|Actor Robert Redford depicted Jeff in the webseries era|
|First Appearance||Prologue, Book One|
|Cause of Death||N/A|
|Spouse/Partner|| Carol Mathison
|“||You’re the best damned thing that’s ever happened to me, outside of those kids. I’ve never felt for anybody the way I feel for you. And I know that you don’t love me, I know…and that’s okay. I know why, and I think you’d have to be pretty stupid to love me after everything that’s happened. But I want you to know that I love you, okay? I do, and I probably always will.||”|
— Jeff Howard, Book Three
Jeffrey David Howard (February 12, 1933 - ) is a charming, small-time con artist, and the man that stole the very married Julia Woodward's heart. He was Carol Mathison's fiance at the time of her death, and was also involved with Marnie Blake several years ago. The two remain close friends.
Jeff did not grow up in Haven Park, hailing originally from Wales -- Shane, however, doubts this, as Jeff has no discernible accent and has been known to lie in the past. Per book one, he's been in the United States since he was "(expletive) twelve years old." He moved to Haven Park for a fresh start in his early twenties, having exhausted all resources for help elsewhere. His young life has not been touched on much thus far, except to say that he had a very underprivileged upbringing. In book one, it was mentioned that his mother, an immigrant woman "with no real skill other than having babies and tending to sheep" was very poor and struggled to feed her family. In the Wonderful Christmastime interlude, Carol implored him not to tell her that "sad bullshit story" about how he and his family had to scavenge a Christmas dinner out of other people's garbage cans, because they could not afford one of their own. He has one brother, Steve, and it was revealed in book two that his father abandoned the family.
Handsome and charismatic, Jeff made his living off odd jobs and smooth talk, something that did not set with the hardworking community of Haven Park. He never held down a job for longer than a few weeks at a time, and continually found himself in the law for petty crimes, such as theft and other minor offenses. He also proved to be quite the ladies man, embarking on romance with several of the town's bachelorettes, most notably Margaret Adams.
Per book two, Marnie and Jeff dated rather seriously for three months, back in 1963. It appeared that theirs was a fairly solid relationship, but they broke up rather abruptly. The local rumor mill attributes the breakup to Jeff's infidelity, but neither he nor Marnie have ever confirmed this. Despite their breakup, the two remain very good friends -- in fact, Jeff considers Marnie to be one of his only friends, and always comes to her when he has a problem, because she has never judged him or turned him away.
Jeff also considered Lance Englund to be a good friend, but unfortunately, that did not stop him for repeatedly conning Lance out of money. At the time of Lance's death, Jeff owed him an estimated $800, a fact that Lance was not about to let him forget about. Jeff also regularly alienated Shane Marcette, who did not approve of his romance with his longtime friend Carol Mathison.
Jeff initially met Carol shortly after moving to town in 1954, but it was over a decade later that they began to date, after the death of her first husband David. Jeff saw a potential goldmine in Carol initially, but soon changed his view when he met her two sons, Mickey and Roger. In them, he found the family he'd always craved, and shocked everyone by renouncing his wild, selfish ways and transforming into Mr. Mom while Carol worked. Within a few months of dating one another, he moved into her home, raising more than a few eyebrows in the conservative community. They became engaged on Christmas Day, 1965, as shown in book one.
Over the next few months, Carol's drinking only grew worse, and her fights with Jeff grew more intense. In the days before her death, Jeff confided to Marnie that Carol was driving him nuts, but insisted that he was sticking around for the good times, when they actually had them. The truth of the matter was, he was sticking around for the children, whom he quickly came to regard as his own.
Carol's murder and aftermath:
On the night of July 4, 1966, Carol drunkenly confronted Jeff on his affair with Julia Woodward, an affair Jeff vehemently denied. Carol told him that she was leaving him and left the house, promising that she would return for the children in the morning. She was never seen alive again.
