Thursday, February 27, 2003

Elderly victim was tortured, coroner says

Police seek links among three slayings

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Eighty-five-year-old Lawrence B. Sanders went through hell in his last day on earth.

The 5-foot-5, 140-pound bachelor was tortured with a skillet, scissors and a knife.

The small, gray home where he lived alone was ransacked, and someone stole his green 1995 Pontiac Grand Am, banged it into a garage a minute's drive away and abandoned it with the keys still inside.

The suspect, now jailed without bond: Donald J. Ketterer, someone Sanders knew for many years and trusted with tasks such as shoveling snow, yard work and painting, neighbors and a relative said.

While the Butler County Sheriff's Office provided undisclosed information in the investigation of a trio of deaths, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office loaned Hamilton police a new crime investigation tool: a "Krimescope" that uses a green glow to show investigators where fingerprints can be found.

Hamilton police used the device at the Harmon Avenue crime scene, where Helen and Donald Riley were found dead, said Hamilton Police Chief Neil Ferdelman. "You can see (finger) prints on walls 15 feet away," he said. The device, which is valued at $17,000, reveals the prints with a green glow and then allows the fingerprints to be photographed without disturbing them - and helps officers avoid the risk of smudging or destroying these valuable bits of evidence, Ferdelman said.

Hamilton police recently obtained a grant that will enable the department to purchase one of the devices, which Hamilton County sheriff's spokesman Steve Barnett described as "invaluable" as an evidence-collection tool.

Ketterer has a long criminal history and was released from the Butler County Jail last week after being arrested on a robbery charge, records show. Police would not say what led them to arrest Ketterer in Sanders' death.

Sanders' slaying was discovered Tuesday, 20 hours after Helen and Donald Riley were found dead on Harmon Avenue, a few blocks away in the same blue-collar neighborhood.

The trio of deaths, all of which could be homicides, stunned a city that sees an average of about a half-dozen homicides a year. The last double slaying was in 1995.

Police on Wednesday said they were continuing to investigate "all possibilities," including whether the same killer may be responsible for all three deaths. The Butler County coroner, Dr. Richard P. Burkhardt, noted the Rileys' home wasn't ransacked and there was no sign they were tortured, in contrast to what happened to Sanders.

"He was brutalized ... he was killed with common everyday things like a skillet, scissors and a knife. ... It was a brutal death for a poor, 85-year-old man who lived alone," Dr. Burkhardt said.

Burkhardt said Sanders had multiple injuries around his neck, and the slaying was one of the worst he had seen in his 23 years as coroner. An autopsy is set for today. Burkhardt estimated Sanders had been dead since Monday.

Authorities aren't saying when the Rileys died. Burkhardt said an autopsy on Wednesday showed that Helen Riley, 55, bled to death from "multiple knife wounds, including one that lacerated the jugular vein in the neck." However, autopsy results on Donald Riley, 44, were "inconclusive," so other tests were being conducted, the coroner said.

As of Wednesday evening, no charges had been filed in connection with the Rileys' deaths.

Meanwhile, Ketterer, who once lived near Sanders' Shuler Avenue home, is being held in the Butler County Jail awaiting a March 3 preliminary hearing in Hamilton Municipal Court.

He has a criminal history dating back to the 1970s, police records show; he served a year in state prison for a 1985 breaking-and-entering conviction.

Hamilton police had arrested Ketterer at least twice this year: in an alleged theft of videos Jan. 27 and for allegedly fighting with security guards who tried to arrest him at the Kmart on South Erie Highway on Feb. 18. He was released last Thursday on his promise to appear in court on the theft charge.

Ketterer's brother Tom said Donald Ketterer was addicted to cocaine, abused alcohol and suffered from bipolar disorder, a mental condition associated with extreme mood swings.

Still, Tom Ketterer on Wednesday said he was in disbelief.

"He never really was violent." he said "... I've never seen him in a fight with anyone."

Sue Kiesewetter and the Associated Press contributed.


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