AP: Three people who vanished from a blood-spattered home more than a week ago were found dead inside a hollow tree Thursday, days after the teenage daughter of one of the victims was rescued — bound and gagged — from the basement of an ex-convict who worked as a tree-trimmer.
Authorities said all three were murdered in the home, though they did not say how, and the ex-convict gave information that led investigators to the bodies in garbage bags in woods in central Ohio. He remained jailed on kidnapping charges and was the only suspect in the killings, Knox County Sheriff David Barber said.
“The tragedy today is just devastating,” said Knox County prosecutor John Thatcher. “The results aren’t what we wanted them to be.”
The mother, her daughter and son and a family friend were reported missing after the mother failed to show up for work at a local Dairy Queen on Nov. 10. A day later, a deputy found what authorities called an unusual amount of blood inside her home, and her pickup truck was found near the campus of Kenyon College.
Over the weekend, a SWAT team found 13-year-old Sarah Maynard in the basement of the home of Matthew Hoffman, an unemployed tree trimmer who spent six years in a Colorado prison. He was charged with kidnapping the girl and has appeared in court but did not enter a plea.
Investigators would not discuss details of Sarah’s ordeal, but have said she is doing well, under the circumstances.
“We’re inspired by Sarah’s bravery,” Barber said.
A day after finding Sarah, authorities conceded that the others were likely dead.
Still, volunteers and authorities on the ground and in the air continued to search ponds, vacant buildings and bike trails for Maynard’s mother, 32-year-old Tina Herrmann; Herrmann’s 10-year-old son, Kody Maynard; and her friend Stephanie Sprang, 41.
It was unclear how well Hoffman knew the four, but the sheriff suggested that the defendant had been watching them.
The sheriff did not say what led investigators to Hoffman’s two-story, tan-sided house in Mount Vernon, about 40 miles northeast of Columbus.
He said authorities first questioned Hoffman the day after Herrmann failed to show up for work. Police found him sitting in his car near a bike trail near where Herrmann’s pickup truck was found, Barber said.
Hoffman’s former girlfriend claimed he choked her, pushed her against a wall and pinned her neck with his forearm during an argument at his house on Oct. 24, according to a police report. The woman told investigators she thought he was going to kill her, but did not want to press charges.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison in Colorado for arson and other charges. The conviction stemmed from a town house fire set to cover up a burglary.
Hoffman returned to Ohio after he was released in 2007.