Thierry “Rambo” Ntoutoume Nzue was convicted for the 1998 murder of 37-year-old Karen Phillips. A Gabonese criminal court sentenced Ntoutoume Nzue to life in prison.
Phillips served in Oyem, an agricultural city of about 40,000 in the coastal African nation of Gabon. She worked as an agro-forestry volunteer, helping local farmers market their agricultural products.
“She just loved helping people,” said Richard Phillips, Karen’s father. “That’s the type of person she was. Karen was a doer and a giver.”
Prior to joining the Peace Corps, Phillips worked in Atlanta as a fundraiser for the international development organization, CARE. A native of Delaware County, Pa., Karen received her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Villanova University in 1982, and a master’s degree in business administration from Fordham University in 1989.
“There is nothing harder for this agency than losing a volunteer, and after many years, I wholeheartedly hope the Phillips family can now find a sense of comfort and closure,” Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said. “I am extremely grateful to those who have relentlessly sought justice for Karen Phillips and her family for more than a decade.”
Phillips was found stabbed to death on December 17, 1998. Since her death, an investigative team led by the Gabonese judicial police, with the assistance of the Peace Corps Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, and the U.S. Embassy in Libreville have worked to pursue justice for Phillips. In late 2012, the government of Gabon formally requested, through the international police organization INTERPOL, that U.S. federal law enforcement assist in the investigation of the murder. The team revisited all aspects of the crime. Subsequently, Ntoutoume Nuze was identified, brought to trial, and convicted by Gabonese authorities.
“Everyone who has worked on Karen’s case over the years has been deeply moved by both her life of commitment to service and her tragic death,” Peace Corps Inspector General Kathy A. Buller said. “I hope this verdict will bring a degree of peace to her family and friends.”
Tim Logue Writes in the Delaware Daily Times:
On the night she was murdered, Phillips attended a Peace Corps function and then went to a local cantina with two other female volunteers. When they left the bar, Phillips assured the other women she would be fine walking home alone. Her body was found the next morning about 100 yards from her front door and authorities quickly identified Ntoutoume Nzou, who had approached the women at the bar, as a suspect.
“Our family wasn’t interested in seeing anyone railroaded,” Phillips Jr. said. “We told the Peace Corps, ‘If you are just doing this to get a resolution, we’re not interested.’” Phillips Jr. said his father, a former longtime PECO employee and son of a Somerset County coal miner, made a second career out of the murder case.
“My father has been aggressively looking for justice for 15 years,” he said. “He’s the one who deserves the rock star treatment in all this and he’s the one who called the Peace Corps every week and said, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?’” Though he moved back to his hometown of Windber several years ago, Phillips Sr. has kept his daughter’s former classmates and friends apprised of the case.
“In my opinion, he did what every good father would do,” his son said.
Karen Phillips would have turned 52 earlier this month.
According to the non-profit Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Project, Inc., 292 volunteers have lost their lives since the Corps was founded in 1961. During that time, more than 210,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries.Thierry “Rambo” Ntoutoume Nzue was convicted for the 1998 murder of 37-year-old Peace Corps/Gabon Volunteer Karen Phillips. A Gabonese criminal court sentenced Ntoutoume Nzue to life in prison.