Immediately, Jeff was Shane's prime suspect in Carol's murder, especially given that in the months before her death, Carol had him arrested for allegedly threatening her. Jeff swore the whole thing was a big misunderstanding, and that she'd only done that because she was drunk, but Shane still hauled him down to the station and fiercely interrogated him. Jeff said that he didn't go anywhere the night of the 4th, but his across the street neighbor, Maryellen James, saw him return home around three in the morning. This prompted Jeff to disclose that he left to look for Carol, a scenario Shane did not believe. Still, he had little evidence to hold Jeff, so he was forced to let him go.
Shane was not the only one to immediately presume Jeff's guilt, and he was bombarded by dirty looks and suspicious glances for the next couple of days. He willingly gave the children to Carol's parents, while he attempted to plot his next move. On the morning of the 6th, Marnie dropped by to visit him and attempted to console him, but Jeff wanted no part of it, insisting he was fine. The next morning, the morning of Carol's funeral, Julia also paid Jeff a visit, and it was revealed in book two that that was the day they shared their final tryst.
Though he was concerned about the reception he would get, Jeff still made a point to go to Carol's funeral. Immediately, he was confronted by Shane, who again accused him of murder, in front of the entire First Baptist congregation. Furious, Jeff spat in his face and a physical confrontation almost ensued, but Brett managed to keep the two from killing one another. Shane told Jeff to leave, as he had no place there, and Jeff complied, if only to get out of a tense situation. He went outside and again, Marnie and Julia attempted to comfort him, but he wanted no part of it. Instead, he only left.
That night, Jeff thought about the road that led him here. Again, he was reminded of Shane's witch hunt against him, and vowed to do something about it, starting with consulting an attorney, per his brother's advice. He also made the decision to move out of the home he shared with Carol, though he had nowhere else to go, and ended up staying in his car.
A few days later, Jeff paid Marnie a visit at the church, and asked her for a loan. Citing her husband Evan's obsession with the finances, she had to refuse, but quickly offered that he talk to Brett. Instantly, Jeff became visibly uncomfortable, and it only grew worse when Julia and Brett came out of the office to go home for the day. Jeff made the hastiest getaway possible, unable to even look Brett in the eye.
Later that night, Julia, privy to his plight, found him in the park where they always met and slipped him some cash. It was then that Jeff related that he'd gone to see Lance earlier, and that he was planning on leaving town. Julia did her best to remain stoic, but she couldn't help but be shocked and sad that he could make such an abrupt decision. Still, she didn't know what to say or do to change his mind, and they bid one another a brief, but painful goodbye.
The next morning, Jeff went to visit Carol's children, in order to tell them goodbye, and it proved to be much harder than he thought. He struggled to rationalize a way to remain in their lives, but realized that he had nothing to offer them, and made the difficult decision to leave. Before he could get very far, though, Carol's father, former Haven Park police chief Stanley Rogers, stopped him and told him to sit his ass down, because they needed to have a talk. It was later revealed that Stanley told him that he could not walk out on the children, because they needed him in their lives. He gave Jeff the opportunity to move back into the house, provided that he got a job and took care of the boys. Grateful for the opportunity, Jeff agreed.
A few days later, he paid a visit to Julia to tell her the good news, and immediately, it became evident that the sparks between them were far from dead. Julia did her best to resist him, and Jeff did the same, but they still found themselves in an embrace. Julia found the resolve to tell Jeff to leave, just as Brett arrived home. Again, Jeff made the hastiest getaway possible, leaving Brett to remark that the guy must really hate him or something, because he could not get away from him fast enough. Julia did her best to divert attention away from the awkward encounter, but Brett berated her, and all but admitted that he knew about her affair, before leaving in a huff.
