FREDERICKTOWN — A mile west of Fredericktown Thursday afternoon, the hopes of many county residents were replaced with despair as the bodies of Howard residents Tina Herrmann, 32; Stephanie Sprang, 41; and Herrmann’s son, Kody Maynard, 11, were found.
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Knox County Sheriff David Barber confirmed all three bodies were placed in garbage bags and hidden in a hollow tree near Yankee Street, in the woods near the Kokosing Reservoir.
Barber said investigators were led to the scene by information provided by Matthew Hoffman earlier in the day, regarding the whereabouts of the three bodies.
Hoffman was arrested Sunday after Sarah Maynard, 13, was found bound and gagged in the basement of his Columbus Road residence.
Both Barber and Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher declined to say whether or not Hoffman admitted any part in the homicides, due to the ongoing investigation.
The sheriff said the information was delivered through Hoffman’s attorneys. He is represented by the Knox County Public Defender’s Office as Public Defender Bruce Malek appeared with Hoffman at his bond hearing Tuesday.
Hoffman remains in the Knox County Jail on suicide watch. His bond on the kidnapping charge was set at $1 million, with no ten percent provision. A convicted arsonist, Hoffman is scheduled to appear in front of Judge Paul Spurgeon at a preliminary hearing on Tuesday at 2:30 p..m. in Mount Vernon Municipal Court.
Calls to Malek were unreturned at press time.
Any felony charges, such as the kidnapping charge and possible murder charges, would progress through the Knox County Common Pleas Court should a grand jury vote to indict him on the charges.
The bodies were located in a part of the county not included in the organized search conducted Thursday, due to its distance from the two crime scenes in Apple Valley and Mount Vernon, and the location of Tina Herrmann’s abandoned truck.
Once the bodies were located, a professional tree trimmer was called to the scene to assist with the removal of the remains from inside the tree.
Barber said investigators requested the help of the tree trimmer to remove the bodies in a “dignified, respectful way,” out of respect for the victims’ families.
He confirmed that Hoffman, the prime suspect in the homicides, previously worked as a tree trimmer, which may figure into how and why the bodies were hidden in the tree.
Thatcher said he is awaiting the investigation and coroner’s reports before preparing to take additional charges against Hoffman to a grand jury. He estimated the indictments could be ready in four to six weeks.
It is too soon to elaborate on what additional charges Hoffman may face, Thatcher said.
“I can’t speculate on what those charges might be without knowing what the evidence is,” the prosecutor explained.
Like Barber, Thatcher said there was not much detail that could be publicly shared about the ongoing investigation.
Thatcher appeared moved by the bravery shown by Sarah, who survived the ordeal after being bound and gagged in Hoffman’s basement for almost four days.
“I keep Sarah in my prayers,” he said, pausing. “I hope that she can recover and overcome this.”
The sheriff said he and other leaders in the investigation met with the families of the deceased Thursday morning after investigators learned the general location of the bodies. At that time, Barber sent a personal message to Sarah Maynard through her father, Larry Maynard.
“We’re inspired by Sarah,” the sheriff said. “We’re inspired by Sarah’s bravery. After we met with the family this morning, I asked Larry Maynard to convey to Sarah,” Barber paused. “To tell her that she is my hero.”
Barber said Sarah was in the King Beach Drive home with her family and friend when they were killed.
“What she saw I can’t speak to,” he said citing the ongoing investigation.
He also would not say if investigators believed all three were killed at the same time, but did confirm all the murders are believed to have been committed in Herrmann’s home.
The sheriff said he was unable to comment at this time what weapons were used against the victims, or the condition of the recovered bodies. He is awaiting a more intensive investigation by Knox County Coroner Dr. Jennifer Ogle. He confirmed the three were wearing the clothes they were last seen wearing on Nov. 10.
Ogle said the bodies were transported to the Licking County Coroner’s office for a “complete, forensic autopsy.”
Like many involved in the case, Ogle said she has been personally moved by this tragedy.
“We will work closely with the investigation team to provide information that will lead to the prosecution of this assault on our community,” Ogle said.
“As a mother and resident, my heart breaks for Sarah, and the families of the deceased,” the coroner said.
Commending the countless people who have volunteered to search for the three who remained missing for over a week, and the citizens who have called in tips while carefully watching for any clues, Barber extended his “heartfelt thanks.”
He said from the “tremendous job” done by the search volunteers, and the calls to the tip line, dozens of leads had been investigated.
The sheriff said the search teams and callers provided useful information about evidence and the timeline of the crimes.
He said he hoped the community would continue to pull together in emergencies because this case demonstrated the critical nature of the public’s involvement when law enforcement requests their assistance with information in a case.
The sheriff said the investigators had been through a lot over the past week, hoping to find all four alive, and having to accept their job now is to build a homicide case.
“We’re saddened by it, but we’re encouraged by the support of the community and by the other law enforcement agencies,” he said.
Barber tried to explain the affect the discovery of the bodies had inflicted on the investigators and the families.
He said he and his officers, the BCI investigators, and FBI agents involved were deeply impacted by the case, and felt a connection to the families of the victims.
“We extended our deepest sympathies to those three families,” Barber said. “We became close to the family, as we always do in a case like this.”
He emphasized caring for the survivors and the families, but said some relief was felt by all, that all three have been found.
“At the very least these three families now know, the whole county knows, that they’ve been found,” the sheriff said. “They’re not missing anymore. Hopefully, the process of closure, if you can call it that — the process of resolution can now start for them.”