Matthew Hoffman, a ‘real weirdo’
Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Investigation Discovery (ID) or, as my wife calls it, The Murder Channel. True-crime stories have always fascinated me, and ID is wall-to-wall true crime 24/7. Most of it is domestic murder — wife kills husband or vice-versa — where the major element of viewer interest is the investigative procedure by which detectives solve the crime. Sometimes these shows are horrific, but the more ordinary the motive, the less interesting the crime and, despite the dramatic style of the shows . . . well, it’s kind of, “So what?”
Then there’s the really good stuff: Psycho killers.
What is it about these demented weirdos that makes them so much more interesting than, say, the woman who hires a hit man to kill her husband so she can collect the insurance money? It’s hard to explain, but here’s the description of a show that aired Saturday on ID:
A stalker’s lustful obsession with a small town girl puts a family in grave danger, leading to a sickening killing spree.
As twisted as that may sound, it actually understates the bizarre depravity of Matthew Hoffman, who in 2010 murdered Tina Herrmann, 31; Hermann’s 11-year-old son, Kody Maynard; and Herrmann’s neighbor, Stephanie Sprang, 41. Hoffman then kidnapped Herman’s 13-year-old daughter, Sarah Maynard, whom he held captive in his basement for four days, raping her repeatedly.
And also, he was a tree freak.
We don’t know a lot about Matthew Hoffman’s childhood or the origins of his psychopathic tendencies. However, it is clear that Hoffman was, from an early age, what Ace of Spades calls a Strange Young Man — quirky, weird, an oddball, a misfit. And Hoffman really liked trees:
There always were trees in Hoffman’s life. He built a tree house as a teenager. He climbed trees for both his avocation and recreation.
He even would climb a tree in his yard and peer at his neighbors, one of whom described him as a “real weirdo.” Neighborhood kids would join Hoffman in swinging from ropes he tied in the trees.
In search of taller conquests, the friend said, Hoffman would tell tales of clambering up trees throughout Knox County with his tree-climbing gear.
He knew the woods and remote spots of Knox County well. In the months before buying his 109-year-old house on Columbus Road, he was a nomad, living out of his car and pitching a tent in secretive spots amid the trees.
A “real weirdo.” Often times, when a murderer is apprehended, the killer’s neighbors, relatives and acquaintances will express shock: “He seemed perfectly normal, a nice guy, nothing out of the ordinary, how were we to know about the torture dungeon in his basement and the corpses of victims buried in his backyard?”
Other times, however, there were clear warning signals about the killer, a “real weirdo” whose maladjustment was obvious enough that relatives and neighbors recognized him as potentially dangerous. And in such instances, we must ask, “Why are these danger signs ignored?”
Watching the ‘Strange Young Men’
My theory is that non-judgmentalism and the ACLU-inspired concern about the rights of suspected criminals have been diffused so deeply and widely throughout our culture that people are afraid to pay attention to their common-sense hunches, or to act on their suspicions about people whose behavior is, in fact, genuinely suspicious.
Also, America has been busy for a half a century “defining deviancy down,” as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said. In a society that tolerates deinstitutionalized schizophrenics camping out in public parks, a society where the Gangster Disciples rule the streets of major cities, we can’t expect cops to pay any real attention to a citizen’s suspicion about an acquaintance or neighbor who just seems to be a Strange Young Man. Try to imagine someone offering this tip to police:
“Hey, this lady in my neighborhood is kind of weird. She’s got a house full of guns and a creepy teenage son who spends all his time in the basement playing video games. My kid went to school with her kid, and this boy had a psychiatric problem where he would freak out in the classroom and they’d have to call his mother to come calm him down. And, like I said, this lady’s a gun collector, so I’m kind of worried that it’s a dangerous situation to have this psycho kid living all secluded in a house full of guns . . .”
See what I mean? Even if someone saw the warning signs, what are they going to do about it? Thanks to the ACLU, cops can’t act on the basis of mere suspicion. They’re trained to think in terms of “probable cause,” so even if a Newtown citizen had warned cops about Adam Lanza, the cops weren’t going to knock on Nancy Lanza’s front door and ask to talk to her about the Strange Young Man living in her basement.
This is why liberals can only see the Sandy Hook massacre in the context of gun control. Weekdays, I sit here in my office with the TV tuned to MSNBC — I Watch MSNBC, So You Don’t Have To™ — and hear them repeat the same tired cliché about the need to “get guns out of the hands of criminals,” which makes me want to shout at the TV: “How about we do something to get criminals off the street?”
