Ohio man charged with killing 4 in different homes

Police tape cordons off a home in Bucyrus, Ohio, where one of four men were found beaten to death Monday.


BUCYRUS, Ohio (AP) â?? A man has been charged with aggravated murder in the deaths of four men whose bodies were found in separate homes in a small Ohio town.

Charges against 41-year-old Donald Hoffman were announced during a court hearing Thursday morning in Bucyrus, about 65 miles north of Columbus. He had been in custody since Tuesday.

Authorities say the men were found dead in their residences on Monday and Tuesday. All suffered blunt force trauma.

Killed were 55-year-old Billy Jack Chatman, 67-year-old Freelin Hensley, 65-year-old Darrell Lewis and 65-year-old Gerald Lee Smith.

Hoffman had been scheduled to face a judge Thursday on a probation violation.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A man considered a person of interest in the slayings of four men found at separate homes in one small Ohio city has been jailed for an alleged probation violation and has a preliminary hearing scheduled.

Investigators aren't discussing details of the unusual case or any possible motive for the slayings in Bucyrus, about 65 miles north of Columbus, but they have said the deaths probably were related. Friends and relatives say at least some of the victims knew each other and the man in custody.

Prosecutor Matthew Crall's office said Wednesday evening that 41-year old Donald Hoffman, of Bucyrus, who was booked into the jail on Tuesday, remained in custody. He described him as a person of interest in the slayings. The office said in a news release that Hoffman was being held on a probation violation and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Thursday morning.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Hoffman had an attorney.

Two bodies were found Monday. Authorities said a man came into the police station and led officers to two more bodies Tuesday morning.

Bucyrus police Chief Dave Koepke noted at least one gruesome commonality: "All the victims suffered." Koepke said each man had trauma above the shoulders, but he wouldn't give specifics.

Brenda Lauthers, a Bucyrus resident whose brother was among the slain men, said that she found a frying pan in a bathroom sink near his body and that the family of another victim told her that man apparently was hit with a hammer. Police refused to discuss those kinds of details, citing the pending investigation.

Crawford County Sheriff Scott Kent, whose office is assisting local police, said Wednesday that the man in custody gave some information as to why the killings occurred, but authorities weren't releasing the details.

"One (slaying) can be complicated. Four is overwhelming," Kent said.

The town of 12,000 is unaccustomed to violent crime but doesn't shy from discussing what residents and police describe as prevalent drug problems, especially with heroin. Some residents said after the slayings that they were worried about their safety, and neighbors of some of the victims said they were reluctant to talk publicly about the men because they worried the case somehow was connected to the city's drug problems and feared potential retribution.

Crawford County Coroner Michael Johnson said Billy Jack Chatman, 55, and Freelin Hensley, 67, were found dead Monday. The next day the body of 65-year-old Darrell Lewis was found in his apartment and the body of 65-year-old Gerald Lee Smith's body was found at a different apartment building elsewhere in town.

Johnson said the cause of death in the four homicides hasn't been determined yet. He said a preliminary autopsy report would be available Thursday.

He said authorities believe the slayings are related "because of the sequence and time, and appearance of the scene." He would not be more specific.

Crall has said that charges related to the case would be filed soon.


Smola reported from Columbus, Ohio. Associated Press writers Mark Gillispie in Cleveland and Mitch Stacy in Columbus contributed to this report.

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