The next day, Jeff stopped by the church, to talk to Marnie about a woman he referred to as "his Aphrodite." He related that he was unable to get her off his mind, no matter how hard he tried, and Marnie surprised the both of them with the advice that he should try to make another go of it. Jeff told her it was not that simple, because Aphrodite was a very married woman. Suddenly uncomfortable, Marnie suggested that he talk to Brett about this, because he was a far more experienced counselor, but Jeff refused...because it was his wife he was talking about. Marnie was immediately reminded of a conversation she had with Carol on the day she died, in which Carol told her Jeff was sleeping with Julia, but before she could really react, a hysterical Terri returned from Casper, demanding to see her brother.
The next day, Detective Michael Goldman paid a visit to Jeff, intent on clearing his name. Jeff did not want to let him in initially, having heard how crazy he was from Marnie, but did eventually relent. Michael asked him about his whereabouts on the night of his fiancee's murder, and Jeff again affirmed that he'd gone looking for her. It was then that Michael confronted him with a receipt from a hole in the wall motel in Cottage Cove, where he'd checked in on the night of July 4, 1966. Jeff admitted that he'd lied, but swore that did not mean that he killed Carol. Michael said it meant the exact opposite -- that this receipt proved to be Jeff's long-awaited alibi. There was only one problem: he would need to speak with the woman he was with that night, to corroborate the story. Jeff was reluctant to reveal her identity, but did, after much coaxing.
Jeff later went to the church to talk to Marnie about the situation, and there, he ran afoul of Shane. The two argued bitterly for a moment, before Marnie literally dragged Jeff out of the situation. Jeff did his best to apologize, because he knew what an awkward position he was putting her in, but soon launched into his latest troubles. Marnie's advice was to the point: talk to Julia, which he attempted to do, but the phone was off the hook for most of the day. By the time he finally got Julia on the phone, Michael had already come and gone. Jeff attempted to explain why he'd done what he did, and apologized for siccing Michael on her, but Julia affirmed that she understood that he had to do what was best for himself and the children. Jeff then told her that she was the best thing that ever happened to him and emotionally declared that he loved her enough to let her go, because he knew it could never work. Stunned, Julia asked if he truly loved her, and admitted that she loved him too...something she'd never admitted to anyone before. Before they could say much more, however, a noise from outside alerted Julia that Brett was home and she hastily hung up the phone, overcome with emotion.
The next day, Jeff took a break from refereeing the children and was cornered outside by his across the street neighbor, Mrs. James. Immediately, she told him of Brett's stabbing the night before, and the town's speculation of how it might've occurred. Literally sickened, Jeff ran back into the house to throw up, vowing to talk to Julia and get to the bottom of it. Coincidentally, Julia came by around that same time and as soon as he saw her, Jeff realized it was all true. They held each other for what seemed like forever, and Julia dramatically told Jeff that she could not go home. He offered to let her stay with him, despite knowing that nothing good could possibly come out of that scenario. Julia seemed to realize the same and opted to stay with her mother in Cottage Cove instead.
A few days later, Jeff met Marnie at the church and they were unexpectedly joined by Julia, who had come by to pick up some things she'd left in Brett's office. The reunion was brief, but long enough to instill in Marnie the solid belief that what Jeff and Julia shared was real -- especially given that he'd never been that tender with Marnie when they were still a couple. Afterwards, Jeff went to collect the children, but Mona told him they weren't there. She added that Stan wanted to talk to him, before slamming the door in his face.
When Jeff got home, Stan was waiting -- armed with both the report Jeff gave "Crazy Laramie Guy" and a revolver. Angrily, he confronted Jeff on his whereabouts the night that Carol was murdered, even resorting to physical violence to get his point across. At first, Jeff tried to placate Stan, but soon he found the strength to stand up for himself, telling Stan that Carol was not the perfect saint he seemed to think she was. This only infuriated Stan even more, and he whipped out his gun, threatening to kill Jeff if he said one more slanderous word about his daughter. After considering the situation, and realizing that this essentially meant he would never see the children again, Jeff told Stan to go ahead and do it. Stan seemed surprised, but quickly took him up on the suggestion. Before he could pull the trigger, however, Mrs. James, from across the road, intervened, announcing she was calling the police. Jeff left before they could arrive.
