Ohio, Pennsylvania detectives search for leads in 4 cold cases that could be connected
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Detectives in three counties aren’t giving up on cold cases that have stumped them for decades.
They’re trying to figure out whether one killer could be behind the murders of four women from the Cleveland area in the 80s and 90s.
All of the victims were dumped in remote areas off a stretch of Route 6 heading east to Pennsylvania.
Other striking similarities in the cases have led detectives to investigate whether their violent deaths could be connected.
Detective Don Seamon with the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office thinks it’s possible.
Two of the four cases happened in his county.
Det. Seamon opened up his case files to 19 Investigates, because he is determined to solve the case.
The cold cases
Here is a timeline of all four cases.
- 1981: Delores Furnace, 30, found dead next to a country road in Geauga County.
- 1992: Verlene Flenoy, 28, discovered near a country road in Ashtabula County.
- 1994: Terri Iverson, 38, found dead next to a country road in Geauga County.
- 1999: Danita Landres, 34, found dead in a soybean field just across the state line in Crawford County, Pennsylvania.
In 1981, someone found the first victim’s body in a drainage ditch just off Clay Street near Thompson Road in Thompson Township in Geauga County.
“Her body was badly decomposed. She had been missing for two weeks, three weeks,” Det. Seamon said.
It took awhile to identify her as Delores Furnace of East Cleveland.
Investigators believed she had been strangled. But they couldn’t determine a cause of death.
Nearly 11 years later, in 1992, the body of Verlene Flenoy of Cleveland was found on Mead Hollow Road in Hartsgrove Township, Ashtabula County.
“She had been missing for about a week, her cause of death was believed to be strangulation,” Det. Seamon said.
Then, two years later in 1994, another woman’s body was dumped in Geauga County.
Terri Iverson of Cleveland also died of strangulation.
“Her body was found almost in the same location as our victim in 1981, about a quarter mile apart,” Det. Seamon said.
“Did they think they got the same location, or were they just trying to put it in a similar location? What was the purpose for it, was it almost like taunting the law enforcement?” he said.
In 1999, a farmer discovered another woman’s body dumped in a remote soybean field just across the state line in Crawford County, Pennsylvania.
Danita Landres of East Cleveland had been strangled too.
She died from blunt force trauma to the head.
“And if you follow Route 6 East from Cleveland, all the bodies were located either very close to Route 6, or just a couple miles off,” Det. Seamon said.
Detectives working the cases in the 90s believed these killings could be connected.
And the detectives working on them today do too.
“Just due to the similarities, all same type of victims believed to be prostitutes, Black females taken from virtually the same, the same neighborhood in Cleveland,” Det. Seamon said.
Similarities in the cases
Could these women have been the target of a serial killer?
All four of them were last seen in the area of East 40th Street in Cleveland, between Route 20 and Woodland Avenue.
They were all Black women in their 20s and 30s.
Most of them were strangled.
Their bodies were dumped in rural areas off Route 6, heading east from the city.
But two large gaps in the killings have investigators stumped.
After 1981, 11 years went by until the next murders in 1992 and 1994.
Then five years passed before the fourth and last known murder in 1999.
“Did the suspect go to prison on an unrelated crime during those times? Did he or she maybe move out of the area?” Det. Seamon said.
Families search for answers
These women are still loved and missed by the families they left behind.
It’s been thirty years since Paris Matlock lost her mom, Verlene Flenoy.
“What I remember most is that smile, her smile and her eyes,” she said.
She cherishes the few photos and memories she still has.
“It’s been hard over the years, you know, not having her here,” Matlock said.
Verlene had four kids.
Paris is the oldest. She was eight years old when she died.
Her brothers were just toddlers and babies.
“They, they were it, that was it. That was all I had,” she said.
Decades later, her children are still searching for answers.
“It would be nice to know, for sure, you know what happened, you know, what went on, who did it, you know?” Matlock said.
It was years before Paris learned her mom’s case could be connected to the murders of three other women.
She said her mom was not a prostitute.
But she does believe the cases are connected.
And she’s convinced her mom knew her killer.
“I just think they just got caught up with an individual that had a lot of hate in his heart. It was nothing that they did or said, just someone with hate,” she said.
Serial killers ruled out as suspects
Investigators followed hundreds of leads throughout the years.
In late 2018, detectives thought they may be able to connect the cases to a serial killer from right here in northeast Ohio.
Samuel Little turned out to be the most prolific serial killer in American history.
He confessed to 93 murders across the country before he died.
His victims were all strangled to death.
Det. Seamon flew to Texas to meet with Samuel Little face-to-face.
“It was surreal. I’ve worked many homicide cases, interviewed many potential suspects, but that’s one I will never forget,” he said.
But Little denied killing any of these women.
And he was in prison during one of the murders.
“Samuel Little, in my experience from what I know of him, if he was responsible, he would admit to it. He would not admit the cases he was not responsible for and he did adamantly deny having any responsibility in these four specific killings,” Det. Seamon said.
Detectives officially ruled him out as a suspect and turned their attention to other possible serial killers.
They looked into Anthony Sowell, known as the “Cleveland Strangler.”
Sowell was convicted of murdering 11 women.
They also looked at Samuel Legg, a former truck driver accused of several homicides in Ohio and at least one in Illinois.
Both men were ruled out too.
Det. Seamon’s next try is to use DNA, which recently helped him solve a high-profile cold case.
He solved “Geauga’s Child” with new DNA technology, which helped him track down the identity of a baby found dead on a country road back in 1993.
And ultimately led to his mother and killer. 19 Investigates profiled that case in back in November.
“So the evidence in these four cases have been and is being re-analyzed. So looking for that one piece of DNA that is suitable for comparison that we could start that genealogy case again to look for the suspect,” Det. Seamon said.
He thinks someone out there can connect those gaps in time to someone they know.
“We are only one phone call away and that next phone call could be the one that could help us solve this case,” Det. Seamon said.
And Paris is still holding out hope.
“You know, we just want answers. We want to know. So if they do know anything, come forward, tell us what you know,” she said.
Call with any leads
If you have any information on any of these cases, you can call the following agencies:
- Geauga County Sheriff’s Office: 440-279-2009.
- Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office: 440-576-3590.
- Pennsylvania State Police: 814-332-6911, ask for Trooper Baldwin at the Meadville station.
You can also contact Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-4PA-TIPS (8477) or online here.
You may be eligible for a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest.
Read more about the Danita Landres’ case here.
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