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Youngstown Investigators Hope Recent Case Sheds Light on Others

By David Ford

https://dpsnews.utah.gov/dps-announces-major-break-in-20-year-old-cold-case-investigation/

https://dpsnews.utah.gov/dps-renews-20-year-old-cold-case-investigation/

 

On April 8, 1998, Lina Reyes-Geddes planned to meet her family in Laredo, Texas. She never arrived. Now, nearly 20-years later, the case has reached a grim resolution.

In November, Detective Sgt. David Sweeney of the Youngstown Police Department confirmed an unidentified female body found in Utah was that of Reyes-Geddes. Sweeney said the body was found sometime in 1998, the year Reyes-Geddes went missing. The positive identification of Reyes-Geddes’ body was announced on November 29.

Within the Utah Department of Public Safety’s press release, the body of Reyes-Geddes had been recovered by a passerby on the side of SR-276, near Lake Powell, Utah. According to the press release, the body was found covered with plastic bags, wrapped in duct tape, tied with a rope and placed inside a sleeping bag before being wrapped in carpet.

Investigators said they were unable to compare fingerprints to any database since the victim’s fingers had been cut off, according to statements released by the Utah Department of Public Safety.

In the initial missing persons report, it said Edward Geddes, the husband of Reyes-Geddes, reported to the police he transported his wife from their home in Austintown, Ohio to the Pittsburgh Airport at approximately 6:00 a. to catch a flight to Dallas, Texas. Geddes alleged he received a phone call from Reyes-Geddes, saying she had arrived safely in Dallas.

While Reyes-Geddes was last reported seen on April 8, the missing persons report wasn’t filed until Sept. 28, 1998.

Sweeney confirmed it’s unknown where Reyes-Geddes was killed, but her body was found shortly after the missing persons report was filed in Youngstown. The family of Reyes-Geddes has been notified, according to Sweeney. Her husband, who reported Reyes-Geddes missing, is now deceased.

Sweeney thanked the federal agencies and web sleuths for suggesting to the Youngstown Police about an unidentified body in Utah, and helping solve the missing person case. In addition, Sweeney hopes this resolution helps bring the public and families of missing persons to greater attention.

“The case had been sitting cold for a while, and because of the Amy Hambrick case and these other cases, and getting everything up to speed, we can hopefully turn our other missing persons cases and try to resolve those as well,” Sweeney said.

While Reyes-Geddes’ missing persons case is resolved, Sweeney said there are still several cold cases in Youngstown, all of which contain data and information on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).

For active cases, the Youngstown Police Department has 12 missing persons. On NamUs, there’s one case where a woman, Lori Boffman (2006), went missing from Youngstown, but the case owners are listed as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Liberty Township Police Department. For their 12 cases, Sweeney said the police department is working with NamUs to update information on these cases.

“We have cold cases that we needed to get up to speed scientifically, being DNA from family members, or getting dental records, or their fingerprints housed, with NamUs,” Sweeney said.

Since the case is resolved, Reyes-Geddes’ name no longer appears on NamUs. Joe Gorman, a reporter for the Vindicator, covered the crime beats for both the Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle during his career. He recalled the 2011 missing person report of Avalon Gardens Restaurant owner, James Donofrio, whose case reached a similar end to that of Reyes-Geddes.

“He [Donofrio] was last seen down by the river behind the Covelli Centre. They couldn’t find him, they investigated the river for a while, but nobody knew what happened to him,” Gorman said.

Donofrio was reported missing on Sept. 26, 2011 in Youngstown. Like Reyes-Geddes, another state agency had possession of the body (West Virginia), but no identification could be made at the time the state recovered it.

The body was recovered on Mar. 25, 2012, but it wasn’t until April 2013 when the West Virginia State Medical Examiner’s office positively identified the body was Donofrio. The Donofrio case appeared on NamUs when he was still declared a missing person.

