CLEVELAND – Two men have been charged with killing an Ohio real estate agent who was showing a vacant house for sale, the first of two agents killed in a week in the region, authorities said Friday.
Robert Brooks, 25, of Youngstown, and Grant Cooper, 21, of Hubbard, had an initial appearance Friday before Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert Milich by video hookup from jail.
Both were locked up earlier on other charges and were held without bond. Brooks and Cooper each independently confessed to "the crimes against" real estate agent Vivian Martin, 67, who was found Monday in a vacant home she was showing them, according to an affidavit.
Martin was strangled before her body was burned beyond recognition in a fire that gutted the house.
The affidavit reveals chilling details of the final moments before Martin died. Family members told police that she had set up an appointment to show that property to a man named "Steve West" at about 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 20.
Martin was on the phone with her daughter when she arrived at the home and told her: "I have to go. They're here now."
About an hour later, firefighters were called to burning home.
Youngstown Detective Sgt. John Patton, applying for a search warrant in the case, described a series of suspicious individuals, including one who fit the description of Brooks, who went house-hunting a week ago, alarming one agent and leading another to jot down a license plate.
Police checked the plate and it was Brooks' silver Jeep. Patton said he "immediately began noticing similarities" between a robbery in Boardman and Martin's killing, which occurred four blocks from a home owned by Brooks.
Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes told The Associated Press in an e-mail Friday that each had been charged with aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, aggravated arson and kidnapping.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said that, based on the initial information he had, the grand jury would be asked to consider indictments making the suspects eligible for the death penalty. Charges against additional suspects haven't been ruled out, he said.
Brooks and his brother, Paul, have been charged separately with robbing a real estate agent last week in Boardman just outside Youngstown. They pleaded not guilty Thursday to aggravated robbery and are being held without bond until a preliminary hearing scheduled for Tuesday. They do not have attorneys.
In the Kent area 40 miles from Youngstown, authorities issued an arrest warrant in the death of an agent found slain early Tuesday in a house he was showing for sale. Authorities don't think the killings are related.
Portage County Sheriff David Doak said Robert Grigelaitis, 59, suspected in the death of Andrew VonStein, 51, remained at large Friday. The alert to other agencies warned that he should be considered armed and dangerous.
VonStein's body was found Tuesday with a single gunshot wound. His wallet and cell phone were missing, medical records show.
Grigelaitis has addresses in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and in Ravenna in northeast Ohio, near the house where VonStein's body was found.
It was not immediately clear whether Grigelaitis had an attorney.
The violence has caused frightened agents in northeast Ohio to cancel open houses and avoid meeting prospective buyers alone. In Youngstown, some agents canceled open houses in Martin's honor.