Wednesday, July 14, 1999

Suspect in killings gives up in Sidney

Hostage drama ends hunt for killer of four

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SIDNEY, Ohio — A voice, quavering and breathless, croaked: “It's him! It's him!”

        Bible-study teacher John Bruce forced out the words to 911. One of his pupils, quadruple murder suspect Lawrence Michael Hensley, was at his front door.

        It was 2:54 a.m. Tuesday, five days after Mr. Hensley had fled this small town, leaving behind four homicide victims and spurring a nationwide manhunt.

        “He said, "It's Mike, John. Let me in.' I said, "Mike, please go away.' Then he shot,” Mr. Bruce told the Shelby County Sheriff's dispatcher.

        The shot missed Mr. Bruce, who fled to a neighbor's house three doors away and called 911.

        In a chaotic climax to the manhunt, Mr. Hensley allegedly shot an Interstate 75 motorist twice, fired at the Bruce residence, then held two people hostage at a Speedway gas station for about 90 minutes before surrendering.

        He gave up the same day two victims, 16-year-old cousins Tosha L. Barrett and Sherry R. Kimbler, were buried.

        Some residents said they

        thought Mr. Hensley was stupid for returning to the area — especially while driving the same purple Chevy Cavalier, although he had replaced his Ohio tags with Illinois license plates. Mr. Hensley apparently had gone as far as London, Ky., some 200 miles away, and used a bank machine there a day after the slayings..

        “Personally, I thought he might come back. When people start running out of money and they don't have anyone to turn to, they head for home,” said Sidney Police Capt. Dean Kimpel. “I'm a little bit surprised about the course of events, but not surprised that he came back.”

        Residents say they're relieved, and they're already talking about what punishment the suspect deserves.

        “I just hope that the families of the victims see some justice done,” said Roger Ely, 37. “I sure hope this guy gets death over this.”

        Mr. Ely mused that vigilante justice might have taken over if police hadn't caught Mr. Hensley.

        That's why, when Mr. Hensley appeared for his arraignment in a hearing room at the county jail Tuesday morning, authorities had outfitted him with a bullet-proof vest.

        He faces four counts of aggravated murder in the stabbing death of Amy Mikesell, 14, and shooting deaths of Bible-study leader Brett Wildermuth and 16-year-old cousins Sherry Kimbler and Tosha L. Barrett.

        His bond was set at $1 million.

        While officers took statements from the wounded motorist and the Bruce family, which included three small children and their parents, a multicounty Special Response Team surrounded the Speedway. At their request, three semi tractor-trailers blocked the gas station's exits, while a hostage negotiator talked to Mr. Hensley by phone for more than an hour.

        Just before 5 a.m., Mr. Hensley agreed to let two hostages go. Then he emerged from the Speedway shirtless, with his hands in the air. But the situation remained tense because the hostages told police that Mr. Hensley had mentioned something about pipe bombs.

        Officers moved Mr. Hensley's car, its motor still running, to an adjacent parking lot and a bomb squad from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base searched it. No explosives were found, but officers did confiscate several guns from the car. Police also found a loaded Tec-9 9mm pistol inside the Speedway.

        Authorities had said they found 24 Molotov cocktails in Mr. Hensley's garage after the slayings.

        The store remained closed for several hours while police collected evidence. No one was injured and the names of the hostages were not released.

        Police Lt. Rod Austin wouldn't confirm reports that Mr. Hensley had said he intended to “finish business” and kill other people. Nor would he confirm reports that the girls' killings were sex-related. Mr. Hensley had two convictions for public indecency, and had once told authorities he liked to have females watch him masturbate.

        “We're still investigating the entire incident,” Lt. Austin said, “trying to come up with a motive.”


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