BUCYRUS, Ohio (AP) — A man who killed four others during a cocaine binge told investigators that two people knew about several of the slayings before the last one but apparently didn't notify authorities before he walked into a police station and confessed, according to newly released video of his two police interviews.
Donald Hoffman, 41, is serving life in prison after pleading guilty to the murders that stunned the small city of Bucyrus last fall. His own words to police offered some explanation — a combination of drugs, money and anger during a dayslong binge — and described a brutal killer, though he also pointed out that on his way to turn himself in, he left the cash in his pocket for a poor neighbor.
Hoffman told investigators he'd mentioned some of the slayings to a woman who was getting high with him and another drug user who visited the house. He said he couldn't say whether they believed him, comprehended or cared.
Hoffman said once, when he returned covered in blood, the guy asked how many people he'd killed, and his reply was something like, "Three, so far."
Bucyrus police and the Crawford County prosecutor said Friday that no one but Hoffman was charged because others didn't participate in the killings, and there was no corroborated evidence that they had knowledge that would have prevented a death. The acquaintances Hoffman mentioned were among several dozen people interviewed, but those records haven't been released.
Authorities identified the victims as Billy Jack Chatman, 55; Freelin Hensley, 67; Darrell Lewis, 65; and Jerald Smith, 65, whose relatives said he sometimes spelled his first name Gerald. Prosecutor Matthew Crall said Hoffman's interview videos would be available to the victims' relatives, though none had viewed them by midday Friday.
Hoffman's descriptions of the killings were graphic and matter of fact, punctuated in the later interview by occasional shrugs and chuckles that he said were meant to save his sanity.
"Don't think ... that I think any of this is funny," he said. "I'm just trying to get through it without crying."
He was fuzzy about the timeline of his crimes but claimed clarity on details: He strangled Smith, his roommate, with an electric cord, shattered a beer bottle on his head for good measure and later put him in bed and covered him up. He went to Chatman's house to smoke crack cocaine and drink — not to kill him — but bashed his friend's head on a counter and grabbed another cord when they got into a fight over a woman. Lewis owed him money and ended up paying with his life in a matter of minutes, Hoffman said.
"He sat down in his chair, and I unlaced my shoe, took my shoestring, come right up behind him, (wrapped) it around his throat, yanked him out of his chair," Hoffman said.
Finally, he biked to Hensley's at daybreak to settle an old score. He grabbed a skillet and whacked Hensley, who struggled, and then stomped on his throat.
Hoffman called the first slaying a mistake and said after that, he felt he had nothing to lose because he'd be put to death. In each case, he said he took an ATM or debit card, cash or drugs.
"I'm building you guys a pretty strong case," he told police. "You ain't gonna have to do too much work, are you?"
He said he thought of other targets, but he got tired biking around town between killings and drug purchases. Had he stolen Hensley's vehicle as he briefly considered, he told police, "you guys would've been up for a whole different ballgame ... 'cause I wasn't done."
But he was. Going to turn himself in, he said, he took the $26 in his pocket and tucked it into a half-carton of cigarettes, then put it on a step for his neighbor, a mother hurting for cash. He said he figured he didn't need it, so he left a note: "Take Richie, get some ice cream."