Return of the Boogeyman

There's a predator loose. Trust no one.

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Eleven-year-old Katie Wolgamott rides the bus home from school. From her stop, she walks alone the three and a half blocks to her babysitter's house in a quiet, blue-collar Massillon neighborhood.

A maroon sedan is following her. An older man with gray hair yells for her to get in. Katie picks up her stride and tries not to make eye contact. The man yells again, more urgently this time.

He pulls up next to her, beeping his horn as she runs. "Get in the car, girl. Get in the car."

Finally, Katie makes a beeline across the sitter's yard and into the house. The man turns a corner and speeds off.

Three weeks later, a similar-looking man tries to lure 10-year-old Melody Amigo into his car as she walks home from school. An hour later, in the same neighborhood, he tries to nab 12-year-old Lorenzo Echols.

The boogeyman has come to Massillon.

These days, kids walk to school in groups of five or six. Mothers stand guard as their children play outside.

"If she's on the trampoline, I'm watching out the window if I'm doing dishes," says Jenny Madison of her nine-year-old granddaughter. "The way things are today, you can't even let your kids out to play without being outside with them."

Since the attempt on Katie in February, the man has tried more than a dozen times to lure children into his car in neighborhoods all over Massillon. He's also stalked kids in neighboring Summit and Medina counties. He's been spotted in several vehicles, sometimes with a woman in the passenger seat. In recent weeks, he's become bolder. He's left his car and tried to grab kids, in one case, choking a girl.

Police efforts are at a standstill, with no leads, no potential suspects, and only a rough sketch of the man. But the pedophile's hunting spree is having unintended consequences for the people of this community -- or, more accurately, the sex offenders of Stark County.

Todd Gill was living with his wife and their two young children in a duplex on the west side of town. Now he's sitting in prison. Last month, an anonymous caller tipped off the Massillon Police Department: The 27-year-old Gill had moved without notifying the county.

When he was 17, Gill started dating a 14-year-old foster child named Amanda. His mother, Lori Rohr, says Amanda told Gill she was 16. They started having sex and continued after Gill turned 18.

"This girl was just looking for someone to love her and to care," says Rohr. "She told the caseworker that he had been her boyfriend and that she loved him."

Rohr apparently thinks the age difference was no big deal. "I'm not saying he didn't do anything wrong. But let me ask you a question: How many of your buddies have done it?"

Rohr says Gill broke it off when Amanda's caseworker told him her real age. But soon after, the caseworker reported Gill to the state, and he was charged with corrupting a minor, a fourth-degree felony, to which he pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to three years probation.

He was also made to register as a sex offender for 10 years. His mug shot and address were posted on eSORN (Electronic Sex Offender Registration and Notification), a website run by the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

Three years later Gill met Kris. They married and had two children. Gill moved out of Rohr's house, where he was registered, and into a home with his family. Rohr says his probation officer told him he didn't need to register a change of address.

But last month, police showed up looking for Gill. He pleaded guilty to illegally changing his address -- a felony -- and was sentenced to 17 months, with early release in 30 days.

"To me, it's a message sentence," says Assistant County Prosecutor Fred Scott. "It says, register your residence address."

Gill's family is shocked, but not surprised. Whenever Massillon gets worried about its kids, he feels the heat.

Two years ago, when high-profile child murders in California and the abduction of Elizabeth Smart in Utah made national headlines, the Massillon Independent published Gill's name in a list of sex offenders living in the city. Gill and his wife found out about it when their landlady showed up to evict them.

"What is this? He's a sex offender," Kris remembers her yelling. "I want him outta here." After Kris explained that her husband wasn't a rapist or a pedophile, she agreed to let them stay. But Kris says she's still scared of him.

"She avoids him like the plague," says Kris. "She won't even come to pick up the rent if Todd's here."

Gill is one of almost 300 sex offenders living within a five-mile radius of Massillon's core. They are divided into three categories. Sexually oriented offenders, like Gill, are considered the lowest risk. Then come habitual sex offenders, who have repeat convictions. At the top are sexual predators -- the worst and most violent of the lot, including child molesters and rapists.

