Published May 25, 2013
NEW ALBANY, Ohio – The personal ads that Dr. Ali Salim placed on Craigslist -- and police say he posted hundreds of them -- made one thing clear: He wanted "no drama."
He didn't always get his wish.
One woman told police she was accosted at Salim's house. Another said she was sexually assaulted. Another woman left after she said Salim insisted she pose in her underwear while he painted the digestive system on her abdomen.
The final drama, police and prosecutors say, occurred July 31 when Deanna Ballman, nine months pregnant with two young children at home, disappeared after answering one of Salim's ads. Ballman's body was found the next day in the backseat of her car on a country road a few miles from Salim's house.
After a six-month investigation, Salim was arrested in February and charged with kidnapping, raping and killing Ballman by injecting her with heroin, as well as killing her unborn child, to be named Mabel Lilly.
Salim has pleaded not guilty and is on house arrest on $1 million bond. His trial is scheduled for Sept. 3.
Ballman told her mother she was responding to a housecleaning ad. Investigators say that's not the whole story.
"That's not quite what we've found," said Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O'Brien.
Salim, 44, who is single, is originally from Pakistan where he earned his medical degree at King Edward Medical College at the University of the Punjab in 1993, according to Ohio medical board records. He did his residency at West Virginia University and worked most recently as an emergency room physician in Mt. Vernon, a small city in east-central Ohio.
The Ohio medical board has revoked Salim's license because of the criminal charges. He had no medical disciplinary cases as a doctor and no previous criminal record. He is a permanent U.S. resident with a green card.
Salim did well: He lived in a $305,000 house in New Albany, a tony Columbus suburb, and owned expensive cars, including a Porsche and Infiniti. He drove his vehicles fast: Records obtained by The Associated Press found at least 15 speeding tickets since 2000.
Salim's life was full of drama in the months before his encounter with Ballman, according to police records obtained by the AP, prosecutors' statements and interviews with Delaware County sheriff's investigators.
In September 2010, Salim told police his house had been burglarized with the help of a female heroin addict he'd been trying to help get treatment. He refused to cooperate with investigators despite losing three TVs, two laptops, $500 in cash and credit cards, and the case was placed on inactive status, according to a Columbus police report.
In April 2011, a woman who answered one of Salim's Craigslist ads called 911 to report an assault at Salim's address. "I came to a gentleman's house, and he accosted me," she said.
Eight months later, in early December, aspiring model Gabrielle Roush answered what she thought was a legitimate modeling ad: $400 to let Salim paint the human digestive system on her abdomen for what he said was a work assignment.
But Roush, accompanied by her future father-in-law, turned down the job after Salim insisted she be in the house alone while he worked.
"He said, `As long as you don't cause drama, you can do this for me,"' recalled Roush, 21, a college student in Columbus, whose meeting with Salim and call to police came long before Ballman's death and Salim's arrest.
The following July, a woman was sexually assaulted at Salim's house, according to a report she filed with police a month later, after Ballman's death.
Ballman, 23, was a supply specialist with a National Guard military police unit in Colorado who had just moved back to Ohio after separating from her husband. She had her own apartment east of Columbus and was still trying to buy furniture for her children's bedrooms.
The family reported her missing July 31, telling police about the housecleaning ad. At 3:30 p.m. that day, Deanna Ballman called her mother, Lori Ballman.
"Deanna stated that she felt dizzy and did not feel well. Deanna then stopped talking. Lori stated a male with a foreign accent then got on the phone asking what he could do to help. The call was then lost," according to the missing-person's report.
Lori Ballman also told investigators she heard the sound of a woman's voice in the background speaking another language. Investigators say they've never located this person. O'Brien, the Delaware County prosecutor, says it's not clear how Deanna Ballman's car got to the country road.
Compounding the family's struggle, Ballman's 19-year-old brother, James, died in an accidental shooting in February. Deanna Ballman's children are in foster care in Colorado, her mother said. Ballman was a high school graduate and devoted mother who hoped eventually to go to college to be a dentist, her mother said.
Lori Ballman helped her daughter gather cleaning supplies the day she disappeared, but she believes now that was a cover story for something darker she can't quite bring herself to name.
"That's the only reason I can think she told me she was going housecleaning, because she was humiliated," Ballman said.
Investigators say only that Deanna Ballman answered a personal ad. A cursory review of Craigslist finds Salim was not alone in placing such ads, dozens of which, many of them suggestive, abound for the Columbus area. In one, on May 14, a married man said he was looking for a "discreet relationship." Another, the same day, was seeking "a woman who is pregnant and horny as hell."
Salim's lawyer goes a step farther and bluntly calls Ballman an "unfortunate victim" who died as a result of prostituting herself to feed a drug habit.
"Regrettably, she caused her own demise and Dr. Salim had nothing to do with it," said attorney Sam Shamansky.
The rape charge against Salim alleges he assaulted her knowing her ability to resist "was substantially impaired." Capt. Kevin Savage of the Delaware County Sheriff's Office says there's no evidence Ballman was a drug addict. But, like the prosecutor, he hints that Ballman's reasons for going to Salim's home have yet to come out.
"I don't think she knew she was going to be overdosed with heroin and subsequently die, but I think she knew what she was responding to," Savage said.