There are some things that are entirely inexplicable. People regularly hurt or even kill each other over seemingly arbitrary arguments, or simply because they feel that they can. But there are some crimes that take it a step further – plots that are lifted from the depths of disturbed, disordered minds.
Mental illness doesn’t make you a killer, but killers that are mentally ill tend to commit some of the most unexplainable crimes.
The murders that Matthew Hoffman committed in Mount Vernon, Ohio on November 10, 2010 definitely fall into this category. He broke into the house of Tina Herrmann after watching her all night – when Tina and her friend, Stephanie Sprang, came back, he killed them both and dismembered their bodies.
When Tina’s two children returned home, the horrors continued.
On the evening of November 9th, 2010, Matthew Hoffman set himself up in a sleeping bag in the woods across from the home of 32-year old Tina Herrmann and her two children, Kody and Sarah Maynard, who were 11 and 13, respectively.
Sometime after 9am the next morning, Hoffman saw Tina Herrmann leave to take her kids to school. He sneaked into the house through their overhead garage door, which hadn’t closed entirely. According to his confession, he only ever intended to rob the house, but he was surprised when Herrmann returned with her friend, Stephanie Sprang, when he had only been in the house for an hour.
Despite his claims of having no plans to kill anyone, he did bring a knife with him to the house. it was described in police files as a serrated “jungle primitive” knife that he’d bought online.
He said he felt cornered, so he stabbed them both and began dismembering – or processing, as he put it – their bodies in the bathtub. He was still in the process of doing this when the kids came home from school.
Sarah ran up to her room. He then, stabbed Kody just feet from the front door. He tied the girl up with a cord he’d taken from a fan and left her in the kitchen. It’s assumed that she never saw the rest of the house, which police said looked like a scene from a horror movie.
He then dismembered her brother and loaded the body parts and his hostage into Sprang’s Jeep Cherokee.
House of Leaves
Hoffman took Sarah back to his home, tied her hands and feet with rope and duct tape and left her on a makeshift bed of leaves in his basement.
He left her alone there for a while as he took the body parts of his other three victims to the Kokosing Wildlife Area near Fredericktown, Ohio. He used a rig-and-pulley system to climb to the top of a 60ft tall hollow tree and place the parts inside. He returned to the house, where his captive still sat.
According to Hoffman’s confession, he was tender to Sarah while he kept her captive. He said he gave her Treasure Island to pass the time, watched Iron Man and played Wii games with her, cooked her hamburgers, and, horrifyingly, slept with his arm around her.
He also admitted to raping her at least once.
Meanwhile, police were on his trail. Tina Herrmann’s boss had raised the alarm after going to her house and seeing the blood. They first encountered Hoffman on a bike trail near Kenyon College, where they’d discovered Tina’s pickup truck.
Hoffman said that he intended to retrieve the truck and take it back to the Herrmann residence before burning the house down. Police questioned him, but he told them he was waiting for his girlfriend to get off work at the nearby Kenyon Inn and they let him go.
It wasn’t until police found a Wal-Mart bag containing two tarps and a box of heavy duty 55-gallon trash bags at the murder scene that they began putting the clues together. They went to the store and found the man who had purchased the items on surveillance. One of the deputies saw what he drove and recognized him as the man they had spoken to a few nights before, near Kenyon College.
Footprint analysis at the crime scene indicated that the killer had most likely taken Sarah alive from the house, so time was of the essence in apprehending Hoffman.
On November 14, just four days after the murder, police raided his home, catching him asleep on his couch.
The house was filled to the brim with leaves – the bathroom was lined with over 100 bags of them. Some of the piles were so high that police feared that the bodies were hidden underneath them, but they found nothing.
When police did a more detailed search, they found that, bizarrely, the freezer contained only two dead squirrels.
They found that the basement door had been barricaded with a sewing cabinet – when they entered the room, they found Sarah alive, lying bound on her bed of leaves while wearing what reports described as a “white plastic bag that had holes cut out for her legs that she was wearing like a makeshift diaper.”
The girl also told police that the “suspect cut her finger with a knife, usually gagged her, and that he was going to release her before Christmas.” Hoffman said that he’d made the bed out of leaves and that she “liked the bed, it was extremely comfy and I wanted to sleep on it.”
Unaware that Hoffman had killed her mother and brother, the girl told investigators that she was worried Hoffman had killed her dog. Hoffman later admitted that he did indeed kill the dog because it wouldn’t stop barking at him.
Documents released after the court case revealed that police had hours of taped conversation, during which Hoffman says nearly nothing. He later said that a nightmare prompted him to confess.
He described a dream to an investigator where he was in a food processing plant. He opened a trash bag and saw the body parts inside, which made him develop a knot in his stomach and made memories of the murders came flooding back.
He asked the same investigator to let him write the location of the bodies on a piece of paper before shooting him in a faked escape attempt.
When the police would not agree with this demand, he shut down for another two days before finally giving them the location of the bodies.
On January 6, 2011, he pleaded guilty to 10 separate felony charges, including aggravated murder and rape. He was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Sarah was reunited with her father, Larry Maynard, who was also the father of Kody. He has read the confession and does not believe that Hoffman took care of her – he believes that the narrative is self-serving and an attempt to continue to control the situation from behind bars.
He also says that his daughter has returned to school and is working with a therapist to hopefully overcome this trauma.