Monday, July 29, 2002

Professor's slaying has neighbors in shock

Community mourns loss of housing redeveloper

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nathan and Virginia Taylor, of Hamilton, pray at the corner of 10th St. and Campbell Ave. where Sherry Lee Corbett was shot to death.
(Steven M. Herppich photos)
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        HAMILTON - Witnesses say Tonda Lynn Ansley walked up to her landlord and former employer who was chatting with a neighbor Saturday, shot her point-blank three times and calmly walked away, returning moments later to pump two more bullets into the community activist as she lay bleeding on the street.

        “She was smiling when she shot her,” said

        Brandi Caudill, another tenant, who witnessed the shooting of Sherry Lee Corbett. “I think it was revenge of some sort by the way she looked.”

        But the motive for the daytime shooting of the well-known Miami University professor in front of numerous witnesses - including children - in Hamilton's Dayton Lane Historic District remained unclear Sunday, and those who knew Ms. Ansley were perplexed by her alleged violence.

        Neighbors cut fresh flowers from their gardens to place in the exact spot at North 10th Street and Campbell Avenue where Ms. Corbett, 55, was killed.

Brandi Caudill, 23, and Misty Theobald, 26, witnessed the shooting.
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        “It is just amazing something like this would happen to her of all people,” said neighbor Debbie Sawyers. “She was the reason half these people, including me, bought here and stayed. She made it become a neighborhood and wouldn't give up.”

        Ms. Corbett, a former Citizen of the Year in Hamilton, was a nationally recognized leader in housing rehabilitation and an expert in historic housing. She owned about20 homes in the middle-income neighborhood that is part of this Butler County city's historic preservation area.

        Ms. Ansley, 36, lives in the 800 block of Campbell Avenue. She is charged with one count of aggravated murder and two counts of concealing weapons and was being held at the Butler County Jail Sunday. She is expected to appear in Hamilton Municipal Court today.

        Ms. Caudill's boyfriend, Scott Johnson, and another neighbor followed Ms. Ansley Saturday down Campbell until police apprehended her about a block away. They yelled for her to stop, warning that officers were coming and she wouldn't escape.

        “She was throwing her hands up in the air like she didn't care,” Mr. Johnson said.

        Two detectives with guns drawn arrested her about a block away. As they took her into custody, they seized her loaded gun and a knife tumbled out of her purse, according to her arrest report.

        Few details were available Sunday about Ms. Ansley, the mother of a recent high school honors graduate. She has no prior criminal record in Butler County, according to court records. She was just divorced from a second husband, who declined comment Sunday.

        Neighbors said Ms. Ansley previously was a member of the renovation crew for Ms. Corbett's company, Victorian House Rentals. At the time of her arrest, she had been tending bar at a Hamilton tavern for more than five years and either was attending, or had attended, Miami University, according to her arrest report.

        “She is an excellent employee and a great friend to all of us here,” said Peggy Needham, Ms. Ansley's boss. “I would like some answers myself. I can't imagine why this sweet little person would create such a heinous crime. Something tragically wrong had to happen in her life for such a thing to occur. Yes, this is our Tonda, but I don't know why this happened.”

  Funeral services for Sherry Lee Corbett are pending. But because so many of her tenants/neighbors witnessed her shooting death, two sessions with counselors will be held for the public today in Hamilton:
  1 p.m. at Catholic Social Services and 7 p.m. at the Dayton Lane Gardens.
  For details, call Shelly Wallpe, director of family life programs at Catholic Social Services: 863-6129, ext. 26.
        “A lot of kids saw that shooting and are going to be screwed up for a long time,” said Beth Payne, who lives a few doors down from where the shooting happened. “We have been talking all day about putting our house for sale. I mean, Sherry is Dayton Lane Historical District. She created it.

        “And that is what is so tragic. Now everyone is concerned about what's going to happen in the neighborhood. Sherry even picked up trash along the street. She had a lot of pride.”

        Ms. Corbett was passionate about renovating Hamilton homes because she loved the history of the area, friends and tenants said. She most recently was working to restore homes on High Street.

        “The city wanted to tear them down, and she was fighting that,” said Trudy Tegge, who formerly worked for Ms. Corbett. “She took her crew up there and worked on those homes, no pay, no nothing. Just so the rain wouldn't get them wet. All these houses were her children. They were her babies.”

        Sunday story: Popular professor killed

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