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Wife’s 1990 murder, decapitation among Butler County’s most notorious crimes: 5 things to know

Published: Sunday, July 21, 2019 @ 2:00 PM

Maria Barker Tanner, who was killed by Raymond Tanner in 1990.
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Maria Barker Tanner, who was killed by Raymond Tanner in 1990.(NONE)

A man who murdered and decapitated his wife in 1990 had a request to end required court control denied earlier in the spring, which brought the case back into the spotlight.

Raymond Tanner, 62, appealed a Butler County Common Pleas Court decision requiring him to seek counseling and have a review of his conditional release every two years, citing two doctors testified he is no longer mentally ill. That appeal was denied in April.

READ MORE: He decapitated his wife 29 years ago, but said he’s no longer mentally ill. A court disagreed.

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Here are five things to know about the crime:

Valentine’s Day 1990

On Valentine’s Day 1990, Tanner, a steakhouse meat cutter, killed Maria Tanner after an argument in their Fairfield home and sawed off her head. He put the head on their bed, then walked to the police station in bloody clothes and admitted to the slaying, according to news reports and court records.

What happened before the incident

On the day before the killing, the Tanners went at Maria's insistence to a cemetery to hear a sales pitch about pre-paid burial plots. The experience played directly into Raymond's delusions, convincing him that Maria wanted him dead. 

 Tanner later said he got no sleep that night, and hadn't slept for three days. 

 The next morning, he told a psychologist, "Something made me go completely crazy. I didn't know who I was, where I was or what I was doing. I'd been so long without sleep, I went off the deep end." 

 Tanner began throwing plates, then began threatening his wife. 

 At that time, Maria’s mother, Shirley Cleaver, called her daughter. 

 "She was yelling, 'Mommy, Mommy, help me. Mommy help me, he's going to kill me.'" Cleaver told the Journal-News in 1999.

About Raymond Tanner

Tanner was born on Oct. 19, 1956, to working-class parents in Cincinnati. The son of a truck driver and a housewife, he was the sixth of 11 children. Although he is described as having a "fairly uneventful" childhood, Tanner was also said to be hyperactive. 

 "He was careless and sometimes behaved so as to create a substantial risk to himself," states a report by psychologist Fisher. "This problem was so acute the mother would sometimes tie Mr. Tanner to a chair so that she could attend to her other children without worrying about the defendant's getting himself hurt or into something." 

 Tanner was a poor student and dropped out of school in the ninth grade to work full time. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve for 2 1/2 years, but did not receive an honorable discharge. He was married for the first time in 1975 to a 16-year-old girl who was pregnant by him. The child was given up for adoption. They had another. The marriage ended in divorce in November 1976. 

 With the help of his brother, Tanner got a job with Ryan's Steak House, where he eventually met Maria. They were married in September 1987, but Fisher reported that Maria Tanner's diaries showed "a troubled relationship from the very beginning, with Maria feeling insecure, unloved and trapped."

The sentence

In June 1990, Tanner was found criminally insane and to have been suffering from acute schizophrenia at the time of his wife’s death. Tanner was released from a mental health facility in 1996 and has been required to have counseling sessions at a Dayton facility and undergo random drug screens.

Over the years, those reporting requirements have decreased, but Tanner has remained under court control, according to court records.

Multiple requests to end court supervision

Tanner has made multiple requests to end his court supervision. After one, in 1999, Maria Tanner’s mother reacted strongly.

"I'm madder than hell," Cleaver told the Journal-News in 1999. "And I get angry every two years. 

 "I think he snowed them all. I always felt this case was thrown under the rug and into the trash, because the man was never insane. 

 "The whole thing is beyond me. How does a man get away with decapitating somebody? How does that happen?"