A man missing since Nov. 13 answered a Craigslist help-wanted ad that police say was actually a deadly scheme to lure people to a nonexistent farm job so they could be robbed, his family said.
Timothy Kern's father called the outlook "pretty grim" and Kern's son said his father had been murdered. The missing man, who would be the scheme's third known victim, had called the job offer "strange" in a Facebook post.
Two people are in custody, but law enforcement officials have released few details because of a gag order.
Kern was promised $300 a week, a trailer and a truck for the job near Caldwell in southern Ohio, his father, Jack Kern, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. He said his son was excited about the job because of the chance of bettering his life.
In a Facebook post on Nov. 10, Tim Kern wrote: "Just got one of the strangest job offers. A good offer but strange. The job is to watch over 680 acres south of cambridge. Odd jobs and such but mainly just secure it. Trailer, utilities, salary. Drawbacks? No cell phone service, kids are up here, and i have to move this sunday."
Jack Kern, of Massillon, said his son was rarely out of touch and often texted and called family members.
"We're holding hope, but pretty grim, I think," he said.
One man who replied to a similar ad was found dead in Noble County last week. Another said he escaped after being shot on Nov. 6.
Before a judge issued a gag order, the Noble County sheriff said it was unclear how long the ad had been online or whether there were other victims.
Timothy Kern, 47, divorced and the father of three sons, worked most recently cleaning gas station driveways, his father said.
He said his son apparently answered the Craigslist ad on Oct. 30 and interviewed for the job with a man in an Akron restaurant on Nov. 9. His son left his car with a friend in Akron on Nov. 13 and was driven to what he was told was the job site.
Timothy Kern told family members the job involved running a 600-acre farm in Noble County.
The man who escaped Nov. 6 gave police a similar account of a farm job, saying he was going to build fences.
Neighbors near the property where the man escaped said there is no such farm. Instead, the area is a former strip mine owned by a coal company that rents the land to hunters.
Timothy Kern said he was told there would be no cellphone or Internet service where he was going but he could call when driven to nearby Cambridge, his father said.
Timothy Kern was a big baseball fan who liked spending time with his sons, his father said.
"He would have called, definitely," Jack Kern said. "That's why my daughter-in-law called the sheriff, and got the FBI involved."
One of Kern's sons, Zack, wrote on his own website: "My father answered to an ad on Craigslist about a job opportunity involving a 688 acre farm and housing in a 2 bedroom trailer. No one knows the exact date he was murdered but it was sometime between Sunday the 13th and Thursday the 17th. The case is still under investigation. If you could keep my family and I in your thoughts I would appreciate it. The years ahead of me will be so hard. I love you dad. Rest in peace."
The FBI on Tuesday had said Kern's disappearance might be linked to the farm-job robbery scheme. A spokesman for the FBI's Cleveland office wouldn't confirm it was a Craigslist ad or the type of job Kern was seeking.
"We have concerns that there might be a relationship of the case that is unfolding down south," Scott Wilson said.
Noble County residents who live near the property said Tuesday they hadn't seen any police or search parties recently.
Before the gag order was imposed, Sheriff Stephen Hannum said that a man from South Carolina who answered the ad was taken Nov. 6 to the desolate area, where he managed to deflect a gun cocked at the back of his head and ran. Wounded in the arm, he hid in the woods for hours, then showed up covered in blood at the first well-lighted place he could see, a farmhouse outside Caldwell, about 80 miles east of Columbus.
Last week, cadaver dogs were brought in, and authorities found one hand-dug grave they believe was intended for the South Carolina man and a second grave that held the body of a Florida man. Investigators have not disclosed the cause of the Florida man's death.
The Akron Beacon Journal identified the suspects as a 52-year-old man from Akron, about 90 miles away, and a high school student from the Akron area. The teenager was charged Friday with attempted murder. While his name appears in court documents, The Associated Press generally does not report the names of minors charged with crimes.
No charges were immediately brought against the man, who remained in Summit County Jail on Tuesday on unrelated charges.
A few days after the South Carolina man went to the police, authorities received a call from the Florida man's sister, concerned that her brother had not been heard from for weeks. The sister said her brother had responded to what she believed was the same Craigslist ad.