Dec. 22, 2010
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio – Sitting in a hunter-green padded vest designed to prevent him from hurting himself, Matthew J. Hoffman stared into the camera, occasionally glancing over his attorney’s shoulder as the lawyer took notes.
During a five-minute hearing yesterday in Knox County Municipal Court, Hoffman, 30, was videotaped from the county jail. Handcuffed, he stared into the camera, saying nothing once the volume was turned on in the courtroom.
Hoffman, who moved back to Knox County nearly four years ago after he was released from a Colorado prison in which he had served time for an arson conviction, is accused of kidnapping 13-year-old Sarah Maynard and holding her for nearly four days.
Sarah was found bound and gagged in Hoffman’s basement Sunday morning. She had disappeared last Wednesday along with her mother, Tina Herrmann, 32; her 11-year-old brother, Kody Maynard; and a family friend, Stephanie Sprang, 41.
The other three are still missing, bringing out hundreds of people who have volunteered to search for them.
Judge Paul E. Spurgeon set bail at $1 million yesterday for Hoffman, who is under suicide watch at the Knox County jail after indicating to jail staff members that he might hurt himself.
Packs of volunteer searchers and teams of cadaver dogs scoured several Knox County areas yesterday. They covered the woods near the Herrmann family’s home at 481 King Beach Dr.; a bike path and woods near where Herrmann’s Ford pickup was found in Gambier; and Foundation Park, a former gravel pit across the street from Hoffman’s home that is now a recreation area with lakes.
Knox County Sheriff David B. Barber said during a news conference that trash bags and a tarp that were found yesterday were “significant to the investigation,” and he confirmed that a receipt from a local Walmart shows Hoffman purchased a tarp and trash bags, along with a sandwich and a T-shirt, there recently.
Though Barber wouldn’t say where the tarp and trash bags were found, a group of volunteers searching a field off Lower Gambier Road near Rt. 229 yesterday found a few duct-taped black trash bags and a gray and black tarp.
Also released yesterday was a Knox County sheriff’s office report filed two weeks ago, when Hoffman’s ex-girlfriend called deputies, saying he’d attacked her at his Clinton Township home.
In the report, the woman said she went to Hoffman’s house at 49 Columbus Rd. on Oct. 24 to pick up her car. She said he became agitated as they talked, pushed her against the wall and “had his forearm up against my neck and was choking me.”
The woman said she got loose and tried to run, but then he “grabbed me and we fell over his chair onto the floor.” She said she was fighting him, “but he proceeded to choke me on the ground; he probably had me pinned on the ground for about a minute or two.”
She said he finally let her up and she left the house. The woman said she wanted the report filed but asked that no charges be filed; none were.
Hoffman was by most accounts odd, a hermit who rarely left the house to buy groceries, neighbors said. His stepfather, who lives with Hoffman’s mother around the corner from Tina Herrmann, called his stepson a loner.
Hoffman is unemployed and “virtually without funds,” his court-appointed attorney, Bruce J. Malek, said in court yesterday.
Until about two weeks ago, Hoffman, who graduated from the Knox County Career Center in 1999, briefly worked for Fast Eddy’s, a grounds-maintenance and tree-trimming company outside Mount Vernon.
Sandy Burd, office manager for the business along Rt. 36, said nothing seemed odd when Hoffman was first hired. “He didn’t appear strange. He just blended in.”
But after getting a part-time job and filling out an application on which he failed to disclose his Colorado arson conviction, Hoffman unnerved his supervisor, Burd said, and he was let go after working less than three weeks.
“He (Hoffman) just struck him as really odd; just too strange. He would just stare into space,” she said. The supervisor also discovered that Hoffman had oversold his tree-trimming experience, although he had his own ropes and tree-climbing gear. Hoffman’s neighbors have said that he was known to climb and perch in a tree at his home.
The Colorado arson conviction was in 2001, after Hoffman pleaded guilty to dumping 10 gallons of gasoline in a condominium unit at a Steamboat Springs condo complex to cover up a burglary. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Charles Feldmann prosecuted the case, which caused $2 million in damage.
“He just struck me as someone who had a horrific appetite, a premeditated appetite, to cause that kind of damage and the potential loss of life,” said Feldmann, who is now a private attorney. “You just don’t see those kinds of people in small rural towns.”
Hoffman was paroled in January 2007.
Investigators are asking residents if they have seen one of the three vehicles associated with the case during the past week: Sprang’s silver Jeep Cherokee, found in the King Beach Drive garage; Herrmann’s Ford F-150 truck, abandoned near Kenyon College; and Hoffman’s silver Toyota Yaris, which he was sitting in last Thursday near where Herrmann’s truck was found. Anyone with information is asked to call 1-888-363-TIPS.
Dispatch staff writers Elizabeth Gibson and Randy Ludlow, Dispatch correspondent Adam Taylor and WBNS-10TV contributed to this story.