Detectives probing possible tie of Hamilton County suspect to Butler County cold cases

Homicide cases of Nancy Theobald and Victoria Hincher are not solved just yet.

The posthumous murder indictment earlier this month of a man for a 1978 murder gave the family of a Hamilton County woman answers to a 37-year-old cold case. And Prosecutor Joe Deters pointed out the possibility the suspect, Ralph Howell, could be the killer in the strangulation deaths of two young woman found dead in in Butler County.

Butler County Sheriff’s Office investigators say it’s possible, but the homicide cases of Nancy Theobald and Victoria Hincher are not solved just yet.

On March 24, 1978, Cheryl Thompson went missing after leaving her home to meet her boyfriend at a bar in Oakley.

On April 8, 1978, Thompson’s body was discovered along the bank of the Little Miami River in Loveland by an Ohio Department of Natural Resources officer. Thompson had been strangled and raped, according to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office.

Physical evidence was collected from Thompson’s body and stored at the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office. But due to the forensic limitations at the investigation quickly went cold.

This year, the DNA sample taken from Thompson’s body was sent to a third-party genealogy company in hopes of developing a suspect. The results narrowed this DNA sample to a specific family tree and Howell was included in the results, according to Deters.

Howell was arrested in 1983 for abduction after he picked up a woman on the side of the road and offered her a ride home. Once in the vehicle, Howell placed a rope around the victim’s neck and began to strangle her. The victim was able to fight Howell off and escape from the vehicle.

ExploreCase of woman found dead in West Chester creek gets new attention 40 years later

When investigators discovered this case, they contacted family members of Howell, who submitted DNA samples. Those family members were excluded as suspects in Thompson’s murder; however, test results indicated the suspect was a close family relative.

Based on the DNA evidence, Howell’s body was exhumed to obtain a DNA sample. Testing confirmed Howell’s DNA matched the DNA found on Thompson’s body.

Howell was killed in a automobile crash in 1985, but Deters said earlier this month the investigation ties him to at least three other similar homicides, including Theobald and Hincher, and Charmaine Stolla, 17, who went missing from Cincinnati on Feb. 24, 1978. She was found dead on March 12, 1978 off Old Colerain Pike. She had been strangled and raped.

“There is no doubt in our mind that Ralph Howell was a serial killer,” Deters said.

Theobald, 18, was last seen on the night of Nov.16, 1977 leaving Arby’s restaurant in Clifton where she worked. Her body, partially nude, was found on Dec. 26, 1977 on Beckett Road in what is now West Chester Twp., according to BCSO. She had a ligature around her neck and had been raped.

Hincher, 24, was last seen on Oct. 20, 1976, when she left an apartment on Glen Meadow after a dispute with her roommate in route to Milford. She never arrived, according the the BCSO. Her body was found 11 days later on Oct. 31, 1976 near the intersection of Layhigh Road and New London roads in Ross Twp. She was nude and had been strangled raped.

“(Howell’s) M-O may or may not fit a couple of our cases. So we are taking active steps with Victoria Hitcher’s case. It is currently under review. We are going to review some physical evidence that was there and collected in 1976,” said BCSO Detective Green Detherage.

He also pointed to the Butler County unsolved murder of Tammy King who was picked up in Cincinnati and found dead in 1982 on Dunwoody Road in Reily Twp. King’s death has been tied to another man who was convicted of strangulation deaths of a woman in Michigan and one in Butler County in the 1968.

“There are a few like and similar aspects, but does that mean that Ralph (Howell) is the one who did this? Not necessarily. We can speculate, but proof is not something we have in our cases,” the detective said.

Hincher and King had similar life styles, the detective noted.

“They had a little wild streak in them, they liked to drink and liked to walk,” Detherage said, noting their lifestyle may have made them vulnerable to a killer. But he said Theobald’s lifestyle was different from all accounts by family and friends.

ExploreConvicted killer arrested in area for 41-year-old homicide

At the time of her death, Theobald was a University of Cincinnati student and worked part-time at the restaurant.

In recent years, with the evolution of DNA testing, the rope found around Theobald’s neck has undergone more testing and an unknown male DNA was found. But it was not enough to develop a match, Detherage said.

“As of right now they are a dead end, but that doesn’t mean some type of testing couldn’t evolve in the future to develop a profile,” Detherage said.

There is no statute of limitations in homicide cases and Detherage said the BCSO cold cases are all assigned to detectives who continue to work on them periodically.

Anyone with information relating to Ralph Howell, or the following unsolved homicides, is asked to contact the Bureau of Criminal Investigations at (855) 224-6446.

About the Author