On the attorney general's website, creepy photos show men looking deranged, unkempt, and sleep-deprived, like the cast of a child's nightmare.

The panicked residents of Massillon are looking up their neighbors on eSORN. Many are finding that they live just down the street from the neighborhood rapist.

Lynnette Guiffre, a mother of two young girls, logged onto the site for the first time when the abduction attempts began. "We got on the internet, and it is just so creepy," she says. Guiffre was scared to find that she lives just three streets away from 48-year-old Michael Snook, who in 1998 was charged with raping his 14-year-old daughter. He had allegedly fondled her, performed oral sex on her, and forced her to perform oral sex on him since she was a toddler.

Snook pleaded guilty to sexual battery and served five years at Pickaway Correctional Institution. Had his daughter testified, it would likely have been life, says his lawyer, Robert Cyperski. "They didn't want to put her through the trauma of this trial," he says.

Guiffre's never seen Snook, but she keeps his picture from the website posted on her refrigerator as a warning to her daughters.

Massillon has good reason to be concerned. One study found that more than half of all child molesters re-offend. "The recidivism rate is so high," says Massillon Detective Bobby Grizzard. "Their sex drive is so high."

National headlines have fueled the fear. In February, nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford was kidnapped from her bedroom in Florida as her father and grandparents slept in the other room. Forty-six-year-old John Couey, a convicted child molester, confessed to killing her. He led police to her shallow grave behind the trailer where he lived.

A month later, another Florida girl, 13-year-old Sarah Lunde, was found dead in a pond. Convicted rapist David Onstott confessed to choking her to death.

Legislators have responded with fury. In April, state Representative Michael DeBose (D-Cleveland) introduced a bill to require sex offenders to display pink license plates on their cars. Representative Keith Faber (R-Celina) introduced another bill requiring them to wear GPS tracking devices.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, are turning up the heat. Two years ago, the state passed a law allowing them to evict sex offenders living within 1,000 feet of a school. In April, a district court judge ruled the law constitutional, refusing to grant a temporary restraining order sought by civil-rights groups.

Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero didn't waste any time. The day of the ruling, he sent notices to 44 people in violation of the law. The message was simple: Start packing.

Franklin Perrine got a letter.

The piercing stare of his childlike, baby-blue eyes is unnerving. The wolf's-head tattoo on his chest and the faded dagger tattooed on his forearm tell of a rough past.

Perrine claims that when he was six, his uncle raped him. The abuse continued for years. Then, admits Perrine, as a teenager, he did the same thing to his six-year-old cousin, though court records offer few details. He was sentenced to juvenile detention.

Several years later, a then-21-year-old Perrine was charged with raping his fiancée's 4-year-old son. Perrine pleaded down to charges of sexual battery and gross imposition, but maintains his innocence. After spending five years in prison, he claims that he's now rehabilitated. Sex counseling taught him to suppress his urges and to stay clear of trouble, he says.

"As long as I stay within the limits of my relapse plan -- don't go to parks where kids hang out, find other avenues -- it keeps me out of harm's way."

But Perrine says that the new law won't deter people like him. "I can turn around and kidnap a kid within 10 seconds by pulling up to a school -- and live 10 miles away," he says. "At least if I live within 1,000 feet of a school, you know where I'm at. How hard is it going to be to come knock on my door?"

Besides, forcing predators into rural areas might help them go undetected, Perrine suggests. "It's a possibility he's got 180 acres, and he could have buried the child in the backyard."

Perrine plans to contest the county's order that he move. He says the distance between his home and the school was measured when he was paroled, and it's more than 1,000 feet. "If they turn around and tell me that I have to move, I'll put a sleeping bag and a pillow on the courthouse steps and let them figure out what they're going to do."

LeaAnn Humphrey doesn't feel any safer. "You take them away from one neighborhood, you're forcing them on another," she says.

Humphrey won't let her kids play in the yard anymore unless an adult is watching. If she can't watch them, she makes them play in the garage. "I feel bad for the kids, because it's restricted their childhood freedom," she says. "They are supervised 100 percent of the time."

Parents with roots in this town remember when they were young and begging their worried parents to let them play outside, the last time the boogeyman came to Massillon.

