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Prosecutor: Hamilton man planned to burn home for insurance money

Published: Tuesday, November 07, 2017 @ 10:52 AM
Updated: Tuesday, November 07, 2017 @ 6:03 PM

Opening statements in Hamilton arson trial

In November 2015, Lester Parker and his wife Bertha were “underwater” financially, behind in mortgage payments and living off a limited income from flea market sales, Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser told a jury Tuesday during opening statements.

That is when Parker allegedly hatched a plan to burn his house down for insurance money, and his nephew agreed to help for payment in pills, Gmoser said.

Parker, 67, and his nephew, William “Billy” Tucker, 46, are both charged with arson and murder in the fire at the Pater Avenue residence that killed Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman on Dec. 28, 2015.

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The jury of five women and seven men viewed the residence Tuesday before opening statements began in the trial in Butler County Common Pleas Court.

“This was supposed to be a simple insurance job,” Gmoser said. “They didn’t intend for Patrick Wolterman to get killed, they just didn’t give it any thought.”

The prosecutor said Parker planned a trip to Las Vegas that he could not afford and his daughters were going to take him to the airport on the afternoon of Dec. 27.

In the weeks leading up to that date, Parker took pictures of items in his house and even moved out some items, including pictures and a handcrafted log cabin decoration that he held dear, Gmoser told the jury.

Before flying to Vegas, Parker told one of his daughters that if anything happened the important papers about the house were in the garage.

Gmoser said Tucker, Parker’s nephew, agreed to light the fire in exchange for pills that Parker’s daughter will testify were kept in the second floor of the house.

Tucker was “desperate” to get a ride from Richmond, Ky., to Hamilton on Dec. 28, 2015, and enlisted a former girlfriend and another woman in exchange for pills, Gmoser said during opening statements.

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The women dropped Tucker off early on Dec. 28, 2015, at the intersection of Pater Avenue and Grand Boulevard. Gmoser said a Hamilton Police license plate reader will verify the car was at the intersection during the time frame of the fire.

When Tucker returned minutes later, “He is out of breath and he is carrying his bag, he is carrying a gas can and has pills,” Gmoser told the jury.

The prosecutor said when Tucker popped the clasp of the lock in the basement of the Pater Avenue residence he found a “gas can and pills waiting for him.”

Tucker then poured gas on “stuff” and ran, Gmoser said.

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David Washington, Parker’s defense attorney called the prosecution’s opening statements a “fantastic story” that was without proof and questioned the credibility of witnesses that he said are “pill heads and dope thieves.”

“Lester Parker had nothing to do with any fire at his house,” Washington said.

Tucker’s defense attorney, Tamara Sack, said her client has an alibi for the time of the fire. And while he he did come to Hamilton on Dec. 28, 2015, she said, he went to a different house to get pills.

“Coincidences galore,” said Sack about the prosecution’s case.

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Two neighbors of Lester and Bertha Parker, along with several firefighters, were called to the stand Tuesday, including Hamilton Fire Lt. Ben Adams, who found Wolterman after he fell into the basement of the home while fighting the blaze.

Adams said he saw firefighters approach 1310 Pater Avenue.

“It changed from heavy smoke to heavy fire,” Adams said. One of the firefighters was pushed back on the front porch by a wall of fire.

Adams said he learned Wolterman was still in the house.

He and another firefighter were able to locate Wolterman through the squelching of his personal alarm. He was unconscious and his face mask had been knocked off, he testified.

Firefighters pulled Wolterman from the basement, Adams said.

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A neighbor, Milford Radin, said he suffered from glaucoma and could not point out his longtime friend Lester Parker at the defense table, but remembered talking to him the night of the fire.

When the fire broke out, he called Parker at the request of police, he said.

“He said, ‘didn’t I tell you I was leaving for Las Vegas?” Radin said.

Radin said Parker usually told him when he was going to be away from home.

He added that Parker told him to take care of his house, but did not indicate he was rushing home.

Lesbian couple beaten, held captive for days over borrowed car, police say

Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 1:45 PM

Borrowed Car Leads to Lesbian Couple Being Attacked, Held Captive

Three Indiana men and a woman have been booked on more than 30 separate criminal charges in connection with the alleged beating and kidnapping of a married lesbian couple.

One of the men, Kenneth Allen Braswell, 32, is charged with raping one of the women, according to Indianapolis jail records. Braswell is also charged with criminal confinement, kidnapping, battery with a deadly weapon, battery resulting in bodily injury and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.

Police have charged Jose Antonio Nieves, 35, and Thomas James Bell, 26, with crimes that include kidnapping, criminal confinement, battery, intimidation, possession of meth and carrying a handgun without a license. Melissa Richards, 29, is charged with multiple counts of criminal confinement and battery.

>> Read more trending news

The Indianapolis Star reported that an affidavit filed in the case states the couple traveled from Terre Haute to a home on the east side of Indianapolis the morning of Nov. 10 to do heroin. Fox 59 in Indianapolis reported that the house was Richards’ home. 

One of the women borrowed Richards’ Mustang to visit her son about 20 miles away in Danville, the news station reported. The women said that Richards became angry when the car wasn’t returned quickly enough. 

“I’m keeping your wife until I get my car back,” Richards said, according to the affidavit

The woman still at Richards’ house told police she was bound with duct tape, pistol-whipped and left in a large closet, the Star reported. She said that, at some point, she felt someone pulling her pants down.

The woman told detectives that Braswell raped her, the Star said. 

“If you scream, I’ll hurt you,” he told her, according to the affidavit

The woman said that her captors then took her to the basement, where she was beaten some more, Fox 59 reported. On Nov. 11, some of the accused retrieved the Mustang, along with the wife, who they forced to go with them at gunpoint, the affidavit said. 

