Fear drove the rumored body count even higher.
As residents of this 12,000-person city struggled yesterday with the horror that someone had been quietly killing men in their homes, rumors of just how many were dead raced from one end of the city to the other.
Up to six! one man shouted to a pair of women smoking cigarettes. I heard eight, said the brother of a victim. Ten? City Hall workers murmured to one another.
The reality was bad enough.
Yesterday morning, as police were investigating the suspicious deaths of two men who were found in separate homes on Labor Day, a man walked into the police station and said he knew about those two bodies.
And two more.
In total, four men were found dead, each one apparently beaten to death in a different home.
All were between the ages of 50 and 70 and probably knew one another. Then again, the police chief of this Crawford County city said, a lot of people here know one another.
“It’s Bucyrus,” Chief David Koepke said. “It’s a small town.”
This small town was left reeling, unable to comprehend what residents already were calling a serial killer. Bucyrus is a place that struggles with a crippling drug problem, but the biggest crime issue lately has been keeping teenage vandals out of parks, Koepke said.
Koepke’s department hasn’t handled a major, multiple homicide since 1994, when Kevin Keith got revenge against a drug informant by spraying an apartment with bullets, killing two women and a child.
“What happened to our little town?” Willa Walls said yesterday, smoking as she eyed the apartment across the way where a man was found dead on Monday. “It’s planet chaos now, not planet Earth.”
The man who led police to those two additional bodies is in custody, although he hadn’t been charged as of last night. Police weren’t releasing his name until he is charged. They’re also withholding names of the victims until they notify all family members, although some relatives identified victims to The Dispatch.
The gruesome discoveries began on Monday afternoon when police were called to the Bucyrus Manor complex, where family members had discovered a 67-year-old man dead in his apartment.
Debra Blackburn, who lives in the same complex on Marion Road, said the man was her mother’s boyfriend. She saw him wedged between the toilet and bathtub, one hand pressed to his chest. Neighbors and family members thought the death could have been natural, but a police officer wasn’t so sure.
Then another call came in, this time from the other side of town, where 55-year-old Billy Jack Chatman lay in a puddle of blood.
“He was brutally beaten to death,” said his stepbrother, Thomas Alberty, pointing to specks of blood on the ceiling.
Alberty found Chatman on Monday afternoon after his stepbrother didn’t answer the phone or the door of his Fremont Street home. A neighbor helped Alberty pick the locks.
Yesterday, family members pulled furniture from Chatman’s house and ripped the carpet from the floor, trying to keep busy enough to avoid remembering what had happened to him.
“I think I’m dreaming,” Alberty said. “I just don’t think it’s real.”
At the Bucyrus Plaza complex in the southwestern part of town, Sarah Lewis stood outside her father’s apartment saying she couldn’t grasp it, either.
Police found Darrell Lewis, 65, dead yesterday after the man who was in custody gave his address. His daughter didn’t believe he had been found dead until she dialed his phone; he had always answered.
“Oh, Dad,” she cried, doubling over.
In addition to Lewis’ home, the suspect also led police to a four-apartment building on Mansfield Street a couple of blocks from the city’s center. There, Ashlee Adams’ young children played on the front porch and sidewalk while police combed through a downstairs apartment, where another body had been found.
Adams said she and her family had noticed a foul odor, but their cat had recently given birth, so they thought they might have overlooked a dead kitten.
She said she didn’t know the victim, but she knows the man who was in custody, and she thinks he lives at the apartment as well. She said he is a guy who drinks a lot, as family members said Lewis and Chatman did, and he rides a bicycle everywhere.
Adams shuddered to think of what had happened in her building. One of her children said she was still worried. “We are ready to get the hell out of here,” Adams said.
By Lori Kurtzman - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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