Later that night, he paid a visit to Julia, at her mother's home in Cottage Cove. Very, very drunk, he confided in her what happened and showed a vulnerability she'd never seen in him before. This gave her the courage to admit, once and for all, that she loved him. Touched by his plight, Julia vowed to help him, and quickly came up with a game plan that involved selling her wedding ring to afford to rent a place down the road. Jeff didn't seem too keen to go along with it at first, but by the next morning, he realized how sincere Julia really was. Still, that didn't stop him from having reservations about her commitment to him. He attempted to tell her that he was not the kind of guy that Brett was, and that he could not offer her the same type of stability, but Julia didn't want to hear it. She said he was exactly what she wanted. He confided the many times that he'd had to start over the course of his life, starting with moving to the United States when he was twelve, and Julia assured him that they were in this together, and that they were going to work everything out.
The next morning, Jeff awoke in his new home and struggled to figure out where to go from here. He once again mulled Julia's abrupt decision to renounce her life to be with him, and realized that if he wanted to get ahead, he was going to have to resort to some of his nastier habits. Later that day, he met up with Marnie at Hazel's Diner, and surprised her by casting a twenty-dollar bill across the table. She asked him where he'd come up with that type of money, especially after he'd told her he was broke, but he remained mum about its origins, except to say that he didn't steal it. They were later joined by Michael, who made an awkward attempt to be friendly with Jeff, while continuing to antagonize Marnie. Jeff confronted him on how Stan got his hands on the report -- a report Michael had promised would remain confidential -- but Michael insisted he'd had nothing to do with it. He suggested that perhaps Shane had been the one to hand it over to Stan, given that he didn't seem to like Jeff very much, anyway. Later, Jeff told Marnie that he'd had it with Shane's antics, and vowed to kill the son of a bitch, much to her horror.
Another Place and Time:
In part one of the Another Place and Time interlude, taking place in the alternate timeline of 1981, Jeff is not shown, but he is mentioned as Carol's ex-husband and the father of her twelve-year old daughter, Bryn. It is implied that he is still up to his old tricks, as Carol muses that her older son, now known by the more mature Mick, wishes to be just like him -- he doesn't have a job or any ambitions in life, and is only interested in getting dates with the ladies. Despite this, Carol begrudgingly admits that Jeff is a better father than Shane.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams (the prequel):
Book 4.5 finds Jeff dating a young woman named Alice, their relationship appearing to draw several parallels between the one he would later share with Carol. He attempts to sweet talk her into ditching her shift at the clothing store in favor of a romp with him (using a financial windfall obtained through unclear purposes to sweeten the deal), and also steps in when Carol turns her anger onto Marnie, using small talk to distract her.
After a raucous afternoon of lovemaking, Jeff awakens to find Alice in the process of leaving and tries to convince her to stay, only for her to confront him on the casual nature of their relationship. Exhausted, he tries to tell her that he's been up all night and, later, that he does love and care for her very much, but stops cold when she suggests that they should be married. Alice takes this to be the confirmation that their relationship is going nowhere and breaks up with him once again, but not before telling him that she wants him to look at her the same way he looks at Marnie, noting that she'd noticed the flirtatious interaction between them. Jeff denies this, citing Marnie's age, but Alice refuses to listen to him, leaving the hotel room in a huff.
Character conception and representation:
In the original version of the story, Jeff was a far harder character to root for. He was a ladies man with a wandering eye, and there was no rhyme or reason about it. He had very few redeeming qualities, and his charm was utterly lost on me as a writer.
In this version of the story, Jeff is far more likable. He has a sweetness about him that takes you by surprise. You would never expect someone that's been so notoriously out for himself to be such a good (step) father, nor to be so helplessly in love with Julia, but I think this is what makes his character more compelling. He is not one-note, and there are a lot of reasons why he does the things he does.
During Independence Day's webseries era, actor Robert Redford served as Jeff's visual representation.