2-time convicted killer indicted in ’76 Toledo death

Murder charged in cold case

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    Nearly four decades after a young woman bled to death inside her Old West End apartment, a man already convicted of two murders has been charged with killing her.

    Martin Woods, 57, has been indicted on a charge of murder by a Lucas County jury  in the death of Rebecca Gerst, 20, in 1976.
    Martin Woods, 57, has been indicted on a charge of murder by a Lucas County jury in the death of Rebecca Gerst, 20, in 1976.

    Martin Woods, 57, who is serving a life sentence at the North Central Correctional Facility in Marion, Ohio, was indicted Tuesday on one count of murder by a Lucas County grand jury for the 1976 death of Rebecca Gerst, 20.

    “It was a very tragic happening back then. It was a very sad thing,” said Catherine Gerst, the former sister-in-law of the victim, who called the charges “a relief.”

    Ms. Gerst, a part-time cashier at Churchill’s supermarket on Monroe Street, was found in a pool of blood in her second-floor apartment at 2274 Parkwood Ave. on Feb. 4, 1976.

    An autopsy showed that she died of massive bleeding from the neck, and she also had been choked.

    Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division for the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, described Woods as “an acquaintance — someone she knew,” but he would not be more specific.

    Woods is to be returned to Lucas County to face the new charge, which carries a possible prison sentence of 15 years to life.

    Mr. Lingo said the indictment was the result of a reinvestigation of the case by the Toledo police cold-case unit.

    He said “advanced technology” aided in the case, but he declined to say whether DNA implicated Woods in the murder.

    At the time of Ms. Gerst’s death, police said the person responsible might have been wounded during the attack. People at the crime scene said they saw what appeared to be a bloody trail down a carpeted staircase from the apartment and in the snow leading toward Collingwood Boulevard.

    Ms. Gerst’s fully clothed body was found by her landlord, Roy Smith. She was on her bedroom floor, between the bed and dresser and near a butcher knife that police said at the time was believed to be the murder weapon.

    Mr. Smith, who lived directly below Ms. Gerst, said he heard a scuffle from the woman’s apartment about 1:15 a.m. Shortly thereafter, his wife, Bea, heard quickened footsteps on a staircase and saw a man leaving the apartment building.

    A message seeking comment from Toledo police Lt. Dan Gerken, who is handling the case, was not returned. An attempt to reach William Gerst, a brother of the victim, was unsuccessful.

    If convicted on the new murder charge, it would be Woods’ third.

    In 1978, Woods, then an Army soldier, was convicted of stabbing to death Anneliese Smith, 37, a German-born widow of an American soldier who was killed in Vietnam.

    Ms. Smith was killed Oct. 15, 1977, in her Fulda, Germany, home. Woods, who was 20 at the time, broke into the woman’s home and tried to rape her.

    When the victim put up a fight, he grabbed a butcher knife and stabbed her 48 times.

    For the slaying, he was sentenced to 10 years in juvenile detention. He was not sent to an adult prison because he “appeared immature.”

    On April 21, 1989, Jennifer Stewart, 26, was found dead in her 13th Street residence in Toledo, her naked body atop a pile of burning papers.

    Ms. Stewart had been beaten and choked, with a sock stuffed in her mouth as a gag.

    The Lucas County Coroner’s Office ruled Ms. Stewart’s death a homicide and found she died of carbon-monoxide poisoning from smoke inhalation.

    The day after Ms. Stewart’s death, a woman was threatened with a knife and choked into unconsciousness in an Adams Street apartment before neighbors intervened.

    Woods pleaded guilty to murder and felonious assault in the two other slayings in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

    Judge Frederick McDonald, of Lucas County Common Pleas Court, who sentenced Woods in 1990, wrote a letter to the Ohio Parole Authority in 2008 reiterating a statement he made at the time of sentencing — that Woods was the most dangerous defendant he’d run across in his career.

    “Given this man’s criminal history and the nature of the offenses in this case, it is highly probable that he will kill again if released,” the judge wrote to the parole board.

    Judge McDonald said the same thing on Tuesday: “The concern was that he was a serial killer in the making.”

    Woods is scheduled for a parole hearing in August, 2018.

    Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.

    Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.