On an autumn afternoon in 1982, Dawn-Marie Hendershot left her second-grade classroom at Gorrell School to walk the four blocks to her home. Somewhere in between, she vanished. A massive search was immediately undertaken to find the cheerful seven-year-old with curly blond locks and a big space between her two front teeth. A vigil was held outside her home with family, friends, and neighbors. Two days later, Dawn's body was found. She had been raped, strangled, and shot in the back with a shotgun. Police immediately arrested 28-year-old Donald Lee Maurer, an unemployed meat-cutter who lived next door to the girl.

"You didn't see a child outside," remembers Lynnette Guiffre, who was 19 when Hendershot was killed. "To think it happened that close to home -- and to think it was her neighbor. It was just horrific."

A year after Dawn's murder, 10-year-old Deborah Kaye Smith disappeared from Massillon's annual Sidewalk Festival. She and her brother David were getting a drink at a concession stand. When he turned to ask Deborah what she wanted, she had vanished. Her decomposed body was found on the banks of the Tuscarawas River a month and a half later. Her murder was later linked to Robert Buell, who was executed in 2002 for the 1982 kidnapping and murder of 11-year-old Krista Lea Harrison of Marshallville, but no one was ever charged with the crime.

Now, more than two decades later, the streets are empty again. "I don't want to let my kid outside unless I'm right there with him," says Anesta Pope, cradling a co-worker's newborn at Best Cuts, where she works. "I'm scared if I take my eyes off him, somebody's gonna come and get him. You're just afraid to leave your child alone for even a second."

Eleven-year-old Markus Daniels and his nine-year-old brother are walking to a friend's house when an older man pulls up next to them in a maroon car. He waves for Markus to get in. Markus stands and stares, afraid to move. The man drives up the street and does a U-turn, driving straight toward Markus. He and his brother take off running. The man drives away.

A week later, Heather Stout is sitting on the porch of her neglected house, watching her sons, ages six and three, play in the overgrown front yard. She notices the older boy glancing at something out of her view, but thinks nothing of it. Then he points to a gray-haired man in a maroon car parked next to the house.

"Mommy, that man's staring at me," he tells her. When Stout runs inside to call the police, the man speeds off, burning through a stop sign.

Calls pour into the police by the dozens to report seeing suspicious people who fit the suspect's description, driving slowly past schools or parked outside a house. At one point, Grizzard is getting between 15 and 20 calls a day. All turn up nothing.

"A lot of the time, when someone calls with a lead, the person isn't even doing anything suspicious," says Grizzard. "They just happen to have gray hair and glasses, and may be driving a red car. The only thing suspicious is that they look like the suspect."

Unable to respond to everybody, Grizzard holds a meeting with residents at the high school. Five hundred people show up. "The person we're looking for may be sitting in this audience," Grizzard tells the gathering, according to the Massillon Independent.

"I'm scared to death to even let my daughter go outside and play," says one woman.

Grizzard informs the anxious crowd that the police and schools are doing everything they can. Even maintenance workers are patrolling school grounds.

"We intend to shake the trees a little bit in the next couple of days," Grizzard assures them. "We are going to catch this guy."

A month and another round of abduction attempts later, he was less optimistic. "To be honest, we don't have one real lead that's promising at this point," he says. "We're pretty disappointed someone has not got at least a partial license plate."

Twenty-year-old Louis Ellison sits on the porch of his parents' Canton home. Down the street is an elementary school, no more than 200 feet away. Ellison, still wearing his Wendy's visor from work, got the same letter as Perrine, telling him that he had to move. He's buying a trailer in Massillon. His parents and sister gather around him. They do most of the talking.

Two years ago Ellison pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor. He was 18, dating a 13-year-old. He says he thought she was 16, but never asked.

It was a short-lived romance, lasting only two weeks. But soon after, the girl's parents read her diary and discovered that the two had had sex. They called police, and Ellison was thrown in jail. He was sentenced to 30 days and five years of probation, and made to register as a sexually oriented offender.

Ellison's friend Boomer shows up on the porch. They joke about the good-looking girls at Wendy's. To the State of Ohio, Ellison is a danger. As part of his probation, he's not even allowed to be alone with his baby niece.

