This is a story about a little town called Chillicothe in the Midwest of the United States. They call this area the Rust Belt. It is a very unflattering term given to a region in America, which has experienced devastating economic decline, population loss and urban decay due to the collapse of its once powerful industrial sector. It is by no means an exception that Chillicothe would be afflicted by the usual problems of drugs, poverty and unemployment. A lot of towns in this part of the world carry that stigma. But Chillicothe could be said to have fallen a long way further than the rest. Two hundred years ago it was Ohio’s first capital. It’s a boast they still include on the city sign. This is a place rarely mentioned in a headline of any kind unless some Presidential or Congressional candidate blows in promising to do this, that and the other to make life better for the town’s 21 thousand citizens, only to completely forget once election day came and went.
But lately Chillicothe is in the news for an entirely different reason. It is dark, sinister and extremely evil. It seems Chillicothe is also home to a serial killer who keeps murdering young women. In just over a year, at least six women have disappeared from the town. Four of their bodies were later discovered dumped in creeks or streams that flow out of the city. In every way it is a tragically, familiar story. Most of these women addicted to drugs or moonlighting as prostitutes to feed and fund their habit so local police say. Some of the missing women even knew each other. Understandably, the similarities between all of the victims, and the crime scenes has the residents of Chillicothe terrified. It is a murder mystery that local police, several county sheriff’s offices and State investigators are doing their best to try to solve. Even the FBI’s crime profilers are helping with the investigation trying to build a picture of who might be responsible.
“I don’t want to come out and say ‘yes, we have a serial killer’ but it’s a small community that we live in . . . and the number of females who have come up missing, and then the bodies that we’ve found, that’s quite a bit for our community,” Staff Lieutenant Mike Preston of the Ross County Sheriff’s Department told The Washington Post. “The community is starting to get concerned. Everyone just wants answers.”
In the absence of answers – and arrests – the citizens of Chillicothe are getting scared. Of course the most obvious conclusion is that a serial killer is stalking prostitutes and that fear is swirling around the town like the winds off the Great Lakes. Jessica Sayre’s older sister, Tiffany, is the latest victim. Her body was found in a drainage pipe on Saturday after she had been missing for more than a month. Obviously there has to be something going on, Sayre says. “Apparently my sister was the next target.”
Women began disappearing a year ago from Chillicothe, about an hour south of Columbus. “We are battling a problem with heroin in our community,” says Mike Preston of the Ross County Sheriff’s Department.
And of course that means prostitution is on the rise as well.
Charlotte Trego was the first woman to vanish. She was in her late 20s with wavy brown hair and glasses, a mother of two who had fallen on hard times. “She started taking pain pills and graduated to heroin,” according to the Columbus Dispatch. In the spring of 2014, Trego told her mother that she was ready to get herself drug free. Her Mother found a rehab centre. But then Trego was evicted by her roommate and was last seen on May 3, 2014. As one scribe put it, her disappearance was as if Chillicothe’s increasingly dangerous streets simply swallowed her whole. Police are certain she is dead but her body has not been found. That same day, a friend of Trego’s, Tameka Lynch, also vanished. Like Trego, Lynch had drug problems. “She used and she kind of was struggling, especially after she was diagnosed with lupus,”
Lynch’s cousin, Chasity Lett, told the Huffington Post. “Once that happened and she lost her place, it kind of triggered the whole drug thing.” Lynch, a 30-year-old mother of three, financed her deepening addiction by selling her body. Lynch was the first of Chillicothe’s missing women to be found. On May 24, three weeks after her disappearance, a kayaker spotted Lynch’s body on a sandbar in Paint Creek outside of town. The Ross County coroner’s office determined she died of a multiple-drug overdose. But Lynch was afraid of the water, her mother Angela Robinson told the Dispatch. “Somebody needs to pay for this,” Robinson said, speculating her daughter was murdered. “She was already dead when she was put in the water.”
In the year since, four more women vanished. On November 3, 2014, six months after Trego and Lynch disappeared another woman would go missing. She was Wanda Lemons a 37-year-old mother of five. “She just disappeared out of thin air,” her daughter, Megan Hodges, told the Huffington Post. “I just want them to find out what happened to her.”
Two months later, Shasta Himelrick was found dead, floating in the Scioto River outside of Chillicothe. In December, she had told friends she was “eating for two.” But on Christmas Day, the pregnant 20-year-old blond received a text message while visiting her grandmother. Himelrick left, promising to return, but never did. A Chillicothe gas station recorded her on CCTV. Hours later, her abandoned car was found on a bridge south of town. The doors were open, the tank empty, and the battery dead. Himelrick’s body was retrieved from the water eight days later. The coroner ruled her death was a suicide but Himelrick’s friends are convinced it was murder.
