Ohio Police Find Bodies of Trio Stuffed in Hollowed Out Tree

Sole survivor Sarah Maynard was found tied up in Matthew Hoffman's basement.

ByRussell Goldman
November 18, 2010, 3:30 PM

Nov. 18, 2010— -- The bodies of an Ohio woman, her young son and a family friend have been found by police, wrapped in garbage bags and stuffed in a hollow tree, authorities said today.

Knox County Sheriff David Barber said they were told where to find the victims by lawyers for Matthew Hoffman, who is in custody for kidnapping 13-year-old Sarah Maynard.

The victims included Sarah's mother, Tina Herrmann, 32; Sarah's younger brother, Kody Maynard, 10; and family friend Stephanie Sprang, 41.

"The discovery of these bodies was the result of information provided by Matthew Hoffman," Barber said. "We were optimistic a few days ago that there was a remote chance these persons were still alive. This is is a homicide investigation now."

Authorities said they had been contacted by Hoffman's lawyer but would not characterize the information as a confession. The county prosecutor would not say whether officials had cut a deal to encourage Hoffman to talk.

Barber said there were no other suspects involved and would not speculate on a motive.

The bodies were found near Apple Valley, Ohio, miles away from Hoffman's home where Sarah was found on Sunday by a SWAT team. The girl was bound and gagged in Hoffman's basement in rural Mount Vernon, Ohio.

Barber said he believed the victims were killed in their blood-splattered house in Howard, Ohio, about 10 miles from where Hoffman lived. The sheriff said Sarah was also at house at the time, but wouldn't say whether she witnessed the killings. The sheriff would not comment on the type of weapon used in the murder.

Hoffman is a 31-year-old drifter who had recently been released from a Colorado prison after serving a term for arson and burglary.

Hoffman has been in police custody since Sunday, but has not previously cooperated with investigators.

Barber said police had to cut into the tree to remove the three bodies. He said the victims were all wearing the same clothes they had last been seen in on Nov. 10. Barber suggested that Hoffman had hollowed out the tree himself saying, "Hoffman has worked as tree trimmer."

Knox County prosecutor John Thatcher said Hoffman would likely be brought up on addtional charges.

"I can't speculate on what those charges might be without knowing what the evidence is," said Thatcher.

Hoffman is scheduled to appear in court again Tuesday.

Both Barber and Thatcher appeared emotional at times, calling the case one of the worst they had ever encountered.

"The tragedy today is just devastating," said Thatcher. "The results aren't what we wanted them to be."

Rescued Girl Sarah Maynard Now With Father

Police immediately focused the search for Sarah's family members near Hoffman's home, homing in on a park a short walk from the house where he kept the girl confined.

Hoffman was arrested Sunday and charged with kidnapping. Police said he has been placed on suicide watch and has not been cooperating with their investigation. He appeared in court Tuesday wearing an anti-suicide gown, and his bail was set at $1 million.

Police said Sarah was in good health, staying with her father and cooperating with the investigation.

All four people were last seen Nov. 10 at the family home in Howard, Ohio, about 10 miles from Hoffman's house in Mount Vernon. Police were initially called to the family's home when Herrmann did not show up for work at a local Dairy Queen. When police searched the home, they found it splattered with blood.

Early on in the investigation, Police temporarily locked down nearby Kenyon College when Hermann's pickup truck was found parked on the campus one day after cops had observed it in the family's driveway.

Police said they believe Hoffman played a role in the family's disappearance, saying they were not "under their own power" when they were taken from their home.

Since finding Sarah alive Sunday, police warned the other family members may have been killed.

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.

Sarah Maynard and Family Disappeared Last Week

"At this time, whether he's connected to the family or whether he connected himself to the family … a lot of that remains to be seen," Sheriff David Barber said earlier in the week.

Neighbors described Hoffman's behavior as "bizarre," saying they would see him climbing trees, spying on them from the boughs, building fires on his front lawn and killing small animals.

"He was killing the squirrels because he doesn't grocery shop," neighbor Kara Fowler told ABC News. "He would actually kill the squirrels and eat them."

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