"He's thrown in that same category with everyone else. They're all monsters," says his dad, Louis Sr.

Cases like Ellison's aren't unusual. Byron Fairclough, a Carroll County probation officer, sees many very young girls dating older guys. "It's not out of the ordinary," he says. "[These girls are] more aggressive when it comes to relations with young males."

Chryssa Hartnett, who supervises the Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Unit of the Stark County Prosecutor's Office, says that 20 percent of sex-related indictments brought in the county involve teenage defendants. But she has little sympathy for them. "The law does not allow a 13-year-old to consent," she says. "That's what the offenders, I think, have a difficult time getting past. They don't want to accept the responsibility that, as the adult, they have that responsibility of not having a child that young engage in that behavior."

Ellison is worried about not being able to pay his bills when he moves. His check from Wendy's amounts to just $300 a week. Between payments on his trailer, food, utilities, and court fines, it just doesn't add up.

"We're gonna do what we can for him," says Louis Sr. "We're gonna make sure he ain't gonna starve to death."

Prosecutor Ferrero says that while cases like Ellison's "might tug at your heartstrings," the overall effect of the law is positive. "When you're dealing with the life of a young person at such a volatile and vulnerable age, I think it's best to err on the side of caution," he says.

Grizzard hopes to catch the boogeyman before a child disappears, but he admits that police are waiting for the man to get sloppy. "The longer a person goes, they get very comfortable with what they're doing," he says. "Where they get caught is when they get too comfortable, and they start to relax."

When the attempts began, police staked out a likely suspect. He was a sex offender who matched the description and was seen peeping in a neighbor girl's window. But his alibi checked out.

Soon after, police arrested 46-year-old Dennis Haddox for stalking a 12-year-old Canton girl who used to ride the school bus he drove. Haddox had compiled a file on the girl. He sent her letters and CDs in the mail, and chatted with her online. Detectives baited Haddox online by pretending to be the girl and arranged a meeting between the two, where they arrested him. Grizzard thought they might have their man. He fit the physical description and drove a red car. But, once again, his alibi checked out.

Police weren't even sure if they were dealing with just one person. Beth McMasters, who has two teenage daughters, told police that several times a week, a man in a blue truck drives slowly past her house at the end of her wooded, dead-end street. Her daughters describe the man as old and wrinkly with long gray hair. Friends of the McMasters girls have seen the man driving past their homes too.

McMasters believes he may have followed her as she dropped the girls off after school.

In Norton, Stacey Smith walks out her front door to check on her five-year-old daughter, Nicole, who is playing in the front yard. She sees a dark blue sedan parked outside with its flashers on. An old man with white hair and glasses is waving for Nicole to come to the car. An older woman sits in the passenger seat. Stacey runs outside screaming. "They're trying to kidnap you," she yells. The man sees her and quickly speeds away, almost causing an accident.

A week later, in Springfield Township, seven-year-old Gage Barton is riding his bike when a bald man with a mustache pulls up next to him in a blue car and tells him to get in. When he doesn't, the man drives around him and tries to block his way. Gage screams and runs to a nearby house. The man drives away.

"There's more than this guy out there," says Lynnette Guiffre. "There's so many of them, it's frightening."

Grizzard says that police suspect the man may work at a used-car dealership, with access to a variety of vehicles. But the hunch doesn't get police any closer.

"If you consider every salesman on every car lot . . . it's just impossible to check out all those people," he says.

One day after his move-out deadline, Perrine gets a call from the prosecutor's office. After remeasuring the distance between his house and the school nearby, they've determined that he's safe by 22 feet. He gets to stay where he is. But others aren't so lucky.

Tad Sterling sits in the dusky living room of his house in southwest Canton, his hands grimy from doing home-renovation work all day. His fiancée, Melissa Shannon, sits across from him, still dressed in her flower-print hospital uniform. They look exhausted.

In two weeks, Sterling must move. The Christian school across the park from his house is less than 1,000 feet away.

