Saturday, February 05, 2000

Butler sheriff suspects serial killer

Old slayings getting new look

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Nancy Ann Theobold, Victoria May Hincher and Tammy Lynn King never knew each other, but the three young women may share a tragic bond. All three young women appear to have been strangled, years apart, by the same person.

        “There are a lot of similarities in the three cases,” Butler County Sheriff Harold Don Gabbard said Friday at a press conference in Hamilton. “It tells me they were probably the acts of a serial killer.”

        They are three of four unsolved murders from the 1970s and '80s that the sheriff's department has reopened. Sheriff Gabbard hopes that new forensic technology — and perhaps a tip from a witness — might point to a killer.

        The fourth case involves the death of Kermit Vencill, 41, of Springboro, whose body was found on Dec. 5, 1985, inside the office of a truck service business on Dixie Highway in Middletown. He was co-owner of the business.

        Mr. Vencill had been shot several times in the chest and the head.

        In all four cases, authorities have hair, fibers and matter from beneath the victims' fingernails that could be tested for DNA evidence to help identify the killers, the sheriff said.

        The similarities in the slayings of the three young women are too striking to be dismissed as coincidence, Sheriff Gabbard said:

        • The three women were young, attractive brunettes.

        • All were sexually assaulted before being strangled.

        • They were killed in the same time of the year — mid-October to mid-November.

        • Their nude or partially clothed bodies were dumped in rural areas in southern Butler County.

        “Serial killers have a specific method in which they do things,” Sheriff Gabbard said.

        He said investigators have a suspect in mind and plan to question him, but he declined to identify him.

        “If he knows in advance that

        he's a suspect, he can plan what to say,” Sheriff Gabbard said. “The element of surprise is one of the best tools we have when questioning a suspect.”

        This same person is a suspect in other murders in Hamilton and Butler counties between 1977 and 1982, said Lt. Greg Blankenship of the sheriff's department. He did not specify which cases.

        An investigator has been assigned to work full time on each of the four Butler County cases. The body of Ms. Hincher, 24, of Roselawn, was found on Oct. 31, 1976, off New London Road in Ross Township.

        Ms. Theobold, 18, of Clifton Heights, was found on Dec. 28, 1977, in a creek bed off Beckett Road near Rialto Road in Butler County's Union Township.

        The University of Cincinnati student had been missing since Nov. 16. She was last seen leaving a Clifton Heights restaurant to walk home.

        Ms. King, 22, of Price Hill, was found on Nov. 13, 1982, in a wooded area off Dunwoody Road in Reily Township. She had been missing since leaving her apartment on Oct. 25.

        Ms. King's father, Charles King of Price Hill, said he's glad the sheriff's department has resumed investigating the case.

        “It's been almost 18 years. ...I've been a nervous wreck” since the murder, he said. “I think about it all the time.”

        Ms. King was a happy-go-lucky woman who was working and dedicated to raising her son, Michael, then 4 years old.

        “I have little memories of my mom,” said Michael King, of Price Hill, now 23. “They're happy memories. My grandfather has taken very good care of me, but I miss my mom.”

        The development of DNA testing, Ohio's computerized fingerprint comparison system and other new forensic technology have prompted authorities to reopen other old murder cases.

        Hamilton County recently began a new investigation into the 1963 murder of 15-year-old Patricia Ann Rebholz of Greenhills. Authorities hope DNA tests will help solve this case.

        Last year, Hamilton city police and Butler County prosecutors used Ohio's new computerized fingerprint comparison system to convict Kevin Walls of the 1985 murder of an 83-year-old woman.

        Madge Burton, founder of a Butler County crime victim support group called Victims United, said reopening the four Butler County murder cases will provide a great psychological boost to the victims' families.

        On Nov. 23, 1984, two of Mrs. Burton's daughters and her 7-year-old granddaughter were stabbed to death in Hanover Township. Their convicted killer, Rhett Depew, is on Ohio's death row.

        But it took police 41/2 months to identify and arrest Mr. DePew.

        “Those 41/2 months seemed like 41/2 years,” Mrs. Burton said. “You can't live in peace not knowing who did it.”

        Anyone with information about the four newly reopened unsolved Butler County murder cases can call these Butler County sheriff's detectives:

        • Detective Mike Laney, 887-5633, on the Tammy Lynn King case.

        • Detective Rick Laggenbauer, 887-3037, on the Victoria May Hincher case.

        • Detective Dave Rumpler, 887-3027, on the Nancy Ann Theobold case.

        • Detective Frank Smith, 887-3032, on the Kermit Vencill case.


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