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Man Who Hid 3 Bodies in Tree: I Never Meant to Kill Victims

Feb 8, 2011 – 6:46 PM
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David Lohr

David Lohr Senior Crime Reporter

The confessed killer of two Ohio women and an 11-year-old boy slept in the woods across the street from the home where they were slain and murdered them during a botched robbery, according to court documents.

The shocking new details in the case come from 30-year-old Matthew Hoffman's four-page, first-person confession to the murders of Stephanie Sprang, 41; her friend Tina Herrmann, 32; and Herrmann's 11-year-old son, Kody Maynard. The Columbus Dispatch and local media outlet WBNS obtained copies of the confession through a public records request.

Tina Herrmann, Kody Maynard and Stephanie Sprang
Tina Herrmann, 32; her son, Kody Maynard, 11; and family friend Stephanie Sprang, 41, were attacked and killed in the Herrmann home in Howard, Ohio, in November.
The chilling confession describes how Hoffman, an ex-con and unemployed tree cutter, slept in the woods across the street from the Herrmann home in Howard, about 60 miles northeast of Columbus. He said he slept in a sleeping bag on the night of Nov. 9. The following morning, he said he waited until everyone left the home and then sneaked into the garage.

"The garage door was not closed all the way, so I slid under it into the garage," Hoffman said. "I kicked the door into the house from the garage. By this time it was approximately 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning."

Hoffman said he got a "certain amount of excitement" from being inside the home. He spent about an hour looking for valuables but came up empty-handed. He was in a bedroom, preparing to leave, when he was interrupted by Herrmann.

"I confronted her and made her get onto the bed lying face down," he said. "I believe that we were in her bedroom. I had a blackjack [and] I was going to try to knock her out. I hit her a couple of times in the head, but it did not knock her out. It was not doing the job, and I started panicking."

As Hoffman tried to determine what to do with Herrmann, Sprang entered the room, he said. Hoffman said he panicked. He said he stabbed Herrmann twice in the back and then chased Sprang down and stabbed her a couple of times in the chest, killing her. He then went back and stabbed Herrmann again.

Matthew Hoffman
Routt County Sheriff / AP
Matthew Hoffman told police he didn't set out to kill anyone but panicked during a botched robbery. He confessed to killing Herrmann, Kody, Sprang and Hermann's dog, Tanner.
"I could tell that both women were now dead," Hoffman said.

Hoffman said he never intended to hurt anyone and that the killings left him in a "total state of shock." Herrmann's dog, a miniature pinscher named Tanner, would not stop barking, so he killed the dog too, he said.

Now, left with the bodies of two women and a dog, Hoffman had to formulate a plan. He was initially going to ditch them in a nearby pond, but then he decided to "process the bodies" and burn the home to the ground. Once the decision was made, he took the bodies into a bathroom and began the task of dismembering his victims.

It took Hoffman several hours to prepare the bodies for disposal. He said he was loading them into a vehicle belonging to one of the women when Herrmann's two children -- Kody and a 13-year-old daughter -- came home from school.

"I confronted the children, and the girl instantly ran to a bedroom," Hoffman said. "I stabbed the boy in the chest a couple times. I ran into the bedroom after the girl to make sure she was not on the phone for help. ... I saw the girl was not on the phone, and I could not bring myself to kill her."

The investigation into the case began the following day when Herrmann failed to show up for work, and a co-worker went to her home to check on her. The concerned co-worker did not find anyone home but returned the following day and noticed blood inside the residence, police said.

Sprang's vehicle was parked in the driveway, but Herrmann's truck was not at her residence. Authorities later located Herrmann's truck abandoned on property owned by Kenyon College, about 50 miles northeast of Columbus. Hoffman was in the area where the truck was found and was questioned by law enforcement. He said he was waiting for a girlfriend to get off work and was released.

In the days following the disappearance of Sprang and the Herrmann family, investigators conducted multiple searches on land and from the air. Volunteers also came forward and offered assistance, searching wooded areas.

Despite everyone's best efforts, no one was able to locate any sign of the missing parties.

While processing evidence at the Herrmann home, authorities found a Walmart bag containing two tarps and a box of 55-gallon trash bags. When they viewed surveillance footage from a local Walmart they saw an the individual who had purchased the items and at that point realized it was Hoffman -- the same person they had spoken with near Kenyon College.

On Nov. 14, a SWAT team stormed the Columbus Road home where Hoffman was staying and discovered Herrmann's 13-year-old daughter alive in the basement. She was found bound on a bed made of tree leaves, police said.

Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher told Hoffman that he would not seek the death sentence if he confessed to his crimes and led police to the victims' bodies. Hoffman agreed and directed them to a 60-foot-tall hollowed-out tree. The victims' dismembered remains were found stuffed inside garbage bags that had been placed inside the tree, police said.

In his confession, Hoffman said he never intended to kill the teenage girl. He said he allowed her to play video games, watched movies with her and cooked her food. He said he promised her she would be home by Christmas.

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"I would not have hurt her. I could not hurt her," he said. "I planned on giving her more and more freedom until she ran away."

On Jan. 6, Hoffman pleaded guilty to 10 felonies, including aggravated murder, burglary, kidnapping and rape. He was sentenced to life without parole.

Larry Maynard, the father of Kody and the teenage girl (AOL News is withholding her name because she is the victim of a sexual assault) told the Columbus Dispatch she is back in school and working with therapists to cope with the tragedy that befell her family.

As for Hoffman, Maynard does not believe his claim that the murders were not premeditated.

"A thief steals, and a murderer kills," Maynard told the newspaper. "He's just a monster. He's the closest thing to a devil I've ever seen."
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