Published November 17, 2014
People in the tiny Ohio town of Mount Vernon used to have to think back years to recall a violent crime.
Now, days after 13-year-old Sarah Maynard was found bound and gagged in a basement, and with her mother, brother and another woman feared dead, residents are dwelling on the disappearances, longing for the more peaceful lives they knew before the middle of last week.
Search teams scoured vacant buildings and wooded areas Tuesday for Maynard's mother, 32-year-old Tina Herrmann; Herrmann's 10-year-old son, Kody Maynard; and her 41-year-old friend, Stephanie Sprang. They haven't been seen for a week.
In supermarket check-out lines and over meatloaf and mashed potatoes at a roadside diner, conversations in this city of 16,000 are consumed by talk of the missing family.
"It's a tragedy all the way around," Mayor Richard Mavis said. "This doesn't happen around here."
A faded sign on the side of a red-brick building reminds people to chew Mail Pouch tobacco. The mayor says it's the kind of town where you can give your car keys to a stranger and expect to get them back.
"I just hope we get some good news," 65-year-old Blaine Rhoades said Tuesday night, as he and his wife dropped off a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken for Sprang's sister.
Others are less optimistic.
Knox County Sheriff David Barber said that while there's a chance the three are still alive, evidence and the amount of time that has passed means "the likelihood is of course that they are not alive."
A deputy searching Herrmann's home last week in nearby Howard, Ohio, found an "unusual" amount of blood inside.
Authorities charged 30-year-old Matthew Hoffman with kidnapping Sarah after they found her held captive in his basement on Sunday. A judge set his bond at $1 million.
His public defender, Bruce Malek, said Hoffman worked sometimes as a tree trimmer, but was currently unemployed. The county sheriff said Hoffman was under suicide watch.
Last month, Hoffman worked for a landscaping and tree trimming business just outside Mount Vernon, but he was let him go after less than three weeks, partly because he made a supervisor feel uneasy, the company's office manager said.
"He (Hoffman) just struck him as really odd; just too strange. He would just stare into space," Sandy Burd, office manager of Fast Eddy's, told The Columbus Dispatch. Burd told the newspaper the boss also found that Hoffman had exaggerated about his tree trimming experience.
A message seeking further comment was left for Burd Wednesday morning.
Neighbors and acquaintances never knew what to make of Hoffman. They say he was controlling, peculiar and smart in a scary way.
His former girlfriend claimed he choked her, pushed her against a wall and pinned her neck with his forearm during an argument at his house on Oct. 24, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press. The woman told investigators she thought he was going to kill her, but did not want to press charges.
A man at the woman's address said Tuesday that no one from her family wanted to comment.
In 2000, when Hoffman was living in the Colorado ski resort town of Steamboat Springs, he was accused of stealing a Chevrolet Suburban and other items from a home and returning the next day with 10 gallons of gasoline to set it on fire to cover it up, the Steamboat Pilot & Today reported. Two townhouses were destroyed and eight were damaged.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison and returned to Ohio after he was released in 2007. He often behaved strangely, his Ohio neighbors said.
He collected leaves at a park across the street from his home and would stuff them into trash bags to hang on his walls for insulation.
Jessica Shirley, 35, got to know Hoffman and his former girlfriend over the last year when they would visit her friend, who lived next to the couple. She said he was smart and controlling.
"He was kind of like the intellectual," she said. "Kind of crazy."
He wouldn't let his former girlfriend smoke or allow her son to eat junk food, Shirley said. He also made a woman who lived with him until recently join a gym, she said. The two worked out together, she said.
"That was the only normal activity I know that he did," Shirley said.
Associated Press writers Doug Whiteman and JoAnne Viviano in Columbus, John Seewer in Toledo and P. Solomon Banda in Denver contributed to this report.