Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Blood Brothers: Gary and Thaddeus Lewingdon

Aftermath

Weapons and items found after arrest
Weapons and items found after arrest

Following the brothers' arrest, investigators looked for similarities between an unsolved homicide of an elderly man and the murders the brothers were accused of committing. John Vodhanel, 63, had been shot 14 times with two .22-caliber pistols at his rural Mahoning County, Ohio, home a year earlier. The house had been ransacked after the murder and Vodhanel's dog had been killed. The method was similar to the Jenkin T. Jones murder, but in the end detectives were unable to determine if the killings were related.

Although the John Vodhanel case could not be connected, the evidence stacked against the Lewingdon brothers for the other murders proved to be too much. Prosecutors had the murder weapon, confessions and several stolen articles which had been recovered from their respective homes.

Trial of Thaddeus, sketch (Chief Martin)
Trial of Thaddeus, sketch (Chief Martin)

Thaddeus faced two trials for a total of nine murders. On February 19, 1979, he was convicted of the Vermillion, Dodrill and Jones homicides, for which he received three life terms. A month later, on March 26, he was convicted of the McCann/Martin murders, and was sentenced to six life terms. Brother Gary went to trial for all 10 homicides on May 14, 1979, and 12 days later was convicted of eight counts, the jury failing to reach a verdict on two of them. His sentence was fixed at eight consecutive life terms, plus a $45,000 fine. Following his trial, Gary became psychotic and was transferred to the state hospital for the criminally insane.

Franklin County Hall of Justice (David Lohr)
Franklin County Hall of Justice (David Lohr)

After their initial confession to investigators, neither brother would speak of their crimes in such detail again. It is unclear as to what their exact motive was, but there is no shortage of explanations. Some investigators felt that burglary was the prime motive, while others felt the murders were drug related. Most likely, the thefts were an added bonus. If burglary was the prime motive, why did they need to kill, and why was each murder such a brutal overkill? While we may never know the answers to those questions, we do know that during the 1970s, Gary and Thaddeus Lewingdon were two of the most brutal tag-team killers in the United States.

Some years after the .22-caliber killings had been solved, Claudia Yasko explained to investigators why she had implicated herself and two others in the murders of Joyce Vermilion and Karen Dodrill. According to her own account, she had overheard her boyfriend and Gary Lewingdon discussing the murders and on the night of the shootings was persuaded by her boyfriend to go with one of his associates to the scene of the murder to search for drugs. Claudia was a known schizophrenic and undergoing treatment. This, in conjunction with her strong recollection of the murder scene, convinced her that she must have been responsible. Gary and Thaddeus refused to comment on her explanation, so one can only speculate about what actually took place.

Gary Lewingdon prison photo
Gary Lewingdon
prison photo

In March 1982, Gary Lewingdon was apprehended while trying to escape from the Lima State Hospital for the criminally insane. Apparently Gary and another inmate had sawed through the bars on their cell window and climbed down into an adjacent courtyard. Nonetheless, the escape was thwarted when a guard noticed the two were missing during a routine bed check, and they were captured within 20 minutes of their initial escape. In yet another strange twist, on February 3, 1983, Gary Lewingdon petitioned a Hamilton County court for permission to commit suicide. His request was not granted.

Weapons hang in case at the Columbus Police Station (Richard Vann)
Weapons hang in case at the Columbus
Police Station (Richard Vann)

On April 17, 1989, 52-year-old Thaddeus Lewingdon died of lung cancer. Gary Lewingdon was eventually transferred out of Lima State Hospital and remains incarcerated at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville. The .22-caliber weapons, which had been used in the murders, were disarmed and now hang on a wall at the Columbus Police Station as a permanent reminder of the crimes. Daniel Marion Hunt, the Columbus prosecutor who faced the Lewingdon brothers in court, began writing a book about the case during the late 1990s, but was never able to finish it before he died of cancer in 1999. The book he was writing was to be titled "Blood Brothers."

Gary Lewingdon became eligible for parole in 1998. Prior to the hearing, scheduled by the Parole Board on October 26th, 1998, there was a large push by the local population and the Prosecutor's office to recommend denial of parole. There were many letters written and signed petitions sent to the Parole Board urging that Lewingdon never be released. There was a fear that Lewingdon, if released, would definitely kill again. Some called in to the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office, but wished to remain anonymous for fear of possible retaliation. All of the information was collected, and then sent to the Parole Board by Ron O'Brien, from the Prosecutor's Office. In the end, Gary Lewingdon was denied parole; his next scheduled hearing would have beeen in 2008.

A stack of recommendations for denial of parole to Gary Lewingdon
A stack of recommendations for denial
of parole to Gary Lewingdon

Among the overwhelming requests for denial of parole for Gary Lewingdon, there were many strong words. From the US District Court, Southern Ohio: "...it is with deep conviction and concern and the belief that Gary Lewingdon would kill again, that I urge the Ohio Parole Board to deny his release. He should never, never be set free." From Ron O'Brien, Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney: "...a number of interested citizens ... have contacted this office to support the opposition to parole. ...Enclosed are original petitions with over 800 signatures that urge the Parole Board not to release (Gary) Lewingdon from the penitentiary." Perhaps the most forceful recommendation came from Judge Alan C. Travis, Court of Common Pleas: "...This inmate should never be granted parole. He ambushed and killed innocent people in three counties. He is one of the worst killers in Ohio history. He should have been executed as he executed his victims. If this inmate ever leaves the confines of the Ohio penal system, it should only be in a box, bound for a graveyard."

And so Gary Lewingdon did leave the confines of the Ohio penal system in a box in October of 2004 after dying of heart failure. NBC 4 in Columbus reported that "when Gary Lewingdon died at the prison's medical center, no one in his family wanted to claim the body, Nancy Burton reported. He was buried two weeks ago at the prison in Mansfield. Gary Lewingdon would have been eligible for parole in October 2008."

 

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