth’s Kroger grocery store showed the woman picking up the money wire her grandmother had sent.

A man named Richard Howard agreed to take Nichole to the bus station, but they never arrived. Howard later claimed that he and Nichole had been using methamphetamine on their way. Nichole died of an overdose in his car. Not knowing how to handle the situation, Howard claims he panicked and dumped her body in a creek near the intersection of US Route 73 and Big-Spruce Little Bear Creek Rd. in McDermott, Ohio, approximately 20 miles outside of Portsmouth.

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Nichole’s body was found two days later by a couple who happened to be near the creek. It would take a little over a week for dental records to determine that the body had belonged to Nichole Alloway. On July 27, 2009, police arrested Richard Howard in connection to Nichole’s death.

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Howard was convicted of abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and drug trafficking. Nichole’s grandmother, Diane Dille, is not convinced that justice was served. Howard would be released from jail approximately two and a half years later, but Dille is still seeking answers.

Nichole’s family says that investigators lied about the drugs in Nichole’s system and insist that Nichole was not a drug user at all. Further muddying the details surrounding Nichole’s tragic death is an internet sleuth named Carrie Peterson.

It is unclear how Peterson became connected with this case, but she claims that she knows that Nichole had been murdered on the property of a friend of her’s. Aside from having a number of aliases to argue and agree with herself on various message boards, Peterson personally has a stronghold on any and all social media accounts related to Nichole Alloway’s case, which she uses to harass different people including the Scioto County Sheriffs Department, Portsmouth police and others she believes were directly or indirectly involved in Nichole’s death.

Peterson later claimed to have found bones while searching the area she believes that Nichole had been murdered and sent them to her grandmother. Dille forwarded the bones to the investigators on Nichole’s case, but they determined them to have been from an animal. This, of course, became more fuel in her personal mission to slander anyone Nichole encountered pre or postmortem during her trip to Ohio.

It’s been rumored that Nichole’s family has since distanced themselves from Peterson, but do not believe the narrative of Richard Howard. They believe that Howard was able to work out a plea deal with investigators and, rather than serving time for murder, he was able to be released from prison after having served less than three years as documented through the Portsmouth Municipal Court.

Dylan Maring, along with the other cast of characters Nichole was said to have been staying with during her time in Ohio, have all been arrested on methamphetamine-related charges between the time of her death and today. This raises the question if someone had killed Nichole for fear she would go to the police, but to date there is no evidence to say for certain whether or not her death was the result of a murder.

In fact, the only credible information publicly available in regards to this case is a supplemental death certificate and the reports of Richard Howard’s testimony. Even some of the most basic details of this case seem to conflict one another within reports from the media.

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While researching the location Nichole’s body was found, I came across three different locations. WSAZ reported that “Howard disposed of Alloway’s body in a rock embedded area off of Route 73 in Otway.” while another report by WRAL claimed that Nichole’s body had been found in an abandoned house. This leaves us with only Nichole’s supplemental death certificate – provided online by internet sleuth Carrie Peterson – to determine the basic details surrounding her death.

According to her death certificate, Nichole’s body was found near the intersection of Route 73 and Big-Spruce Little Bear Rd., substantiating reports that claimed that her body had been found in the creek that runs parallel to Big-Spruce Little Bear Rd. This also substantiates Howard’s claim that he had placed Nichole in the creek after she died in his car from a drug overdose.

The second piece of information the supplemental death certificate is able to provide us is the ruling of Nichole’s death being the result of “Undetermined Homicidal Violence.” Peterson and Nichole’s family have since used this portion of the document as evidence to support their claim that Nichole had been murdered.

Unfortunately, the term homicide can be very confusing. The general public is accustom to the term being used as a synonym for murder, but homicide can also be used in any case where medical examiners believe someone other than the deceased caused the death to happen. This can include deaths later ruled to have been accidental or ruled to have been committed in self-defense.

This tells us that medical examiners observed the body of a woman in a creek who clearly did not put herself there and did not die of any sort of observable natural causes concluded upon their observation of the scene. Since this was a preliminary assessment, the toxicology tests and other reports necessary to fully conclude her exact cause of death had not been completed and are listed as such.

In the same way this information could help to support Nichole’s family’s claim that she was murdered, it could also support Howard’s claim that the pair had been using drugs when Nichole died and, in a panic, he decided to discard her body in a nearby creek, since there is no toxicology assessments listed on this report. In this instance, “homicidal violence” is the conclusion examiners would have to draw in order to describe the state of which her body was found in the creek since her death wasn’t believed to have been an act of suicide, she was not believed to have naturally died in the creek and the placement of her body in the creek was not believed to have been the result of an accident on her own part (such as a fall) based upon evidence medical examiners witnessed at the scene.

Though Nichole may not have been a drug user prior to her departure to Portsmouth, it would seem perfectly reasonable to suggest that she may have fallen in with a rough crowd while she was there and had begun to experiment with drugs, which unfortunately took her life.

On the other side of the coin, it seems as equally reasonable to suggest that Nichole had fallen prey to career criminals who killed her because they feared she would go to the police about their illegal activities, but due to a lack of evidence, investigators could only take Howard’s recollection of the events surrounding Nichole’s death at face value.

With the inconsistencies I’ve observed within the media coverage of this case on even the most basic of details surrounding this young mother’s death and the wild stories being spun by internet detective Carrie Peterson who claims that watching episodes of Law and Order and CSI allowed her to conduct a better criminal investigation than local investigative agencies dominating a bulk of the information available online, it’s difficult to be certain exactly what happened to Nichole Alloway.

Nichole’s family has been working with private investigators and it is hopeful that if this case had been mishandled in any way that they will get to the bottom of it. Until evidence suggests otherwise, we can only draw our own conclusions based on what little facts are known on how Nichole Alloway was met with her untimely death.