Mount Vernon, Ohio Neighbors and acquaintances of Matthew Hoffman never knew what to make of him. He was controlling, peculiar and smart in a scary way, they said.
The 30-year-old, who spent six years in a Colorado prison before returning to Ohio, is charged with kidnapping a 13-year-old girl who was found bound and gagged in his basement. The girl’s mother, brother and a family friend remain missing and are feared dead.
Hoffman has been in jail since Sunday, when authorities rescued Sarah Maynard from the basement of a home he bought a year ago. They think she had been held there since Nov. 10.
He did not speak and yawned at one point Tuesday during a court hearing where he appeared by video from the county jail. A judge set his bond at $1 million.
His public defender, Bruce Malek, said Hoffman worked sometimes as a tree trimmer but was currently unemployed. The county sheriff said Hoffman was under suicide watch.
Search teams in the air and on the ground continued looking through vacant buildings, wooded areas and along roads for Maynard’s mother, Tina Herrmann, 32; Herrmann’s 10-year-old son, Kody Maynard; and her friend, Stephanie Sprang, 41.
They haven’t been seen since Nov. 10. Knox County Sheriff David Barber said Tuesday that although there’s a chance they are alive, the evidence and the amount of time that has passed means “the likelihood is, of course, that they are not alive.”
A deputy searching Herrmann’s home last week found an “unusual” amount of blood inside. Barber said Tuesday that items found in the home, including a tarp and trash bags, are significant to the investigation.
Barber said he has been told by Sarah Maynard’s father that the girl is doing well, under the circumstances.
“I’m looking forward to meeting this young lady in person, because she has more friends, I think, and more fans than she is ever is going to realize,” Barber said. “There are so many people behind her that definitely that’s going to help with her emotional recovery.”
Authorities in Ohio have said very little about Hoffman’s background, but he has had several legal scrapes.
His former girlfriend claimed he choked her, pushed her against a wall and used his forearm to pin her neck during an argument at his house Oct. 24, according to a police report. The woman told investigators she thought he was going to kill her, but did not want to press charges.
A man at a house where the woman lives said Tuesday that no one from her family wanted to comment.
Hoffman often behaved strangely, his Ohio neighbors said.
He would sit in a tree or atop his roof and watch them, they said. He collected leaves at a park across the street from his home and would stuff them into trash bags, hanging the bags on the inside walls for insulation.
Jessica Shirley, 35, got to know Hoffman and his former girlfriend in the past year when they would visit her friend, who lived next to the couple. She said he was smart and controlling.
“He was kind of like the intellectual,” she said. “Kind of crazy.”
He wouldn’t let his former girlfriend smoke or allow her son to eat junk food, Shirley said. He also made a woman who lived with him until recently join a gym, she said. The two worked out together, she said.
“That was the only normal activity I know that he did,” Shirley said.
Time in Steamboat
Hoffman lived in Steamboat Springs in 2000 when he had his first major arrest. In August 2000, Hoffman burglarized a townhome in The Ridge subdivision and then used 10 gallons of gasoline to start a fire to destroy the evidence. Sixteen people were evacuated from the 10 affected townhomes, but nobody was hurt.
Steamboat Springs Police Department Detectives Captain Bob DelValle said he remembers the case because Hoffman’s reaction was unusual considering the severity of the crime.
Hoffman also was suspected in the theft of two “Welcome to Steamboat” signs, but he moved back to Ohio after the fire before he was arrested in either crime.
DelValle said he called Hoffman and told him he needed to return to Steamboat to deal with the theft of the signs. While he was in town, DelValle took the opportunity to question him about the fires.
Police suspected Hoffman after realizing he had access to the homes while he was working for Scott Barnes Plumbing. Reached by phone by the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Barnes said it was “kind of water gone under the bridge” and declined to comment further.
He told The Associated Press earlier this week that Hoffman “was a follower, and did not have a strong personality. For a 20-year-old that’s unusual, especially to an employer who hires a lot of kids.”
Hoffman worked for Barnes for about three months, Barnes told the AP, and had stopped showing up for work about a week or two before the fire.
“I was disappointed when he took that route,” Barnes said.
In questioning by DelValle, Hoffman denied setting the fire for a short time, but he eventually admitted the theft, the burglary and the fires.
“Typically when you have that serious of an event, people … deny for a little bit, and he did that for a little bit, but not as much as I anticipated,” DelValle said.
He said it didn’t seem that Hoffman realized the scope of the crime at first.
“At the time, I don’t think he really considered the risk he put people at,” DelValle said. “He was just burning this place to cover up his fingerprints.”
DelValle said one gallon of gasoline would have been enough to start a fire, but with the 10 gallons Hoffman used it was “explosive” because of the fumes created by that much fuel.
“It fell outside the norm that we see with burglaries, the willingness to commit arson — and significant arson — to cover up a crime,” DelValle said. “That’s highly unusual with what we typically deal with in our community.”
Hoffman was sentenced to eight years in prison and served six. He then remained on parole until October of this year.
DelValle said that for a first-time offender, as Hoffman was at the time, it would be typical to get a deferred sentence or just parole. Because Hoffman took the burglary a step further and committed arson, it “raised the bar” on the crime.
“We worried that he would be back in the system again, and here he is,” DelValle said.
Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter Zach Fridell contributed to this story