AKRON, Ohio – A self-styled chaplain suspected in a deadly scheme to rob people who replied to a Craigslist job ad has been charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder, kidnapping and robbery and could face the death penalty if convicted, according to an indictment announced Friday.
The charges against Richard Beasley accuse him of killing three men and wounding a fourth in August, October and November.
Beasley, 52, of Akron, who has been jailed in Akron on unrelated prostitution and drug charges, has denied involvement in the Craigslist slayings. He was arrested in November after authorities linked him to the alleged plot.
Prosecutors would not speculate on a motive but Attorney General Mike DeWine, who joined in announcing the charges, said investigators are looking at "serial killings."
"Are there more bodies? We frankly do not know," DeWine said, appealing to people with any information about missing persons to come forward.
Also Friday, a judge determined that the case of a juvenile suspect mentored by Beasley will be moved out of the county where two slaying victims were found and another was shot but survived.
The decision to transfer the case of Brogan Rafferty to Summit County came after a hearing Friday afternoon, said Tonda Brown, Noble County Court Assignment Commissioner. She said the gag order in the case has also been lifted.
Messages were left with the Noble County prosecutor and Rafferty's attorney in Noble County. The Summit County Prosecutor's Office could not immediately comment, said spokeswoman April Wiesner.
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said the case of Beasley, with the nature of the crimes and the multitude of charges, was made for the death penalty.
"This case we view as to be one of the worst of the worst when it comes to horrible murder cases," Walsh said.
The 28-count indictment against Beasley also included theft, weapons and identity theft charges. Beasley received the indictment Friday, and a decision will be made next week about his representation, said Rhonda Kotnik, an attorney who has been representing Beasley on the non-Craigslist charges.
An acquaintance of Beasley, 16-year-old Brogan Rafferty, of nearby of Stow, could face similar charges after being transferred to adult court late last year. His case is pending in Noble County where two of the slayings happened.
Authorities say the scheme targeted older and single out-of-work men with backgrounds that made it unlikely their disappearances would be noted right away.
The first victim, Ralph Geiger, 55, of Akron, was killed Aug. 9, the day after he left a homeless shelter saying he was taking a farm job. His body wasn't found until Nov. 25.
Geiger's brother, Mark Geiger, said Friday he's happy with the way prosecutors are handling the case. He said he's long wondered about other victims. He said he's not a death penalty advocate but wouldn't oppose it, although life in prison for Beasley would also satisfy him.
"As long as Beasley never has the opportunity to interact with the outside world again, that's what I feel would be appropriate," said Geiger, a telecommunications executive in Atlanta.
The plot's second victim, David Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va., came to Ohio in mid-October after answering the Craigslist ad. A friend has said Pauley was desperate for work and eager to return to Ohio.
Police say he was killed Oct. 23, and his body was found Nov. 15. Family members had contacted police concerned they hadn't heard from him.
The third victim, Timothy Kern, 47, of Massillon, whose body was buried near an Akron shopping mall, answered the ad and was last seen Nov. 13, authorities said. His body was also found Nov. 25. Kern told his family he was taking the job to help support his three sons.
A surviving victim, Scott Davis, 48, of South Carolina, also answered the ad and was shot Nov. 6 before escaping, police say.
Beasley was a Texas parolee when he returned to Ohio in 2004 after serving several years in prison on a burglary conviction. He was released from an Akron jail July 12 after a judge mistakenly allowed him to post bond on a drug-trafficking charge.
He was arrested two days later following a traffic stop but again mistakenly released. An investigation by Ohio's prisons system found that Beasley should not have been released on bond but said confusion over interstate prisoner-transfer rules and "ambiguity" in messages from Texas to Akron jail officials contributed to the error.
In a four-page handwritten letter to the Akron Beacon Journal, Beasley has said he has been miscast as a con man when he really helped feed, house and counsel scores of needy families, alcoholics, drug addicts, the mentally ill and crime suspects for years.
"To call me a con man when I sacrificed for others is wrong," wrote Beasley, who didn't mention the Craigslist investigation or Rafferty. "To turn their back on me is not following Christ's example. I gave three full years of my life to that ministry and what I got out of it was the satisfaction of doing the right thing. There was no 'con' to it."
Andrew Welsh-Huggins, who contributed to this report from Columbus, can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.