April 23, 2014

Medina
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Database a tool to thaw cold homicide cases

Glenn Griffin Sr.

Glenn Griffin Sr.

The Ohio attorney general’s database of more than 1,800 unsolved homicides in Ohio has just one Medina County case — but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one that’s gone cold.

Former Medina County sheriff’s Detective Warren Walter said the database neglects several of the county’s suspicious deaths from his 30 years with the Sheriff’s Office.

“You go over 30 years like this, and you’ll have some unsolved cases,” said Walter, who retired in 2004 but remains with the Sheriff’s Office as a patrol sergeant for Liverpool Township.

Walter was an investigator in the killing of Charlie Witenhafer, a high-profile Liverpool Township bookie found dead in his basement office Feb. 1, 1980, with 16 stab wounds to the back, a cut wrist and a cracked skull.

Witenhafer, 34, was a big, burly man who worked as a concrete contractor.

“I think you’d have a tough time taking this guy on,” Walter said. “The only way you’re going to take him on is if you knock this guy over or you stab him in the back when he’s not looking.”

Walter said that’s what he suspects happened.

“It sounds like someone was pretty angry,” he said. “It sounds like overkill.”

According to Gazette archives, Witenhafer kept records of his gambling business, which included participants who were prominent business owners and public officials.

The knife used to kill Witenhafer was found washed and replaced in a kitchen drawer with traces of blood remaining, police said at the time.

Walter said the case eventually was passed to the Summit County Detective Bureau, and then picked up again by former county Prosecutor Greg Happ and eventually by Texas private investigator Bill Dear, who was hired by the Witenhafer family.

“We worked on that case for quite a while,” Walter said. “No charges were ever filed, and now the case lies dormant.”

Walter said he could think of several other suspicious deaths that went unsolved — including Pamela Terrill in 1976, a hunter shot dead in his yard in the 1990s and an elderly woman whose killer stabbed her and set her home aflame in the earlier half of his career. Walter couldn’t provide many details on those cases.

The lone case on database
The only Medina County case included in the attorney general’s database, created by the state’s attorney general in 2012, is that of Glenn Griffin Sr.

The moment Clarissa Thompson and her brother approached Griffin’s Chatham Township home the afternoon of May 29, 2002, they knew something was wrong.

“He always used to come out right away with his dogs if someone pulled into his driveway,” Thompson said. “He didn’t come out, so we started beeping our horn.

“But no one came out.”

Thompson, 54 at the time, had stopped by to buy firewood at the 79-year-old man’s home, 6794 Avon Lake Road.

Before Thompson got out of her car, another buyer had stopped.

“Somebody went inside the trailer where he would sleep,” she said. “When they came out, they said, ‘He’s dead.’ “

They found Griffin with a shotgun wound to his head and called police, according to reports. Detectives quickly ruled out Thompson, her brother and the other man as suspects.

Former sheriff’s Detective J. Tadd Davis, who was the lead investigator on the case, said police investigated Griffin’s death as a homicide because no gun was found near the man’s body. Davis has since moved on to the county Drug Task Force.

“The wound was not self-inflicted,” Davis said, “and it didn’t appear to be a robbery.”

Several antique guns were found in the home, according to reports, as well as a variety of prescription drugs, wads of cash, checkbooks and a credit card.

Davis said detectives performed an extensive investigation and interviewed several suspects.

Griffin was survived by a son, who was interviewed by detectives.

Griffin was well known and well liked throughout the community, Davis said, adding that the man lived alone and was a bit of a recluse.

Several witnesses reported seeing Griffin just days before his slaying, he said.

Davis said he hopes the case eventually will be solved.

“I wish this could have been one of the solved homicides of my career — not for me, but for the victim,” Davis said. “It would have meant closure to the family and to the deceased. That’s what it’s all about.”

Anyone with information on any unsolved homicides should contact the sheriff’s detective bureau at (330) 725-9116 or the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation at (855) 224-6446.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.