Tiffany Sayre went missing under similar circumstances. It was around midnight on May 11 and Sayre and friend Jessie Sanford were working as prostitutes at a local motel. “She was doing business at the Chillicothe Inn,” Sanford said. . “She left to run to her grandmother’s house and was going to go back to the hotel to meet the same people so she could make some more money. I don’t know what happened. I think somebody took her.”
Kenneth Buell, who was Sayre’s ex-boyfriend and the father of their two children, told The Washington Post that the couple took heroin and crack cocaine together. “For a couple of years we were both on drugs,” he said. Buell said he got clean a year ago, but Sayre couldn’t and the couple broke up. “She couldn’t kick it,” he said. “It just had a hold of her.”
Jessica Sayre said her sister met another man and tried to go straight. But when her new boyfriend died in April rom a blood clot, Tiffany returned to drugs. “It hit my sister really hard. She really loved him,” Jessica Sayre said. “They had planned on moving, going to this other place, actually getting married and having a life together. I think she did the drugs a little more to help with the pain. She didn’t want to be in her right mind because she didn’t feel like it was the right thing. “The night she apparently went missing, she talked about how she wanted to get her life straight and go clean,” Sayre said. “My sister did these things that we did not approve of to get money for drugs, because we didn’t want to be the source of money for those types of things. She did what she had to do.” Sayre’s family put out missing person flyers and held candlelight vigils, but heard nothing. While they were waiting, another woman, Timberly Clayton, was found dead: shot in the head three times and left in a ditch near another creek. Authorities have named a prime suspect in the killing but have not yet charged him with the crime.
Finally, last Saturday, Sayre became the last victim in the string of disappearances. A couple out for a Saturday evening walk through a nature preserve south of Chillicothe, spotted something white at the edge of a drainage pipe running underneath the road. Sayre’s naked body had been wrapped in a bed sheet and hidden inside the culvert with duct tape wrapped around her strawberry blond hair. “She’s wrapped up in a blanket and you can see her breasts, her stomach, duct tape, a white blanket,” the female passerby told a 911 dispatcher. “We were hoping that she was still alive,” Jessica Sayre said. “You’re wishing and hoping and then all of a sudden you get a phone call saying that your loved one has been found, but not the way you wanted to find her.” ” She got murdered,” Buell said. “Somebody took her away and it was intentional.”
Authorities ruled Sayre’s death a homicide. The grisly discovery helped launch the task force, which now includes more than a dozen members, including FBI analysts. The task force decided to investigate the cases of all six missing women, even those formerly considered suicides. And the investigation could expand to at least three other women who went missing from nearby Portsmouth and Columbus. Police admit a serial killer is a possibility with the apparent pattern of dumping the bodies along waterways outside the city.
“This wasn’t just a simple overdose,” Jessica Sayre said of her sister’s death. “They could have called the police. We didn’t have to find her like this.”
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is analysing the forensics found at the scene and the task force received more than 100 tips in just a few days, but is still searching for a witness. But as authorities investigate the growing number of deaths and disappearances, some locals say the police are part of the problem. “The day I reported her missing was very upsetting to me,” Trego’s mother, Yvonne Boggs, told the Huffington Post. “The cop said, ‘Women like your daughter take off because they don’t want to be bothered.’ It was like they looked into it up to a certain point and then quit looking.”
“The police didn’t take it serious and just blew me off,” Lynch’s mother, Angela Robinson, told the same Web site. Sayre’s family said they had also been kept in the dark. Kenneth Buell even blames the authorities. Both he and Jessica Sayre said police and authorities abandoned Chillicothe a long time ago. “It’s not safe,” he said. “The last five, six seven years it’s gone to hell. You can’t walk around by yourself, especially females.”
“I feel like Chillicothe has turned for the worst,” Jessica Sayre said. “Now they are going to start picking up the pieces, but this town has really gone down with drugs. It’s got pretty bad.” She says that despite the discovery of her sister’s body, her family will continue to hold vigils for Trego and Lemons, the two other women who disappeared but haven’t been found. “It’s been a nightmare for us,” she said of Tiffany’s death. “Nothing is going to bring her back, but we are going to get justice. And we are going to pray for these other women who missing in Chillicothe.”