CHILLICOTHE, Ohio (AP) — The fate of six women — four of them dead, two missing for months — has people on edge in this small southern Ohio city as relatives seek clues, seemingly in vain, to whatever happened to their loved ones.
Grieving family members and nervous residents worry about a serial killer in their midst. Police say they aren’t ruling anything out, but say it’s more likely the women’s troubled histories caught up with them in deadly ways. All were drug addicts and several had prostituted themselves to feed their habit.
Police also say that because the women ran in the same circles, someone knows the fuller story.
“There’s that one person out there that has the information that’s going to break this case. We know that, we just have to get to them,” said Chillicothe police Officer Bud Lytle.
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Charlotte Trego, who would be 28, has been gone the longest, missing since her mother dropped her off at an apartment in Chillicothe in early May 2014. She was into drugs and may have turned to prostitution to support her habit, said her mother, Yvonne Boggs.
“She wouldn’t go this long without calling me,” said Boggs, of Waverly, about 15 miles farther south on U.S. 23.
Tameka Lynch, 30, disappeared a couple of weeks later. Her body was found on a sand bar in Paint Creek by a group of kayakers on May 24, 2014, four days after the coroner says she likely died.
Lynch was scared of water and wouldn’t willingly have gone anywhere near a river, said her mother, Angela Robinson. She described her daughter, a mother of three, as a beautiful but naive person who was too trusting.
“Somebody just tossed her away like a piece of trash,” Robinson said.
The body of Shasta Himelrick, last seen on surveillance video leaving a gas station early on the morning of Dec. 26, was found in the Scioto River on Jan. 2. She was pregnant and had traces of painkillers and cocaine in her system. The coroner ruled her death a suicide.
Timberly Claytor, 38, was found shot to death in nearby Massieville on May 29. A suspect in her death is in custody on unrelated charges.
The body of 26-year-old Tiffany Sayre, missing since early May, was found in neighboring Highland County on June 27 not far from where Lynch’s body was recovered. A cause of death hasn’t been announced. She had been hanging out earlier in the evening with men at a Chillicothe motel that has a reputation as a site for prostitution.
Police are still looking for Wanda Lemons, 38, a mother of five, missing since last fall. She was a kind person who people took advantage of, said her mother, Diana Willett.
The deaths and disappearances have spurred the creation of a task force including Chillicothe police and the Ross County sheriff’s office, the FBI, state investigators and other local law enforcement.
Nineteen people died of heroin overdoses in Chillicothe and surrounding Ross County last year, up from eight the year before. One in three people receiving addictions treatment in the county are on heroin. The most recent statewide data shows a record 983 Ohioans died of heroin-related overdoses in 2013.
Police recently announced a crackdown on drugs and prostitution in areas the women frequented. An online petition and Facebook page call for the closing of the motel Sayre had visited.
Chillicothe, a city of about 22,000 people an hour south of Columbus, was the first state capital in the early 1800s. Per capita income of $22,000 is below the state average, and nearly one in four people live below the poverty line. The community is known for a popular outdoor drama about Tecumseh, a Native American leader of the Shawnee, and is also a regular stop for presidential candidates flocking to swing state Ohio every four years.
Residents say they are locking doors more, are hesitant to go out at night and aren’t allowing daughters to walk alone.
“Things like this happen all over,” said city councilman Dustin Proehl. “But when it happens in a small community that’s so tight knit like we are, it’s happening to somebody’s brother, their sister, their cousin, their co-worker. Their schoolmate. We’re all so close.”