FULL STORY: Grand jury turns up heat on cold case

Cary Ashby • Updated May 16, 2017 at 6:08 PM

Want daily news updates, breaking stories and alerts to keep you informed? Here is the Reflector newsletter signup. It’s free.

* * *

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has announced three men have been arrested and now face charges in connection with the murder of Michael A. Sheppard.

Sheppard, of Perkins Township, was last seen alive in Huron County 14 years ago — May 8, 2003. He was 34 years old at the time.

DeWine’s special prosecutions section presented the case Friday to a Huron County grand jury. Grand jurors returned indictments on two counts of murder and one charge of aggravated robbery against Scott D. Hall, 44, of Clyde; Joshua Stamm, 35, of Titusville, Fla.; and Adam White, 34, of Sandusky.

“I know the indictments were sealed until all three were arrested,” said Jill Del Greco, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office. “They are associates of his (Sheppard’s).”

The suspects are accused of shooting Sheppard to death during a May 2003 drug-related dispute, according to investigators.

The victim’s mother, Rosalie Gottwald, in a late October 2015 interview with the Reflector, said she suspected “at least three people” were involved in her son’s possible murder in Huron County and he was buried “very close to the Milan area.” She declined to name the suspects at the time and couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Sheppard's body has not yet been located. Del Greco said Tuesday now that three suspects have been charged, she hopes someone who has information about the victim’s remains might be willing to come forward.

Anyone with information on the location of Sheppard's remains should call 855-BCI-OHIO (855-224-6446).

“We definitely would be interested in talking to them,” Del Greco said.

Searching for the body

There was a seven-day search for Sheppard's remains at Rattlesnake Creek in 2010. The area is just inside Huron County near the Erie County line.

Members of Texas EquuSearch (TES) — an all-volunteer search and recovery team — agents with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and members from Central Ohio K-9 Search and Rescue, Underground Imaging from New York and Team Waters Sonar Imaging from Illinois set up shop there starting April 29, 2010. BCI agents contacted TES 10 days earlier, requesting assistance in recovering Sheppard's body.

The crew left the Rattlesnake Creek area May 5, 2010 after having searched five different areas of water using sonar.

Drug deal ‘gone bad’?

Sheppard’s mother, in a November 2015 interview with the Reflector, said she suspected a drug deal “went bad,” which led to her son’s disappearance and possible murder.

“I think Michael might have stolen a large sum of money, but I don’t really know that. I believe it was planned and happened after they came back from Las Vegas,” Gottwald said.

In 2003, the Milan woman and her husband started receiving death threats involving Sheppard from suspected drug dealers in Las Vegas.

“They told us he stole $20,000 from drug dealers and they called our house several times. By the time of the last phone call, they said it was $50,000,” she once told Fox 8 News.

The three suspects — Hall, Stamm and White — were arrested Tuesday, following an investigation by BCI. The U.S. Marshal Service transported Hall to the Huron County Jail while the Erie County Sheriff’s Office brought White. Stamm wasn’t in custody as of Tuesday afternoon.

Del Greco declined to say what information broke open the case.

“BCI was requested to take over the investigation in 2009 and they have been working on it ever since,” she said, referring to the Perkins Township Police Department. 

Over the past 14 years of the investigation, several law enforcement agencies contributed to the investigation, including the Erie County and Huron County sheriff's offices and the police departments in Huron, Kelleys Island, Norwalk, Perkins Township and Sandusky.

“I’m not sure to what extent all the agencies were involved,” said Del Greco, who noted there was “a lot of inter-agency cooperation.”

Persistence pays off

Over the years, Gottwald pushed for Huron County prosecutors to do more about her son’s case. In a 2011 interview with the Reflector, the Milan woman shared the emotional turmoil she endured.

“After eight years, I believe I've gone through all the stages of grief. It has turned into frustration without there being justice or finding his body,” Gottwald said.

The mother once told the Reflector that a telephone call she received in November 2008 confirmed for her that her son had been murdered.

“The person knew things about Michael no one else knew,” Gottwald said. “He didn’t know (my son). He knew of his murder. He wasn’t there.”

Afterward, she received another phone call with similar information from someone else.

Del Greco was asked Tuesday if DeWine’s office had been in touch with Gottwald.

“Absolutely,” the spokeswoman said. “We have been in regular contact with the victim’s mother and we even spoke to her (Tuesday).”

Russell Leffler, who retired on May 31, 2015 after four-plus terms as prosecutor, was asked about the case Tuesday.

“I will be interested in watching it,” he said.

Leffler said at one point he sent his investigator, Bob McDowell, and a BCI agent to Florida to track down a lead in the case.

“We had worked on it,” added Leffler, who declined further comment.

Current Prosecutor James Joel Sitterly shared his thoughts on the Sheppard case in the fall.

“Due to the nature of the Michael Sheppard Jr. case, the prosecutor’s office should let the attorney general’s office step in and assume control,” he said. “When the AG’s special prosecution section is willing to accept a case, their acceptance is almost certainly after the AG's office has deliberated whether it can make headway in a case where the county level has hit a roadblock.”

Sitterly said Tuesday the attorney general’s office will handle the prosecution.

“We didn’t have anything to do with the grand jury. For that process, it was entirely the attorney general’s office,” he added. “Because it was such an old case and (involved) multiple jurisdictions, it made sense for the attorney general’s office to handle it. They have the resources and manpower to handle it.”

Norwalk Reflector Videos