The Massacre of Common Sense
Ordinary common sense has become increasingly less common because we have been bombarded for decades with propaganda about the “rights” of felons and the “rights” of the mentally ill, so that America is in effect held hostage by kooks and criminals. Many people seem to have succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome, sympathetically identifying with killers and other outlaws. In the more depraved output of Hollywood — hello, Quinton Tarantino! — criminal villains are actually portrayed as heroes and, as I’ve observed elsewhere, there are some sadistic souls who like to watch horror movies because they psychologically identify with the slasher/monster, perceiving Freddy Krueger as a role model.
When you have people avidly cheering for a mass murderer like Chris Dorner, or when you have major foundations donating to support a convicted terrorist bomber like Brett Kimberlin, it is obvious that many Americans are morally disoriented, unable to tell good from evil. And make no mistake, Matthew Hoffman was evil:
He grew up in the Warren area in northeastern Ohio, moving with his mother to Knox County in 1997 when his parents divorced.
Alice Morelli recalled the 14- to 16-year-old Hoffman who lived next door to her in Trumbull County. He always appeared unhappy and acted strangely, she said.
“He was really lost. He was on a bad path.” . . .
Something was wrong with Matthew Hoffman. People recognized that, but in a can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it way. After moving to Mount Vernon and graduating high school, Hoffman headed west to Colorado where — absent parental supervision and support — his criminal nature first clearly manifested itself:
In a bid to cover up his 2000 burglary of a condominium complex, he sprinkled 10 gallons of gasoline and set it ablaze. The fire sent 16 people running from their condos and caused $2 million in damage. . . .
Charles Feldmann, who prosecuted the case, said last week that Hoffman “struck me as someone who had a horrific appetite, a premeditated appetite, to cause that kind of damage and the potential loss of life.”
Hoffman was sentenced to eight years in prison and served six years. After his parole, he returned to Ohio in 2007, where he reported to local parole authorities. . . .
The ex-convict stayed out of trouble and was released from parole in October  . . . .
But Hoffman struggled to find work, signing on a while as a truck driver and sometimes staying with his mother, Patricia Hedglin, in Apple Valley, about a third of a mile from where the two children and two women vanished Nov. 10.
Hoffman had lost his job and broken up with his girlfriend “who accused him of choking her during an argument at his home on Oct. 24.” And he had also become obsessed with the 13-year-old neighborhood girl, Sarah Maynard. He broke into her family’s home while no one was there and, when her mother came home with her neighbor, Stephanie Sprang, Hoffman stabbed both women to death. When Sarah and her brother came home from school, Hoffman killed the boy and kidnapped the girl. He took her back to the house where he had lived with his girlfriend.
‘I’ve Seen a Lot of Crazy Cases’
The house was full of leaves. His bizarre obsession with trees included bagging leaves and piling the bags up around the walls inside the house. When police finally caught up with Hoffman, they burst into the house to find the floor of the living room covered with leaves:
After they handcuffed Hoffman and took him out of the home, the officers found the girl in the basement, bound on a bed made of leaves.
Then, [detective Craig] Feeney and his partner went back to the living room.
They didn’t want to disturb any potential evidence, but they had to see what they were dealing with. They poked at the pile with sticks.
“All kinds of things go through your mind,” Feeney said. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy cases, but this guy? Wow. Who has a 14 x 14 tarp in their living room with leaves piled 3 feet high?”
A “real weirdo,” that’s who. The girl he had kidnapped and repeatedly raped told police that Hoffman had offered to feed her squirrel meat. He trapped the squirrels himself and ate them routinely. The only food in his freezer was red popsicles and two squirrels.
And where were the bodies of the three people Hoffman had killed — Sarah Maynard’s mother and brother and neighbor? For five days, Hoffman refused to tell police until confessing that he had dismembered the bodies, put the parts in plastic bags, taken them to a nearby forest and stuffed them — did you guess? — into a hollow tree.
Matthew Hoffman pleaded guilty to 10 felonies, including three counts of murder, and was sentenced to life in prison. Strangely, amid all the warning signs, Hoffman’s neighbors had never suspected him as a potential murderer:
Tylor Ackley, 25, seemed dumbfounded that Hoffman, who had been so good with neighborhood kids, is accused of kidnapping a girl.
“We’d see him out and about, climbing trees with the kids next door,” said Ackley, who lives behind Hoffman’s house. “They always left their back door open, and there’d be kids running in and out.”
Nicole Martin, 16, lives two doors from Hoffman’s house. Her aunt and cousins’ house is sandwiched between. She’d spend summer afternoons climbing trees with Hoffman and the other kids, swinging on ropes he tied onto high limbs.
But something was odd about him, she said.
“He was weird,” Nicole said. “It’s just weird to know that he’s been next door and he could do something so horrible.”
“Weird.” That word keeps coming up. And the scary thing is, there are lots of weirdos still out there who “could do something so horrible.”