When they got back to Richards’ house, the woman was placed in the basement with her wife, where she was also beaten, the document said. 

The women said they were held in the basement until Nov. 14. They were given food and water once, but could not eat due to their injuries, police said. 

The Star reported that the affidavit described bruises and cuts on both women’s faces. One of the women also had a broken collarbone. 

One of the victims described watching as the group beat her wife, who fell to the ground.

“I didn’t know if she was alive anymore,” the woman said, according to the affidavit

On Nov. 14, Nieves and Bell are accused of putting both women in Richards’ Mustang for a drive to Bargersville, where, one woman told police, Nieves talked about killing them, the Star said. She said Nieves claimed he knew someone there who would help bury their bodies.

On the way to Bargersville, the Mustang blew a tire, the Star reported. They pulled into a convenience store parking lot, where the women said Nieves tried injecting himself with heroin.

The women asked to use the bathroom, the affidavit said. When Nieves allowed them to go inside the store, the women begged the clerk to call police.

The women locked themselves in the bathroom until police arrived, the Star reported

Nieves and Bell were arrested outside the convenience store, while Braswell and Richards were taken into custody at Richards’ home. 

The Star said that detectives searching Richards’ home confiscated a bloody towel, along with bloody sweatpants found in the closet where one victim said she was raped. There was also a large pool of blood on the basement floor. 

In the Mustang, they found two handguns, duct tape, a machete and two cellphones.

Braswell, Nieves and Richards remained in the Marion County Jail on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear when Bell was released. 

Court records show that Braswell, Nieves and Bell are scheduled for a Jan. 22 trial on the charges. 

Young woman vanishes after online date, family fears the worst

Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 6:06 PM

A missing person flyer is tacked to a pole in a neighborhood. The family of Sydney Loffe is distributing flyers as part of an effort to find the missing 24-year-old Lincoln, Neb., woman, who was last seen on Wed., Nov. 15.
Pixabay
A missing person flyer is tacked to a pole in a neighborhood. The family of Sydney Loffe is distributing flyers as part of an effort to find the missing 24-year-old Lincoln, Neb., woman, who was last seen on Wed., Nov. 15.(Pixabay)

A 24-year-old Lincoln, Nebraska, woman has been missing for several days following a date with someone she met online, and now police are calling the circumstance surrounding her disappearance “concerning.”

>> Read more trending news

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Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Jeff Bliemeister spoke to local media Tuesday and urged residents to continue looking for Sydney Loofe as the department conducts interviews and pieces together the events that led to her her disappearance, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

Police confirmed that Loofe was last seen in Wilber, 40 miles southwest of Lincoln, on Wed. Nov. 15.. according to the Star.

Suspicion grew when she missed work the following day at a Lincoln grocery store where she is a cashier after apparently going out on a date the night before, her parents said. Loofe sent a Snapchat message saying she was “ready for my date” just hours before she disappeared.

Her family said she sent the Snapchat message about going on a date with a woman she met online, and that she was definitely “planning on coming home that night.”

She also left her cat and car at her home in Lincoln, her family said.

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Loffe’s family is circulating a flyer that suggest they fear she was abducted. The flyer indicated that her phone pinged off a cellphone tower in the Wilber area, but that it has since been turned off.

Her parents, Susie and George Loofe, find it suspicious that her phone is off, and that her cat and car were left at home.

Lincoln police have declined to say if they have spoken to the person Loofe was going out with that night or where in Wilber she might have been.

“Really what our focus is on at this point is trying to find Sydney,” the police chief Bliemeister said. “And to go out and to detail every investigative aspect really, I think, is going to detract from the overall message of, ‘We’re trying to find her as quickly as possible.'”

Police are asking anyone with information on Loofe’s whereabouts to call 402-441-6000.

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Loofe is 5-foot-7 and weighs 135 pounds. She was last seen wearing a white Columbia jacket and a cream-colored shirt. She has a yin-yang tattoo on one of her forearms, the word “Believe” with a cross on the inside of her left wrist, and the phrase “Everything will be wonderful someday” on her right bicep.

$2K+ of suspected stolen merchandise recovered in bust

Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 1:37 PM

$2K+ of suspected stolen merchandise recovered in bust

A 21-year-old Columbus woman is facing theft charges after police said they recovered more than $2,000 worth of suspected stolen merchandise from the vehicle she was driving.

Satia Dunson, of Columbus, is charged with theft and possession of criminal tools and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

German Twp. Police spotted Dunson’s vehicle Nov. 8 and noticed she had a warrant for larceny out of Huber Heights. 

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Dunson was pulled over in the area of the Dunham Sports, 1600 Upper Valley Pike, where she was taken into custody.

Police said they “noticed a large amount of clothing that was inside the vehicle that had security tags on them, still had the hangars on them.”

“It was obvious they had been out shoplifting,” said Lt. Russell Garman with the German Twp. Police Department.

Dunson’s trial is scheduled for January.

Sidney police search for missing teen

Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 4:31 PM

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Sidney police are asking for helping finding a 15-year-old girl who was last seen Wednesday morning.

Avonell Martin, 15, was last seen around 7:45 a.m. when she stopped by a friend’s house to say goodbye and that she was heading to Cleveland, according to police.

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Martin was the passenger in a silver or grey 4-door mid-size car with tinted windows, police said.

The teen is described as being 5-foot-4, 128 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes.  She was last seen wearing a black and blue coat with blue jeans.

Anyone with information on Martin’s whereabouts is asked to contact Sidney police at 937-498-2351.