RE: CLARKE/STRAUB MURDERS: CASE links and facts only
Speculation swirls in slayings
WIRE 10:13 PM FEB 13 2011
The brutal slayings of Lisa Straub and Johnny Clarke in a quiet neighborhood have more than a few people on edge.
Richard Degener lives just a few blocks from the Springfield Township home where the young couple were suffocated with plastic bags, and he said he now keeps his home-security system on during the day, double-locks the doors when he's home, and keeps a loaded shotgun by his bed.
"It's just such a heinous crime," Mr. Degener said. "You begin to feel terrified inside the sanctity of your own home."
Despite such fears, those close to the case and others who investigate or study homicide say the Jan. 31 killings do not appear to be part of some random home invasion.
Most agree that Ms. Straub, 20, and Clarke, 21, were killed by someone -- probably more than one assailant -- who went specifically to that house looking for something they may or may not have found. Detectives have termed it "a robbery gone bad."
"There's a lot of work involved in this. That's not random. That's targeted," said Doyle Burke, a retired Dayton homicide detective who teaches criminal investigation. "The average burglar or robber is armed, but they're not walking around with duct tape and plastic bags."
Frank Stiles, chief investigator for the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office and a retired Toledo police detective, said that when he took a drive by the Straubs' Longacre Lane home, he was struck by its location. It is not set back in a secluded spot that might appeal to a random burglar, he said.
"... That tells me they went there intentionally," Mr. Stiles said, adding there's "a good possibility" the killers knew the victims. "It gets a little personal when you put a bag over their heads. They definitely wanted them dead, that's for sure."
Autopsies showed both Ms. Straub and Clarke died of asphyxiation. Their wrists had been bound with duct tape and plastic bags were taped around their necks. Clarke's ankles also had been bound.
'It's very rare'
The way in which they died is unusual, to say the least. Although it is not uncommon for someone to commit suicide by placing a plastic bag over his or her head, a Toledo police historian who has examined homicides back to 1916 could not recall a single case in which the victim was suffocated with a plastic bag.
Firearms are most typically used to kill people, followed by knives. In the FBI's annual "Crime in the United States" report for 2009, 9,146 of the 13,636 homicides were committed with firearms, 1,825 with knives, and 611 with blunt objects. Just 77 were asphyxiations.
"It's very rare," said Jack Levin, an author and professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston. "The first thing I thought of was that this looks like more than a robbery. There are cases of homicide where the motives are mixed. What begins as a profit-motivated crime can easily turn into something that has more psychological roots."
In some cases, that might be the killer's need for power and control over the victims, possibly the desire to watch and feel pleasure in seeing them suffer, Mr. Levin said.
"In most cases you'd find kind of an up-close-and-personal method like strangling with the killer's own hands," Mr. Levin said. "This is a little bit more complicated, but it has the same purpose."
Mr. Levin said the case doesn't look like a typical robbery attempt. "There are cases where a robbery goes bad and the occupants of the house are murdered, but that's usually done with a stabbing or shooting ...," he said. "The killing is a means to an end. It's a way of silencing witnesses. This looks like something vastly more sadistic."
Louis B. Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at John Jay college of criminal justice at the City University of New York, said tying someone up and placing a plastic bag over the head "is not a typical or efficient way to kill somebody, so the first thing that comes to my mind is some sort of revenge-type killing, wanting them to suffer."
Family members of the victims say they are convinced the killers knew their victims and had targeted them.
Jim Verbosky, an uncle of Ms. Straub, said he is certain the killers knew that his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Jeff and Mary Beth Straub, were out of town. He believes the killers had gone to the house to steal a safe containing cash -- a safe, he insists, that didn't exist.
"There is a kitchen with an island and an open eating area that went into an open family room. That was not ransacked, but you could tell there was a fight that ensued there," he said. "Plants were knocked over. Things were broken and knocked over, but upstairs, Mary Beth and Jeff's room was ransacked to the point where it looked like a TV show. All the drawers were out, and they had punched holes in the walk-in closet looking for a safe that never existed. There was no safe."
The Straubs, who were on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, went through the house when they returned, and the only thing missing, Mr. Verbosky said, was $84 or so in cash that they'd left in a change jar in their bedroom. Electronics, jewelry, computers were not taken.
"Everything was intact," he said. "Two computers, a laptop, a brand-new flat-screen TV -- everything. If someone is going to rob something and that was their motive, all of their electronics and all that stuff would've been gone."
'This is evil'
Clarke's mother, Maytee Vazquez-Clarke, first called 911 about 1:20 a.m. Jan. 31 after learning from a friend of her son's that he had been on the phone with a young woman whom he and Ms. Straub were supposed to pick up that night. The woman named Tiffany said she was talking to Clarke when he dropped the phone and confronted someone.
While Mrs. Vazquez-Clarke can be heard in a recording of her calls to 911 saying that Tiffany said Clarke yelled, "Who are you? What do you want?" Mrs. Vazquez-Clarke said last week that he actually never said, "Who are you?" "He said, 'What the [expletive] are you doing, bro? What are you doing here? What do you want?" Mrs. Vazquez-Clarke said. "Him and Lisa knew who these people were."
It was Clarke's father, John P. Clarke, who kicked in the front door of the Straubs' home about 3:50 that morning after Lucas County sheriff's deputies twice had come to the house and found nothing amiss after an exterior inspection. He found his son and Ms. Straub between the kitchen and dining area and quickly tore the bags off their heads, but it was too late to save them.
"This is evil. This is gruesome. This was premeditated. This was planned," Mrs. Vazquez-Clarke said. She said she believes the motive "was the parents' safe and money, and they waited for the kids to be home alone."
Glenn Owen, a former police officer and Army investigator from Texas who develops criminal profiles, said it appears a "disorganized" killer attacked Ms. Straub and Clarke. He cited the chaotic crime scene where the victims' bodies were left in plain sight, and the weapons -- the plastic bags and duct tape -- were left behind as well. He suggested the killers are young -- 18 to 30 years old -- and likely are high school dropouts from broken homes. They may live with an older relative, and if they work, they have nonskilled jobs at a fast-food restaurant or gas station.
Mr. Owen said that although disorganized killers rarely plan an attack, it appears some thought went into this and that they may have known the victims.
"What caught me strange about this case was the mode of death, how they killed them with the plastic bags," he said. "Usually the disorganized killer gets really [angry] and shoots someone or stabs them. To me, it appears they wanted the young couple to suffer, a slow type of suffering."
No arrests have been made in the case.
Last week, the Straub family established a reward fund at Fifth Third Bank where they are accepting donations to help identify and convict those responsible for the double homicide. Lucas County Sheriff James Telb also announced that his office was offering a $5,000 reward for information.
Mr. Degener, who lives a few blocks from the crime scene, said he didn't know the victims but was thinking of donating to the fund. Asked why, he said, "One, the horrible, heinous nature of this crime and the terrifying thought that this could happen to somebody who's close to you. The proximity of it to us and to those I know around here and love, and I just think these folks need to be taken off the street because they're obviously sociopaths and God knows what they could do to somebody else."
Anyone with information that may assist investigators is asked to call Crime Stoppers, 419-255-1111.
The Blade, Toledo