Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Blood Brothers: Gary and Thaddeus Lewingdon

The .22-Caliber Killings

Downtown Columbus, Ohio (David Lohr)
Downtown Columbus, Ohio (David Lohr)

During the late 1970s, the city of Columbus, Ohio and outlying areas were plagued by a series of indiscriminate and brutal murders, which claimed the lives of 10 people. During that time, the average annual murder rate for Columbus was 7.6 murders for every 100,000 people, an all-time high, which made the work of investigators all the more difficult. In addition to the rash of homicides, initial "linkage blindness" (the inability of the police to link the cases together), false confessions and single-suspect theories all hindered the efforts of investigators.

The ".22-caliber killings," as they would later be dubbed by the media, began on December 10, 1977, with the murders of two women at Forkers Cafe in Newark, Ohio, in Licking County, some distance outside the city of Columbus. The victims, 37-year-old Joyce Vermilion and 33-year-old Karen Dodrill, had been shot multiple times as they walked out the rear door of the cafe, shortly after its closing at 2:30 a.m.

Forkers Cafe, front (left) and rear views (David Lohr)
Forkers Cafe, front (left) and rear views
(David Lohr)

When Vermillion failed to return home from work, her husband notified the police, who then made the discovery shortly after 8 a.m. The victims' bodies were found frozen in a snow bank and several shell casings from a .22-caliber gun littered the scene. Police were initially stymied in their search for the killer, but within weeks they got a break when a 26-year-old go-go dancer, Claudia Yasko, walked into a local police station and announced that she'd been with two men when they committed the murders. So convincing was her description of the crime scene that Yasko was arrested and charged with the killings. Later, the two men she implicated, her boyfriend and an associate of his, were also arrested and charged. Case closed — or so they thought.

Franklin County police station (David Lohr)
Franklin County police station
(David Lohr)

It was nearly two months before the killers struck again. On February 12, 1978, 52-year-old Robert "Mickey" McCann; his mother, 77-year-old Dorothy Marie McCann; and Richard McCann's girlfriend, 26-year-old Christine Herdman, were found dead in McCann's house at 4187 Ongaro Drive, a semi-rural area just outside the city of Columbus, in Franklin County. The scene was grim enough to make the most hardened of detectives queasy. Herdman had been shot in her right cheek, right shoulder, and twice in her forehead; Dorothy McCann suffered multiple bullet wounds to her mouth, head and right leg; and Mickey. Richard McCann had been shot twice in the forehead, once in the mouth, twice in the back of the head, and once in his right leg. Shell casings from a 22-caliber gun were found at the crime scene. The telephone lines had been cut. Investigators had no clear motive and not a single suspect to pursue. 

.22-caliber Luger pistol & description (Richard Vann)
.22-caliber Luger pistol & description
(Richard Vann)

The sixth murder took place on April 8, 1978, with the shooting of 77-year-old Jenkin T. Jones. Gunned down in his rural home, just outside of Granville, Ohio, Jones had been shot a total of six times, twice to the head. It was later discovered that all four of the victim's dogs had been killed as well. As with the previous murders, .22-caliber casings were discovered at the crime scene. The scene had now shifted back to the Newark, Ohio area. Granville, the home of the prestigious Dennison University, was just outside of Newark.

 

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