SWAT officers who raided the Mount Vernon home of Matthew Hoffman on Nov. 14 found leaves piled 3 feet high on the living room floor, The Columbus Dispatch reported Wednesday, citing detectives' notes and other documents in the case file obtained through a public-records request.
After Hoffman was taken away in handcuffs, detectives moved a cabinet from in front of a basement door and went down to find a kidnapped 13-year-old girl bound with yellow rope and duct tape, lying on a bed made of leaves.
The girl, who had been captive for nearly four days, told the officers who rescued her on that Sunday morning that she was late for school and asked if they could take her there, according to police reports reviewed by The Associated Press. She was taken to a hospital.
Back upstairs, they discovered bagged leaves hanging in three floor-to-ceiling rows on a living room wall, and a bathroom crammed with more than 110 bags of leaves attached to the walls, the Dispatch reported. The bags covered the mirror and the wall behind the toilet.
The kitchen freezer held little more than two squirrels and red flavored ice, according to the records.
Officers returned to the pile of leaves in the living room, poking around with a pole to see if anything was underneath.
"So much runs through your mind: What if someone is hiding under that pile?" the Dispatch quoted Mount Vernon police detective Craig Feeney as saying. "Or in this case, I thought, 'Is that where he's hiding the bodies?'"
No bodies turned up in the house. Four days later, using information provided by Hoffman through his attorneys, authorities found the dismembered remains of Tina Herrmann, her 11-year-old son Kody Maynard, and her friend Stephanie Sprang in garbage bags stuffed into the tree. In court and in his newly released confession, Hoffman portrayed the killings as the result of a burglary gone wrong at Herrmann's home.
He pleaded guilty last month in the three deaths, and to kidnapping and raping the girl.
Police tracked him by linking trash bags found at Hermann's home, where she and the others were killed, to Hoffman through surveillance camera footage from a Wal-Mart. The video shows Hoffman buying trash bags, a tarp, a sandwich and a Halloween shirt, which he told detectives was "only $1 . an impulse purchase," according to notes from an interview with Hoffman.
Reports show that, when Hoffman was first arrested, he would not talk to police, shed tears at times and once motioned that he had a broken heart.
Prior to his confession, he had tried to make a deal with a state investigator to write down the location of the bodies on a legal document to be revealed after he died, a police report shows. He asked the investigator to take him on a drive so he could try to escape and have the agent shoot and kill him because he could not live with what he had done and did not want to spend his life in prison on anti-psychotic medication.
Hoffman had said that he had a dream about being at a food processing plant, opening a trash bag and seeing cut up body parts, "and he got a knot in his stomach and it all came back to him. He said he remembered what he had done," the report says.
Neighbors had said Hoffman often collected leaves on walks through a park near his home in Mount Vernon, a central Ohio community about 40 miles north of Columbus. Detective Feeney said the way the leaves were arranged in the home suggested Hoffman may have been planning to burn it down, with the leaves as fuel for the fire.
A friend and co-worker of Herrmann, Valerie Haythorn, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the leaves obviously raise questions about Hoffman's mental state.
"He probably would have been better with a cabin in the woods somewhere than living in the middle of town," Haythorn said.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com