Sterling says he was 18 when he had sex with his 13-year-old neighbor, Lisa Wallace. She claims it started when she was 10 and he was 16. They would sneak into the woods behind the trailer park where they lived and have sex. Now 25, with six kids, Wallace says she knew exactly what she was doing. "I could have said no, but I didn't," she says. "It's not like I wasn't in my right state of mind."

Their relationship was about more than just sex, says Wallace. "We just hung out and shared our feelings. Just somebody there to talk to."

When Wallace was 12, she missed her period. Her parents blew up when they found out that Sterling had gotten her pregnant. They reported him to the cops, and Sterling was charged with rape. He pleaded down to gross sexual imposition and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 5 years' probation.

Wallace says that Sterling wrote her letters from jail, telling her he loved her. "Me being that young, I didn't know how to respond to that," she says. "I didn't know to say it back." Now, 13 years later, Sterling and Wallace's son is a teenager, but Sterling has only seen him once. He's prohibited from having any contact with the kid. Wallace says that after all these years, she still has feelings for Sterling. She's never forgotten her first love.

Since his interview with Scene, Sterling has moved in with his boss in Beach City, a small community in Stark County. Shannon, her two kids from a previous marriage, and the couple's nine-month-old son are living with Shannon's sister in Massillon. They share one room.

Shannon is terrified of what will happen to her family. The couple's money is spread paper-thin. Some days they take off work because they have no money for gas.

She's applied for housing assistance, but hasn't heard back. "I'm worried about where we're going to go," she says. "I'm worried about the stability of our relationship." But she's also worried about her 11-year-old son, the only one old enough to know what's going on. "It's really hard on him," she says. "They've really just been uprooted."

Hoping to keep the boy near his friends, Sterling has submitted rental applications in their old neighborhood, but no landlord has called back. A sex-crime conviction does not make for a welcome tenant.

Finally, there is a break in the case. A 17-year-old girl is jogging in a wealthy area of Medina Township when a gray-haired older man in a blue Taurus pulls into a driveway in front of her, blocking her path. He gets out of the car, opens his trunk, and starts rummaging in it. As she jogs around him, he makes a remark to her about the cell phone on her hip.

"We can only speculate on what he was going to do," says Medina Township officer Laurie Ryba. "We believe that cell phone was probably the reason why nothing happened to her."

Although she didn't catch the license plate number, the girl is able to give police a detailed description of the man. The boogeyman finally has a face.

Calls instantly pour into Grizzard's office. But, once again, they produce nothing but dead ends. "This has all been from John Q. Public," says Grizzard, rattling off the kinds of tips he's received. "'My neighbor looks like the guy.' 'I saw a guy at the rec center that looks like the guy.' 'There was a guy driving down the street, and I thought he looked like the guy.'"

And the abduction attempts continue. On a recent Sunday afternoon, a seven-year-old Akron girl was riding her bike with her nine-year-old sister in Goodyear Heights. A short, thin man dressed in black walked out from the woods at the end of the street, knocked her off her bike, and started choking her with a plastic strap. He took off after her sister ran to get help.

Hours later, in Guilford Township in Medina County, two sisters, ages seven and five, are playing in their front yard when they are approached by a gray-haired man in a blue sedan, a snake tattoo on his arm. This time, the man, walking with a cane, gets out of his car and tries to grab the girls. He flees when they run to the backyard to get their father.

The suspect doesn't look anything like Todd Gill, but that won't change much. Kris says that the neighbor downstairs won't bring her kids over anymore. "If you're a sex offender, you're just trash," she says. On Gill's 30th day in jail, his mother went to visit him. She thought he'd be coming home with her. Instead, a secretary told her that Gill had been transferred to the Ohio State Penitentiary. Rohr has no idea why; Gill's public defender hasn't returned the family's calls in over a month. "I cannot believe this is happening," says Rohr. "He's not a murderer. He's not a rapist. He didn't molest any children. He had a girlfriend that was younger than him . . . And now he's sitting in the state penitentiary, eight years after the fact, because of a change of address."

When Gill finally gets out of prison, he'll go back to his normal routine: work, home, and maybe to the grocery store. He doesn't have friends, and he talks only to his family.

Meanwhile, the boogeyman lurks in maroon cars and bad dreams. And Massillon, for the second time, fears for its kids.

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