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Homicide count highest in decade

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“It’s not good, there’s blood everywhere.”

Riverstone Apartments maintenance supervisor Mark Whitis uttered those words to his boss immediately after finding the body of 26-year-old tenant Adaobi M. Obih lying face-up in a pool of blood in a bedroom at the rear of her third-floor apartment Nov. 19.

Obih, a Cummins engineer, became the sixth homicide victim of 2013 — a total unrivaled in Bartholomew County crime statistics during at least the past decade. The woman’s roommate, Ryan A. Klug, 36, has been charged with the crime and is being held in the Bartholomew County Jail awaiting trial for murder.

A review of previous crime statistics by the county prosecutor’s office over the past 10 years shows no more than two homicides in any other year in the Columbus area since at least 2004, highlighting the comparative horror of 2013 in normally idyllic Columbus.

This year’s gruesome trail of death also includes four people shot to death, found May 11 inside a rural home in Waynesville. Found dead at 2634 E. Main Cross St., were: Katheryn M. Burton, 53; Thomas W. Smith, 39; Aaron T. Cross, 41; and Shawn L. Burton, 40.

Samuel E. Sallee, 56, of Columbus, was arrested and charged with four counts of murder in connection with those deaths in mid-December.

One other 2013 death case, scheduled to go to trial Feb. 4, involves Jacob A. Tolbert, 25, of Elizabethtown. He has been accused in Bartholomew County Circuit Court of reckless homicide, failure to stop after an accident resulting in death and misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Tolbert was arrested April 28 after witnesses saw him run over another bar patron, Thomas L. “Tommy” Brazzell, 27, of Vallonia. Brazzell was killed about 1:45 a.m. that day outside Caddies Pub, 2761 Central Ave., following an argument with Tolbert, police have said.

A pub employee told police he saw Brazzell jump on the side of Tolbert’s pickup truck in the bar parking lot, fall off and then get run over as the truck backed up from between a pair of parked semitrailers.

The latest court records in that case list Tolbert’s next court date as a pretrial hearing at 11:15 a.m. Monday. Tolbert’s attorney, Eric Hayes of Columbus, has notified the court and the prosecutor’s office that his client may claim self-defense when the case goes to trial.

Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash declined to comment on any of the pending criminal cases, but said in his tenure in office two of the most brutal killings he can recall occurred in January 2006 and June 2007.

In the first instance, then 56-year-old Albert Boyd of Columbus beat his wife, Ruth, to death with a skillet on Jan. 31, 2006. He was later convicted of the murder and sentenced to 62 years in prison.

Nash said evidence showed Boyd continued to smash the skull of his wife with the skillet until the handle broke and the utensil was molded into the shape of “a three-cornered hat.”

On June 29, 2007, Demetrick D. Shepherd entered a Columbus apartment, apparently to steal a set of car keys, and found 14-year-old Chelsea Porter sleeping there.

Shepherd, 20 years old at the time, was accused of raping and murdering the teen.

He was put on trial in October that year, convicted by a 12-person jury and sentenced to a total of 90 years in prison for murder, rape as a Class B felony and burglary as a Class B felony. Evidence showed the young girl was stabbed numerous times after being chased around the apartment.

Meanwhile, this spring’s quadruple homicide in Waynesville sparked memories for many in law enforcement of another mass death scene in that same rural community in 1998. That’s when a Seymour woman and three children were slain and their bodies buried in shallow graves at the edge of the White River.

Found dead were Jamie Engleking, 20, her two young children; and a 12-year-old family friend. Suspect Robert J. Bassett Jr., now 51 years old, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to four life sentences.

Criminal experts are hesitant to try to place a single cause on why violent crime occurs in smaller communities. One study by the National Rural Crime Prevention Center at Ohio State University suggested social factors, including ease of transportation bringing big city problems to smaller communities miles away might play a role.

“An underlying cause of violence, delinquency, drug use, and the emergence of gangs in rural areas has potentially weakened influence of the family, schools, and churches on values and behavior,” the study said.

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