Accused Ohio Kidnapper Matthew Hoffman Raised Suspicions With Neighbors

Police say missing Ohio family was likely killed.

November 14, 2010, 1:39 PM

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio, Nov. 16, 2010— -- The Ohio man arrested for kidnapping a 13-year-old girl and suspected in the disappearance of her family raised red flags with neighbors long before he was accused of terrorizing the teen and her family.

"He was killing the squirrels because he doesn't grocery shop," neighbor Kara Fowler said of Matthew Hoffman, who was charged with kidnapping after SWAT members found 13-year-old Sarah Maynard tied up in his basement. "He would actually kill the squirrels and eat them."

Other neighbors described Hoffman's behavior as beyond strange -- sitting in his trees, watching his neighbors, trapping small animals in his yard and lighting fires on his lawn.

Hoffman, 31, appeared in court today via a video link. He was wearing a "suicide gown" as a safety precaution.

The suspect did not say anything during his court appearance and his court appointed lawyer did not enter a plea. The judge set bail at $1 million.

The only known connection between Hoffman and Maynard and her family is that Hoffman's parents live within walking distance of Maynard's mother's home.

Though Maynard is safe and in police custody after five days allegedly spent bound and gagged in Hoffman's basement, her mother, Tina Hermann, her 10-year-old brother, Kody, and family friend Stephanie Sprang are still missing.

Hope of finding the other three alive is waning.

"The fact that only one person has been located since last Wednesday, you have to be just realistic," Knox County Sheriff David Barber said. "There's a possibility that these folks are dead."

Sprang's father is praying it doesn't come to that.

"We just have all the hope we can and prayers from everyone," Steven Thompson told "Good Morning America" today.

Like the authorities, Thompson and his family have gone over every possible link between Hoffman, a convicted arsonist, and his daughter -- and come up empty.

"We have thought how that connection was there, and we can't come up with one," he said. "I have never met the guy. I have never even seen his picture until just the other day."

Though Thompson had no inkling that anything was amiss with his daughter before she disappeared, he has since heard from friends that she suspected she might have been followed.

"I've heard from friends that she's had feelings for a while now that somebody was stalking her or watching her," he said.

Though Hoffman has so far been charged only with Maynard's kidnapping, police have been frantically searching for evidence that might tie him to Hermann, her son and Sprang.

After his arrest, authorities pulled two cars from a pond across the street from his house, but the discovery yielded few clues.

Sheriff Calls 13-Year-Old Survivor 'Epitome of Bravery'

Police Maynard the "epitome of bravery" after surviving a five-day ordeal in which she was allegedly kept tied up in Hoffman's basement.

She was released from the hospital after her rescue and has been reunited with family members. "Physically, she is fine," Barber said. "Obviously she has been through a lot."

The sheriff said the girl has been "very helpful" in the investigation.

"She's a very brave little girl," said Barber. "Not only is she assisting in the investigation, under the circumstance, a 13-year-old being held captive for [five] days, I'd call her the epitome of bravery."

He said Maynard was taken from her home in Howard, Ohio, with the other three last Wednesday. Police reported that beer cans littered the blood splattered house. Barber said DNA test are ongoing and would not speculate whose blood it was.

"Four people left that house, not under their own power," said the sheriff.

Police spent Monday morning searching the woods and fishing ponds of a former gravel quarry turned into a park near Hoffman's home in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Boats and helicopters were brought in to aide the investigation.

On Monday evening a car was pulled out of a pond, when a dive team's sonar indicated there was a vehicle underwater. Police removed the car from the park, but determined it had likely been there for months and was unrelated to the investigation.

Police have removed "four bags of evidence" from the park, according to ABC News affiliate WSYX-TV.

The sheriff said the investigation was quickly moving from a missing persons case to a murder investigation.

"Four people are missing not quite a week. There has been no contact with them, with the exception of Sarah. Based on evidence, based on the fact we haven't seen them, there is a possibility that Stephanie, Tina and Kody are dead, that they've been killed," he said.

Hoffman was convicted of arson in 2001, for setting fire to a condominium complex in Steamboat Springs following a robbery. He pleaded guilty to first degree arson, theft and burglary and served eight years in prison.

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