Last fall, in the small north-central city of Bucyrus, Ohio, Donald Hoffman went on a nine-day killing spree, beating and strangling four men through a drug-induced haze.
Between August 25 and September 2, 2014, Hoffman, 41, murdered the four men in an admitted attempt to obtain cash to purchase more cocaine. At the time of the killings, the man had already been on a week-long cocaine binge.
Bucyrus is a small farming community of about 12,000 residents located in Crawford county, Ohio, but its police force is no stranger to drug-related crimes. America has been facing a drug epidemic that grows with each passing year, and rural Ohio is no exception. Crawford, Richland, and Marion counties have been known for the abuse of heroin, cocaine, and pain medication, and the problem has reached critical proportions. Deaths due to drug overdose reached over 19,000 persons in the state last year, and law enforcement in these areas have become well-acquainted with the problem. On the surface, these communities appear almost Mayberry-like, and could easily lead one to believe that drug addiction and its related crimes couldn’t possibly exist in such seemingly tranquil places.
Yet, even as these police departments are well-trained and educated to fight the corruption of drugs, not even their experience could prepare them for the brutal deaths of the four local men.
The victims were Freelin Hensley, 67, Billy Jack Chatman, 65, Darrel Lewis, 65, and Jerald Smith, 65. All four men were found dead from strangulation, beating, or both. One man was Hoffman’s own room mate, and another a close friend.
For nine days, the small city was gripped with shock and fear, not knowing the motivation behind the murders or who was responsible for the crimes.
On September 1, Freelin Hensley and Billy Jack Chatman were found dead in their homes. That same day, Hoffman went to a convenience store to purchase cigarettes and spotted the image of one of the victim’s daughter printed in the local newspaper. Hoffman knew the girl and her family, and had watched her grow up. After leaving the store, he walked to the near-by police station, and after refusing council of any kind, told his story. For four hours, police heard Hoffman’s confession, and the next day, led officers to the bodies of his roommate, Jerald Smith, and Darrell Lewis.
The murders themselves were brutal in nature, and unlike anything the small community had seen before. Hensley was murdered after being beaten in the head with a frying pan, Smith was strangled using an electrical cord and beaten in the head with a bottle. Lewis was strangled with Hoffman’s own shoelace, and Chatman was killed with a pry bar.
The only motive for the killings, as far as authorities can determine, was to obtain more money to buy drugs. Hoffman stole the men’s debit and credit cards, and spent over $2,100 dollars of their money to buy more cocaine. Prosecutor Matthew Crall stated that Hoffman knew the men personally, and chose them because they were older men with known health issues.
To avoid a trial, Hoffman pleaded guilty to the crimes, and just 135 days following the murders, he sat before Crawford County Common Pleas Judge Russell Wiseman.
“Mr. Hoffman,” he said, “this community bids you goodbye.”
Though he had been eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors dropped the option in exchange for his four guilty pleas of aggravated murder. He has been sentenced to four consecutive life sentences, and because he has pleaded guilty, he will never be eligible for parole and cannot appeal the case. Donald Hoffman will spend life in prison for his crimes, and though it does not bring back their loved ones, family members are satisfied that he will never be free again.
[Image courtesy of the Bucyrus Telegraph Forum]