The Standard Case in Youngstown

The Youngstown Police Department is currently investigating 12 different cold cases, according to data from both NamUs and the police department. Captain Brad Blackburn of the Youngstown Police Department said a large number of the missing persons reports involve juveniles and runaways. In addition, Blackburn said the vast majority of these cases are resolved within  a short period of time.

While the majority of the missing persons cases are resolved quickly, Blackburn said the cold cases represent the outliers.

In addition, Blackburn said there are trends with several juveniles, some of which run away and are returned home shortly after a report is filed. In several instances, families don’t bother to file reports after multiple times.

Youngstown Police Officer John O’Neill, Jr. handles these cases on a regular basis. A graduate of McDonald High School and Youngstown State University, O’Neill said he was born to become a firefighter, but a ride along with a family member in law enforcement changed his career path.

As a police officer, O’Neill doesn’t care too much for the recognition.

“I wasn’t really all about going out and hunting for guns and drugs. I knew that had its place,” O’Neill said. “I knew that being a patrolman meant looking around the finding the problems that plague the good people of Youngstown, which are almost few and far between anymore.”

In terms of day-to-day operations, O’Neill deals with juvenile runaways quite frequently, but in terms of extended missing persons cases and reports, he’s typically not involved.

“I’ve been on for three years, and I’ve dealt with a lot of juvenile runaways, including the process of having to pick them up and take them home,” O’Neill said. “But as for missing adults, I haven’t run into that problem before.

O’Neill said investigators handle missing persons cases, but as a patrolman, they only handle juveniles and runaways. Blackburn said this is the standard missing persons report, however. The cold cases represent the outliers.

A Declaration of Death/Missing Persons’ Evidence

In the active missing person cases the Youngstown Police Department are currently investigating (13), 10 of them extend beyond five years. According to Chapter 2105.35 of the Ohio Revised Code, it states an individual can be declared deceased after a five-year period in which the missing person hasn’t been seen or heard from.

James Fredericka, a Trumbull County Common Pleas Court judge, said the courts can declare an individual dead if there is obvious evidence to support it. In addition, Fredericka said some missing persons cases can extend for well over a decade and the courts won’t have the evidence to declare them deceased.

“Under normal circumstances, the individual can be declared dead if they disappeared and have been continuously absent for the five-year period, without any evidence of being heard from,” Fredericka said.

As Fredericka explained, Ohio law states if an individual has disappeared and has been continuously absent without being heard from, but was exposed to a specific peril of death at the beginning of their disappearance, they can legally be declared dead before the five-year period.

In addition, Blackburn said the family of missing persons can petition to a judge for the individual to be declared dead. As mentioned earlier with the Donofrio case, a Vindicator article (2013) stated Donofrio’s family attempted to have him legally declared dead, but the action was dismissed at the time of request. The article provided no explanation why the Donofrio family’s request was denied.

“Oftentimes, a judge declares someone’s death upon the family’s request so they can proceed with legal issues, including life insurance and property disbursement,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn explained the last thing he’d want to do was declare some deceased without definitive proof or evidence to support that.

“The burden for a simple misdemeanor conviction is still proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and that’s for simple crimes like theft and assault,” Blackburn said. “I could not see anyone declaring someone dead with less proof/evidence than that. I’m sure we would all agree some of these long time missing people are most likely dead, but I’m not willing to swear under oath to that because I simply can’t prove it.”

In one Youngstown cases: Richard Banyots (1985), the narrative available on NamUs mentions Banyots was shot and killed by Clarence Coleman, who was convicted of his homicide. In the same narrative, it says; “According to witnesses, Coleman and Jerome Davis admitted beating Richard at a brothel, robbing him and stuffing him in the trunk of his car. They drove him from Youngstown to a secluded spot along the Monongahela River near McKeesport, where Coleman shot him. It is believed his body washed away by a flood in early November 1985.”

While it’s believed Banyots is deceased, based on Coleman’s homicide conviction, a body was never recovered. As Blackburn said earlier, without definitive proof of a body, these types of cases would remain active.

The longer a missing persons cases remains active, however, the more difficult it is for law enforcement agencies to reach a resolution.

