WAUSEON — A hidden room containing restraints and a freezer with blood inside, discovered on James D. Worley’s property, suggested to investigators that the man charged in the abduction and death of Sierah Joughin might have had other victims.
Investigators searching the three-acre property belonging to Worley found the hidden room — concealed by hay bales — in his barn, which contained a carpet-lined freezer and restraints for holding people against their will. It was secured from the outside by a ratchet strap.
This revelation is one of several contained in search warrants executed by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office during the search for Ms. Joughin, 20, who disappeared July 19 while riding her purple bicycle.
“Worley fits the profile of a serial offender and could potentially have additional unknown victims who could have been kept at the above described location,” wrote Sgt. Matthew Smithmyer of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office. The sergeant said he knows “based upon [his] knowledge and experience that these types of offenders will often keep trophies.”
Worley, 57, the warrant states, told a therapist, who he was mandated to see by a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge after a previous abduction conviction, that he “learned from each abduction he had done and the next one he was going to bury.”
He was convicted of abducting then-26-year-old Robin Gardner on July 4, 1990, as she biked near Whitehouse. He served three years in prison.
Bobbie Celeste, director of professional affairs at the Ohio Psychological Association, said Ohio requires mental health professionals to disclose credible threats made by patients to specific, identifiable victims.
“If the [patient] tells you they’re going to do something harmful to an identified victim, you can break confidentiality and notify the victim or the police,” Ms. Celeste said.
Local, state, and federal officials searched Worley’s property on County Road 6 for days after his arrest July 22, the same day Ms. Joughin’s remains were found near County Road 7. Excavators, a dive team, and several law enforcement agencies combed the property, which is largely blocked from view by trees and crops.
Authorities found several pairs of women’s undergarments, one of which had blood on them. Worley told investigators that he had hidden cameras all over his property and authorities recovered what was described as a “nanny cam.”
Searches were conducted in several structures on his property, including the house, garage, barn, trailer, vehicles, and a pond.
On his property, authorities also found rope, tape, zip ties, handcuffs, several firearms, and ammunition. Multiple video and still-image recording devices and film were collected, though their contents have not yet been released. Authorities also recovered various items including clothing and jewelry on the property.
The search warrants also describe Worley’s statements and actions during the time Ms. Joughin was missing.
According to the warrants, cell phone location information showed he was at the scene of the abduction for nearly two hours during the time she was missing.
When questioned by investigators, he told them that “he didn’t steal anything or kill anyone,” but had fresh marks on his arms and bruises on his lower legs. Cheek and hand swabs were taken from Worley.
Investigators initially spoke to Worley during a canvass of nearby houses while Ms. Joughin was missing.
He told them he had been riding his motorcycle near where she was last seen and the motorcycle had broken down. He said he pushed the motorcycle into the field and lost his helmet, screwdriver, sunglasses, and fuses at the location.
Those items were recovered at the scene where Ms. Joughin’s bike was discovered. The helmet recovered at the scene had human blood on it.
He also told authorities he had come across two bikes near the scene, picked up one, “and that his fingerprints would likely be on the bike.” Only one bike was located by the sheriff’s office.
On July 22, after Worley was in custody, investigators asked for the public’s help in looking for someone who was riding a motorcycle with an open-faced black helmet at the area of County Road 6 somewhere between Roads S and T, where she was last seen. It was unclear why authorities were looking for the motorcyclist.
Warrants revealed Ms. Joughin was found in a shallow grave in a cornfield, approximately one mile west and one mile south from Worley’s property.
Held without bond
Worley remains jailed at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio near Stryker, where he is being held without bond.
The search warrants were released by Fulton County Prosecutor Scott Haselman on Thursday.
The Blade filed a motion Wednesday seeking a hearing after a judge issued an order Tuesday saying the records would not be released to the public. A hearing on the matter had been scheduled for Thursday. A Blade reporter had attempted to get the records starting on Monday.
Mr. Haselman declined to comment Thursday. Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller did not return a call Thursday. Defense attorney Mark Powers, who was appointed to represent Worley, said he had not seen the search warrants and could not comment on their contents.
Throughout the inquiry, speculation has surfaced about additional victims.
Earlier case cited
Delta attorney Amber VanGunten said the evidence collected at Worley’s property makes her even more suspicious about a possible connection between Worley and the unsolved murder of Lori Ann Hill, 14, of Swanton.
She disappeared the night of Oct. 25, 1985, after leaving a Halloween party in Swanton. She was last seen walking along South Berkey-Southern Road toward home, but never arrived. Her naked body was found four days later in a wooded area north of Wauseon.
Ms. VanGunten, who represented a man indicted for, but not convicted of, Miss Hill’s murder, has asked Mr. Haselman to have DNA collected from Miss Hill compared to Worley’s. She said that because Worley was last in prison from 2000 to 2002 on drug and weapon charges, his DNA profile likely was not on file until now.
In 2005, Ohio began requiring that all residents convicted of felonies and some serious misdemeanors submit a DNA sample. In 2011, a more stringent law went into effect requiring that all adults arrested on felony charges submit a DNA sample upon their arrest.
Jill Del Greco, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney Mike DeWine’s office, said that, as in all cases, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation will work up a DNA profile from Worley’s sample and add it to the nationwide DNA database known as the Combined DNA Index System or CODIS, where it will be run against a state and national database of forensic profiles from crime scenes.
Mr. DeWine has asked that DNA evidence from the Fulton County case be processed in a priority fashion, she said.
At Worley’s house Thursday, the scene was largely quiet. A sheriff’s car was parked outside.
Tera Mermer, who lives in the area, drove past a couple times. She reported a steady stream of cars passing by throughout the day, the passengers all trying to get a look for themselves. She said she didn’t let her kids play outside without her before and Thursday’s news just reinforced that decision.
“It’s so scary,” she said. “I’m getting a chill. You think you’re OK out here in the country, but nope. I’m just blown away.”
Staff writers Ryan Dunn, Jennifer Feehan, and Michelle Liu contributed to this report.
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