Sunday, May 16, 1999

Murder suspect busy, elusive

Osterbrock family express frustration

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In the two days since the slaying of businessman Jim Osterbrock, police say, the suspect in the case has been a busy man.

        They say Lance Love, 32, stole Mr. Osterbrock's GMC Yukon truck and a firearm from his Prospect Hill house, tried to withdraw cash from the 52-year-old man's bank account and may have spent Thursday night at a Clermont County Holiday Inn.

        He led a uniformed Union Township, Clermont County, police officer on a half-mile chase down Eastgate Boulevard Friday morning and escaped into woods near Calvin Aicholtz's farm.

        More than two dozen police officers from several jurisdictions searched for nearly six hours, to no avail.

        Mr. Osterbrock's relatives say they are frustrated by the escape.

        “I don't understand how they could not get him,” said Mr. Osterbrock's sister, Janet Valerius of Montgomery. “My impression is that they knew that was my brother's car (located Friday in an Eastgate Best Buy parking lot) and they had police there watching it. How the man could come out and drive away, I have no idea.”

        Now, police said, Mr. Love — who is also known as Sequoia Johanson — could be almost anywhere.

        “He gets around,” said Cincinnati Police Sgt. John Newsom of the violent crimes unit.

        Mr. Love is “well-known in downtown Cincinnati” as well as in Clermont County, St. Bernard and the Over-the-Rhine and Northside neighborhoods, Sgt. Newsom said. He declined to elaborate.

        Police would not say whether Mr. Love was known to Mr. Osterbrock.

        They want to question him in the homicide case, and Sgt. Newsom said he is wanted on related charges of domestic violence, theft of a firearm and receiving stolen property — Mr. Osterbrock's SUV. Mr. Love has a criminal record, but police declined to discuss it.

        Mr. Osterbrock's relatives said they had never heard of Mr. Love.

        Mr. Osterbrock, vice president and general manager of packaging at Covington-based Xpedx paper distribution company, was found dead in the subbasement of his Liberty Hill home Thursday afternoon. An autopsy has been completed, but authorities have not released the cause of death, although they said he did not appear to have been shot or stabbed.

        Scores of valuable antiques, and tickets for a missed business trip, lay untouched around Mr. Osterbrock's fancifully decorated four-story historic house.

        Mr. Osterbrock's cousin, Greg Utter of Deerfield Township, went inside Saturday to fetch a picture and a burial outfit and said the only noticeable changes were smudges of black dust that police had used to check for fingerprints.

        “I think everyone's still pretty much in a state of shock,” said Joe Valerius, Janet's husband. “We've had a lot of family support, but it's real hard.”

        Family members say they are get ting most of their information about the case from media accounts, because police are saying little.

        “They mention they have a lead here or there, but they haven't told us anything,” Mrs. Valerius said. “There's nobody more baffled than I am. I would like some information — but it's nothing against (the police). They've been very cooperative.”

        Police got a break at 9:30 a.m. Friday when a painter at the Eastgate Holiday Inn called to report a man resembling Mr. Love emerging from Mr. Osterbrock's SUV. He ran in and out of the hotel — possibly to check out after a Thursday night stay — and drove off before a Union Township squad car arrived, police say.

        Two marked police cars cruised local business parking lots and one uniformed officer found the empty SUV parked at Best Buy.

        “It all just went down too quick, before anyone else could arrive,” said Union Township Police Lt. Terry Zinser.

        The suspect spotted the officer and drove off before plainclothes detectives in unmarked cars could arrive. The squad car pursued it and followed it down a gravel lane to the Aicholtz farm, but caught up only after the suspect had crashed the SUV and fled.

        “He was probably a pretty fast runner and there was just one officer behind him,” said Clermont County Sheriff A.J. “Tim” Rodenberg, whose force joined the subsequent manhunt.

        “That's always a judgment call and you don't want to second-guess an officer. ... You might wait for backup in a perfect world, but there's always a chance that by the time backup arrives, the suspect could get away.”

        Three Hamilton County police helicopters, two search dogs and more than two dozen officers looked until the operation was called off around 3:30 p.m.

        Cincinnati homicide police, leading the investigation, continued to hunt down clues Saturday.

        Mr. Love is white, 5-foot-10, 170 pounds and muscular with tattoos on both arms. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 352-3040.

        Mr. Osterbrock's family gathered at the Valerius home Saturday to plan the funeral and hope for justice.

        “He was a very successful businessman. ... He had no enemies,” Mrs. Valerius said.

        Her brother was born in Norwood and graduated in 1965 from Purcell High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Cincinnati — knowledge he used mainly in the renovation of his home — and went to work in the paper business.

        He is also survived by his mother, Betty Osterbrock of Montgomery; another sister, Carol Knorr Hewitt of Detroit; three nieces; and a nephew.

        Visitation will be Monday at Good Shepherd Church, 8815 E. Kemper Road, 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Mass follows, then burial at Gate of Heaven cemetery, 11000 Montgomery Road.

        Memorials may be made to the FreeStore/FoodBank, 112 E. Liberty St., Cincinnati 45210; or the National Trust for Historic Preservation, (202) 588-6016.

        Mrs. Valerius said she will miss her brother's aid and his vision.

        “He always used to build houses out of those little bricks we had when we were little. He would build mansions even then,” she said. As an adult, “he would look at an empty space and tell you what to do with it and then he would do it. He had an eye for things that other people didn't see.”

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