Michael Tobin, the community and public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice, Northern District of Ohio, said it grows increasingly challenging to obtain evidence years, or decades after a missing persons case first opened.

“The cases are kept open as long as there is evidence and reason to believe the person can be found,” Tobin said. “The evidence gets old and cold, and the longer they’re gone, generally the harder they are to find.”

Before his current position, Tobin worked at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and covered the disappearance of the Seymour Avenue girls: Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight and Amanda Berry.

The missing girls were eventually inside the 2207 Seymour Ave. home of Ariel Castro in Cleveland, Ohio. While Tobin was convinced these girls were deceased before they escaped and were found, there was evidence available that showed there was reason to believe the girls were still alive.

The Wrap-Up

The recent resolution to Reyes-Geddes’ missing persons case brought optimism to Sweeney and the police department. While the family was sad to hear about what happened, Sweeney said they’re happy to get closure on the situation.

While evidence may or may suggest if a current missing person in Youngstown is deceased or not, Sweeney said he wants to resolve these cases. After the Reyes-Geddes case announcement, Sweeney said more information on the other cases has come to light.

“Some information has come in on other cases, and I’m hoping to keep this ball rolling,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said if anyone has more information on these cases, he can be contacted at 330-742-8268 or detsweeney@youngstownohio.gov.

 

INFORMATION/PHOTOS FOR SLIDESHOW OR GALLERY

When you click the individual’s photo, it links you to their NamUs missing persons page, where the reader can get information such as date of last contact (DLC), additional photographs, available case notes, etc…

When you search “Mahoning County” for Ohio, 15 names will appear…EXCLUDE Lori Boffman (2006), Phyllis Brewer (1981), and Linda Hamilton (1977), as these missing persons cases aren’t affiliated with the Youngstown Police Department…all of the other names are. I provided links to their individual NamUs pages.

The gallery includes a photograph available for use off NamUs, and surface information for their identity and case itself. I hope this works as one supplement to the overall story.

 

John Hoskins

DLC: September 18, 2018

Missing From: Youngstown, OH

Missing Age: 50

Sex: Male

Race: Black/African-American

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/53188

 

Amy Hambrick

DLC: November 10, 2017

Missing From: Youngstown, OH

Missing Age: 29

Sex: Female

Race: White/Caucasian

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/41220

 

Kimberly Wilson-Talley

DLC: January 1, 2017

Missing From: Youngstown, OH

Missing Age: 49

Sex: Female

Race: Black/African-American

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/51743

 

Ronald Rankin

DLC: July 18, 2012

Missing From: Youngstown, OH

Missing Age: 68

Sex: Male

Race: Black/African-American

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/24856

 

Samantha Joseph

DLC: July 1, 2009

Missing From: Youngstown, OH

Missing Age: 43

Sex: Female

Race: Black/African-American

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/51744

Albert Byrd III

DLC: December 25, 2007

Missing From: Youngstown, OH

Missing Age: 33

Sex: Male

Race: Black/African-American

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/51744

Dean Donnadio

DLC: September 1, 2005

Missing From: Youngstown, OH

Missing Age: 40

Sex: Male

Race: White/Caucasian

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/24854

Delores Donaghue

DLC: January 13, 2000

Missing From: Youngstown, OH

Missing Age: 46

Sex: Female

Race: White/Caucasian

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/7927

Charles Blanche

DLC: December 28, 1991

Missing From: Youngstown, OH

Missing Age: 39

Sex: Male

Race: White/Caucasian

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/24851

Marcell Byers

DLC: July 11, 1989

Missing From: Youngstown, OH

Missing Age: 19

Sex: Male

Race: White/Caucasian

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/24852

Richard Banyots

DLC: November 3, 1985

Missing From: Girard, OH

Missing Age: 19

Sex: Male

Race: White/Caucasian

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/41835

Joanne Coughlin

DLC: December 27, 1974

Missing From: Boardman, OH

Missing Age: 21

Sex: Female

Race: White/Caucasian

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/12498