Apple Valley, Ohio has such a wholesome name it seems like nothing bad could happen there. But it did.
On November 10, 2010, the community was unsettled by a call to 911. The manager at a local Dairy Queen called because an employee, Tina Herrmann, 32, hadn’t come to work.
That was totally out of character for the single mother of two children, Sarah, 13, and Kody, 11.
A deputy went to the residence for a welfare check and from outside the home, they found nothing amiss. But the next morning, the boyfriend of Stephanie Sprang, a 41-year-old friend of Tina’s, called to say she was missing.
“Tina was planning on moving out from her boyfriend Greg’s house,” said Dan Winterich, a retired special agent with the Ohio BCI, adding that Stephanie was going to help her do that on the afternoon of November 10.
Authorities then learned that Tina’s two kids, who’d been dropped off from school by bus on Tuesday, were not in school on Wednesday.
On the morning of November 11, authorities got a second call from the Dairy Queen manager. This time it was from inside Tina’s home. “There’s blood everywhere,” she said.
Inside the house, investigators found three distinct areas where blood pooled, along with drag marks and spatter in the living room and two bedrooms.
“We didn’t see any evidence that gunshots had been fired, so we were leaning towards blunt force trauma or sharp force trauma,” Winterich told producers.
Drag marks converged in the bathroom, where the tub was covered in blood. Tissue was also found. A mark on the shower curtain showed that at one point, blood in the tub was two inches deep.
All those things indicated that victims had been dismembered in the bathtub, according to investigators. They considered that all four of the missing individuals could be dead.
But there were two sets of shoe prints on the bloody floor. A box for shoes matching prints that would have been left were found in Sarah’s bedroom closet.
Was Sarah alive? Was she involved? Had she been taken captive? Investigators firmly believed the latter was the more likely answer. Time was of the essence to find the 13-year-old girl.
A search of the Herrmann home for clues turned up a receipt in grocery bags on the kitchen floor that was time stamped around 12 p.m. on Wednesday. It appeared that Tina was interrupted in her home before she would have left for her 4 p.m. work shift.
On Friday evening, officials questioned Borders, who admitted that he and Tina had an on-off relationship. He also stated that there were never any violent altercations and that he was working on Wednesday afternoon between noon and 4 p.m.
Investigators confirmed that the alibi was “rock solid” and cleared him as a suspect, they told “Twisted Killers.” They believed that a stranger was behind the crime and looked for physical evidence at the scene to point them toward the assailant.
Sheriffs focused on garbage bags and tarps in a Walmart bag found in Tina’s garage. Had they been purchased by the killer? They turned to the local Walmart, where they found that an individual purchased tarps and garbage bags just after midnight on Wednesday.
Store surveillance footage showed the purchase was made by an adult male who appeared to be in no hurry and didn’t need to search for the right aisle. “He seems to know this Walmart, which means he probably lives in the area,” explained former NYC prosecutor Beth Karas.
Using the store’s security footage in the parking lot, detectives were able to identify the man using vehicle registrations and surveillance video.
His name: Matthew Hoffman. He was an out-of-work tree-trimmer, reported nbcnews.com, who lived less than half a mile from the crime scene. His rap sheet included burglary in Colorado.
With Sarah’s safety in question, investigators rushed to obtain a “no knock search warrant,” they said. Just after daybreak on November 15, a SWAT team burst into Hoffman’s home and apprehended him.
Inside the house, investigators found a massive pile of leaves deep enough to conceal a body. A search of the leaves turned up nothing.
The team then searched the basement, where they found Sarah bound and gagged upon another pile of leaves.
Detectives processed the crime scene. They recovered a black jack club, a heavy duty knife that could have been used to dismember victims, and leaves scattered all over the house. Some were loose, others were in bags.
“This would not be the first individual who had a sexual attraction or affiliation to trees,” said Dr. Kate Termini, a forensic psychologist. The term for this, she added, is dendrophilia.
Investigators interviewed Sarah. She said she and Kody came home from school and she saw blood on the floor. She yelled for her mother and then the siblings were ambushed by a stranger. She ran and locked herself in another room, but he broke through the door and held a knife at her chest. He blindfolded her and tied her hands.
“He told me that if I started screaming that he was going to kill me,” Sarah told producers. He brought her to his home and put her up on a bed of leaves in the basement. He later sexually assaulted her.
In custody at the Sheriff’s Department, Hoffman at first refused to speak. On November 18, a deal was struck. The death penalty was taken off the table if Hoffman revealed where they’d find the bodies of Tina, Kody, and Stephanie .
Hoffman claimed that the murders were a burglary that went wrong. He had surveilled Tina’s house days before the murder to know her comings and goings. He slipped inside and was robbing her when she came home, so he killed her. Then Stephanie, who’d arrived to help her friend move. Then Kody.
He dismembered the three victims, bagged their body parts, and hid them away in a hollow tree in a wildlife area.
Authorities were able to recover the remains. “Matthew often wanted pictures to show that we had not destroyed the tree,” investigators said.
“This tree represented his sacred burial ground,” explained retired LAPD investigator Tracey Benjamin.
Hoffman, 30, faced a total of 10 counts, including aggravated murder, gross abuse of a corpse, burglary, kidnapping, and rape, reported cbsnews.com. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.