James Lohnes, a 44-year-old handyman, has been charged with two counts of murder, according to CBS Chicago. For months, Lohnes did work around the Gary, Indiana, home of mother and daughter, Velia, 84, and Lana Taneff, 63. The two women were found on January 17 with ligature marks around their necks after police did a well-being check.
Lohnes’ nephew tipped off police when he became worried about the safety of the women after he discovered his uncle had stolen Velia Taneff’s wallet and he was unable to reach her. He said his uncle was “a bad person and constantly getting into trouble.”
James Lohnes had, in fact, been arrested on January 6 at Taneff’s home when he got into an altercation with his nephew. Lohnes choked and punched him. Velia Taneff intervened and kicked James Lohnes to get him off of him, according to the affidavit. For that incident, Lohnes is facing charges of three counts of criminal confinement, strangulation, battery resulting in moderate bodily injury, and battery resulting in bodily injury.
Police found the bodies of the women at two different locations on January 17. Lana Taneff was found on the basement stairs of their residence about 5:30 p.m. Velia Taneff’s body was found later that evening next door in an upstairs apartment that she owned.
Meanwhile, Lohnes had been arrested on January 16 on the Ohio Turnpike when an Ohio State trooper noticed Lohnes on the side of the road. Lohnes was in possession of Taneff’s 2003 Cadillac. James Lohnes was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Those charges were later dismissed for lack of evidence.
The Lake County Sheriff’s department used the navigation system on Velia Taneff’s Cadillac to aid in locating the vehicle and found it had been impounded in Ohio.
Sgt. Ryan Remenius and Commander Dennis Eaton went to Ohio to interview James Lohnes at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio. They claimed they were looking for a missing person. Lohnes was quick to state that Velia Taneff had lent him the car to go to Massachusetts and he did not know her whereabouts. Family refuted those claims saying Taneff never loaned her car to anyone, not even family.
James Lohnes refused extradition back to Indiana for further questioning, according to the Chicago Tribune. After a hearing, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the extradition papers. James Lohnes was taken back to Indiana and is now being held in the Lake County jail.
Velia Taneff was a former radio show host on WLTH. She was a Democrat and politically active. She was a precinct committeewoman for Griffith-Calumet Township for more than 50 years. She was also caring for her legally-blind daughter, Lana.
Lake County Sheriff John Bunich said, “Again, this was a very gruesome murder. What made it even worse was that Velia Taneff was a long time community activist in Lake County and she was known by a lot of the officers, including the investigators here, so it meant a lot that this crime was solved.”
Lohnes’ DNA was found under the fingernails of one of the victims. There is also video showing Lohnes outside the Taneff residence on January 16. Lohnes had told his nephew that Velia Taneff had a lot of money and “he should destroy them.”
Bunich said that James Lohnes has had several prior convictions including sexual battery, auto theft, and drug charges. A witness said that Lohnes had used crack cocaine the day of the murders.
James Lohnes is being held at the Lake County Jail. In addition to the two counts of murder, Lohnes is also charged with auto theft. James Lohnes is eligible for the death penalty according to Lake County prosecutor Bernard Carter.
[Image via Lake County Sheriff’s Dept]