Ohio police search for answers in multiple disappearances of local women
Of 6 women missing, 4 have been found dead leaving a small town in fear and cops on the hunt for answers
By Steve Bennish
Dayton Daily News
CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — The young woman in pink shorts and sandals has a cellphone cupped to her ear when she spots the Ross County Sheriff's cruiser slow and then stop just across the flooded street.
She walks a few more steps and then darts inside a house.
It's Tuesday night on Second Street near the Bridge Street intersection here, an area frequented by four women who are dead and two who have turned up missing within the last year.
The concentrated police presence is part of a large-scale federal, state and local investigation that is attempting to solve a mystery that has gripped this city of 22,000 people over the last months: What happened to the women?
At least 20 tips are coming in daily, said Ross County Deputy J.D. Weber, who is on the task force that includes the FBI, Ohio State Patrol, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, local police and sheriff's offices. "We're trying to find the missing women."
Some think a serial killer is on the loose. Others say the dead and the missing — who all apparently knew one another — could have fallen to heroin abuse or other dangers of street life. Several of the bodies were dumped, but the investigators here know the companions of those who succumb to drug overdoses often remove bodies to other locations.
Authorities have said only one was a definite homicide — from gunshots.
"Obviously, we have had numerous overdoses with the heroin epidemic," Officer Bud Lytle, spokesman for the Chillicothe Police Department, said. "We have linked them as they ran in the same circles, ran in the same area and most prostituted to support their drug habit. We have found nothing that links their deaths together. But we are not taking anything off the table."
But even in a city alarmed by the deaths and dreading what might come next, some haven't gotten the message.
Also on Second Street Tuesday, another woman talks on her phone in a torrential downpour, lightning flashing.
"I have to take my child to the doctor and it's raining!" she tells a reporter angrily, picking up the pace to get away.
Steps away, a group of residents and their friends waiting out the storm on a porch begin laughing. They've seen her before.
"She hasn't seen her kids in six months!" one declares.
"Probably taken away from her," another says.
'Heroin This, Crack That'
If anything can be said at this point, it's that the missing and dead of Chillicothe are more evidence of how a nationwide heroin scourge has gripped communities large and small, urban and rural. All are believed heroin users, turning tricks to support habits.
"The problem is bigger than the deaths and missing women," Chillicothe Mayor Jack Everson said. "I'm trying to attack that problem."
Law enforcement took criticism following the deaths for not cracking down hard enough earlier on street crime.
That's changed, as evidenced by the foot patrols that are a visible and welcome presence, according to neighbors, who estimate that nine or so drug houses were in operation over a two-block stretch at one time.
"Damn drug dealers all over this," said Jim Hayes, 50, a former roofer who added an unprintable epithet. "Heroin this, crack that."
Friend Darrell Scott agrees. "We see all the goonies up and down the street, trying to flag down cars, trying to sell dope to people. I don't want to see that."
With the stepped-up patrols, the din of drug dealers and march of prostitutes has died down, neighbors say.
"Shoulda been done a long time ago," said Scott. One of the missing women Charlotte Trego, 28, had at times stayed at a house across the street from Hayes. He points it out.
Yvonne Boggs, 59, Charlotte's mother who lives in the nearby town of Waverly, said her daughter moved from Second Street to another house two blocks over when she disappeared. Periodically, Trego, a mother of two, stayed with the mother, but was drawn back to Chillicothe time and again.
"All her friends said she was prostituting," Boggs said. "I didn't know that. I asked, and she said 'What you don't know won't hurt you. She had a lot of male friends."
'I'm Definitely On Edge'
Publicly released details in the various circumstances of the deaths and disappearances are not identical. Although three of the bodies were found in or near water, one involved an overdose and the coroner ruled another one a suicide. But no one seems too sure of any of it.
The dead women:
— Tameka Lynch, 30, mother of three, missing in May of 2014. Found dead in Paint Creek in Highland County by a kayaker. Declared a drug overdose by coroner.
— Shasta Himelrick, 20. Pregnant at death. Missing in December of 2014. Found in January in the Scioto River outside Chillicothe. Her car was found abandoned in southeastern Ross County. Her death was ruled a suicide and she had drugs in her system.
— Timberly Claytor, 38. Found shot dead in Massieville outside an abandoned building in May 2015. Suspect, Jason McCrary, 36, in custody on unrelated charges of failing to register his address as a sexual offender.
— Tiffany D. Sayre, 26, last seen in May of this year, mother of two, body found near Cave Road not far from where Lynch was found in a remote part of Highland County. A friend told a reporter for the Huffington Post that Sayre was doing business at the Chillicothe Inn near the corner of Second and Bridge streets and was headed there when she disappeared. Awaiting autopsy results.
Searchers have swept the area where Sayre and Lynch were found — about 30 miles from Chillicothe — but if they have turned up pertinent information, it has not been announced.
Meanwhile, Hallie Renison, 23, manager of the Crispie Creme Donut Shop on the corner of Second and Bridge streets, remains wary.
"I'm definitely on edge," she said. "I'm always checking and looking over my shoulder."
'These Girls Are Our Kids'
For the family members of the missing, the pain is almost unbearable.
"It's not like her to take off and not call," Boggs said of her daughter, who was living with another woman when she vanished in November 2014. The woman, who reportedly has said she has no information about Trego's whereabouts, has since left town.
"She (Charlotte) was fun-loving, always liked excitement," Boggs said. "If you were down and grouchy, she'd do something to bring you up. She made friends easy."
Her daughter knew all the other women, with perhaps the exception of one, Boggs said. "She never got started on heroin until the year she disappeared," she added. "The thing of it is, these girls are our kids. They may be drug addicts, but we still want them home."
Boggs is hopeful that information about her daughter's tattoos might help locate her.
They include a tattoo on her right arm of a Playboy-style bunny that says "Playgirl" underneath it and a floral ring around one arm with her daughter's name Chloe beneath.
Boggs is haunted by a nightmare. In it, her missing daughter tells her she's OK and with her father. Her father Richard died of cancer in 2001.
Diana Willett, 60, recalls the day last year when her 38-year-old daughter, Wanda Lemons, called to discuss plans to visit with the family on Thanksgiving Day.
She usually called every two weeks or so. But sometimes Lemons traveled to Dayton, where she is believed to have worked as a prostitute and would become stranded there for days.
It was not uncommon for her to be out of touch, her mother said. But when Christmas came and went and Willett still had not heard from her daughter, she knew something was wrong.
"It's the hardest thing I've been through in my life," she said. "It's an everyday agony."
Lemons, mother of five and grandmother of two, reportedly told a friend she was headed to Texas with a truck driver, but no one by the driver's reported name could be located by police. Lemons, described as strong-willed and outgoing, has children in Texas, so such a plan would not be unusual, Willett said.
But Brian Nichols, Willett's husband and Lemons' stepfather, said she disappeared while in the middle of a custody battle over her youngest, age six, making it unlikely she would leave on her own.
He described Lemons as a "country girl, raised to protect herself. Nothing could hold her down," he said.
As Nichols replayed the numerous taped television reports about the string of deaths and disappearances, Diana left the room, unable to watch.
She returned later, eyes wet.
"I just need them to find my girl and bring her home," she said.
Copyright 2015 the Dayton Daily News