February 10, 2011
The Ohio man found guilty of holding a 13-year-old girl hostage after killing her family and stuffing their dismembered bodies in a hollow tree had an obsession with trees and leaves, police documents show.
Pictures of Matthew Hoffman’s home reveal a living room stuffed with leaves, a bathroom lined with more than 100 bags of leaves, and a freezer that contained only a couple of red popsicles and two dead squirrels.
Hoffman, 30, is serving a life sentence for three murders and for the kidnapping and rape of the teen.
The two police officers from Mount Vernon, Ohio, who first entered Hoffman’s home in November 2010 discovered mounds of leaves so high they feared that bodies could be buried underneath them.
“So much runs through your mind: What if someone is hiding under that pile? Or in this case, I thought, ‘Is that where he’s hiding the bodies,'” Mount Vernon Police Detective Craig Feeney told the Columbus Dispatch.
By the time police entered his home, Hoffman had already killed and dismembered Tina Hermann, her 11-year-old son Kody Maynard and Hermann’s friend Stephanie Sprang.
Police found Hermann’s 13-year-old daughter in the basement of Hoffman’s home. She was bound hand and foot and was confined to a makeshift bed of leaves.
Hoffman, an unemployed tree trimmer, confessed to investigators that he had made the bed of leaves and covered it with blankets. He told investigators that the little girl “liked that bed, it was extremely comfy and I wanted to sleep on it.”
While holding the girl hostage, he gave his victim the book “Treasure Island” to read and watched the movie “Iron Man” with her, according to his confession.
He also admitted raping the girl, who was found by police wearing “a white plastic bag that had holes cut out for her legs that she was wearing like a makeshift diaper,” according to case files.
Moments after her rescue, the girl told police that she was late for school and asked if they could take her to school.
Unaware that Hoffman had murdered her mother and brother, the girl told police that she feared Hoffman had killed her dog. Hoffman would later confess to killing the dog because it would not stop barking.
The girl also told police that the “suspect cut her finger with a knife, usually gagged her and that he was going to release her before Christmas,” according to the records.
Hoffman’s Obsession With Leaves Shows Signs of Mental Illness
Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher said that the hundreds of bags of leaves found in the home were not connected to the murders.
“Knox County has never seen a case like this before. It has to rank there in Ohio history as one of the worst homicide cases,” Thatcher said.
Forensic psychologists said that Hoffman’s obsession with leaves and trees were indications of mental illness and delusion.
“If trees gave him comfort at all and were familiar at all, that would explain why he would put the bodies in the tree,” said Dr. James Alan Fox of Northeastern University who has written five books about serial killers.
Psychologists called the obsession with leaves bizarre and unique from other convicted murderers.
“It certainly suggests that he is likely to be mentally ill, mentally ill as compared to other killers who show up in the news like serial killers or psychopaths,” Dr. N.G. Berrill, director of New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science. “Serial killers, from professional point of view, they are not mentally ill. They have character disturbances, but they know what they’re doing is wrong. They take too much pleasure, too much gratification to stop.”
Berrill said that only Hoffman could explain why he appeared to stockpile leaves.
“It would take talking to him to find out what it means,” Berrill said. “[Hoffman’s delusions are] very elaborate delusions related to trees, what trees produce, being in and around on trees, putting people in trees.”
Hoffman was an unemployed tree cutter. Neighbors said that there were only two trees near his home.
“He couldn’t have possibly got that many leaves from that tree so he had to haul leaves from somewhere. I never saw him raking,” neighbor Jeannette Columber said.
Neighbor Henderson Butcher described his interactions with Hoffman as friendly.
“He used to play around the trees around there a lot…throw ropes in trees and had like a hammock on there,” Butcher said.
Other people said that Henderson would shoot squirrels to eat.
“He was killing the squirrels because he doesn’t grocery shop,” neighbor Kara Fowler said. “He would actually kill the squirrels and eat them.”
Matthew Hoffman’s Freezer Contained Only Popsicles and Squirrels
The released documents show that police taped hours of conversations with Hoffman saying little. It was a bad dream that prompted him to confess. Hoffman told an investigator that he’d had a dream about being at a food processing plant.
“Hoffman said he opened a trash bag at the food processing plant and saw cut up body parts and he got a knot in his stomach and it all came back to him,” according to the case files.
Hoffman asked an investigator to allow him to write the location of the bodies on a piece of paper and then shoot him in a faked escape attempt.
When police said they wouldn’t agree to his terms, he shut up for two more days before telling police where to find he bodies.
The home full of leaves is in foreclosure, according to court records. Wells Fargo Bank initiated the proceedings Jan. 28.