NBC’s ‘Dateline: The Informant’ follows the case of 18-year-old cashier Heidi Allen’s abduction from her workplace in April 1994 in New Haven, New York. The investigators encountered numerous twists and turn over the years as they tried to solve it. The episode interviews an informant, Tonya Priest, and the convict’s brother, Richard Thibodeau, to help the viewers understand the case better. So, what do they have to say regarding their involvement? Let’s find out.
Who Are Tonya Priest and Richard Thibodeau?
On April 3, 1994, Heidi Allen opened the D&W Convenience store by the corner of state Route 104 and state Route 104B in New Haven in Oswego County, New York, around 5:45 am. She had been working at the store as a cashier for more than two years and was well-known among the patrons. Hence, the concerned customers called the authorities around 8:00 am when they found the store was left unattended amidst Heidi’s shift. The police suspected foul play when they found Heidi’s car in the parking lot and his personal belongings behind the cash counter but no sign of the 18-year-old.
Richard Thibodeau stated on the show how he voluntarily went to the police after hearing of Heidi’s disappearance since he was the last person to see her alive after buying two packets of cigarettes from the store around 7:30 am. However, the investigators considered him a suspect in the case after learning he owned the same kind of white van many witnesses saw leaving the scene at the same time as Heidi’s mysterious abduction.
Richard and his brother, Gary Thibodeau, were arrested and charged with first-degree kidnapping within a few weeks of the crime. The investigators conducted a thorough search of Richard’s van but found no physical evidence tying the vehicle to the abduction. The case against the Thibodeau brothers comprised entirely of circumstantial evidence, and Richard was acquitted of all charges in a 1995 trial. However, Gary was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after two inmates alleged he had confessed to them about killing Heidi because of a drug deal gone wrong.
Tonya M. Priest came forward as an informant in early 2013, claiming three individuals – James Steen, Michael Bohrer, and Roger Breckenridge – were involved in Heidi’s abduction. In a court affidavit, she testified she lived in the Town of Parish in Oswego County, New York, in her teens. She met her first husband, Sidney Ruben Shaw, in 1994 and was acquainted with James, Michael, and Roger through her husband. Tonya claimed she had gone with Victoria “Vicki” West to her trailer in the spring of 2016. Vicki lived with James at the time and would go on to marry him a year later.
According to Tonya’s testimony, James admitted to them about abducting Heidi along with Michael and Roger before taking her to Roger’s house. He alleged the trio beat her in the garage before dismembering her body and disposing of her in a cabin located in the nearby thick woods. When Tonya and Vicki refused to believe him, James got angry and even asked them to stake the place out if they needed proof to believe his claims. His demeanor scared Tonya, and she did not take the information to the police, fearing for the lives of her and the kids.
Where Are Tonya Priest and Richard Thibodeau Now?
James was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole in June 2011 after murdering Vicki and her lover in September 2010. Understanding he could not harm her anymore, Tonya came forward and informed the authorities about what James had told her around seven years ago in his trailer. The officers searched the concerned cabin but could not find Heidi’s remains there. However, her testimony, along with three others, played a prominent role in Gary’s defense counsel’s attempt to reverse his conviction.
James dismissed Tonya’s claims and stated, “I had nothing to do with Heidi Allen. The sheriff’s (deputies) came and talked to me, and I told them the same thing. How is it that you believe Tonya’s big lie?” Even though Tonya was able to get a recorded partial admission of guilt out from Jennifer Westcott, who was present at Richard’s house during the alleged abduction of Heidi, the prosecution and the court dismissed her claims. According to the presiding judges, the testimonies of the witnesses failed to link the trio to Heidi’s kidnapping.
In a 2015 interview, Tonya alleged that Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes put her family in jeopardy by revealing the state where she resides. She added that she planned on “packing and disappearing.” According to her, “I did the best I could. Now I regret ever standing up and pursuing this.” She also wished the best for the Allen and Thibodeau families but stated she could not “help them any further.”
According to the court affidavit, she lived in Sevierville, Tennessee, in 2013. However, we have decided not to reveal the current addresses of Tonya and Richard for privacy reasons. Neither of them wishes to have their present addresses in the public domain to keep the press and the prying mass away.
Read More: Heidi Allen: Found or Missing? Is She Dead or Alive?