BOWLING GREEN - Thirteen years after a 19-year-old Northwood woman was found with her throat cut, a former Sylvania man has been indicted for her murder.
The indictment, unsealed yesterday in Wood County Common Pleas Court, charges Ralph Doren, 55, with aggravated murder in the June 7, 1991, death of Deana Meeks.
Doren is serving 30 to 60 years at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Michigan for a 1993 first-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction in Monroe County.
Authorities served the Wood County indictment on Doren yesterday. The charge carries two specifications that accuse Doren of committing the murder to escape detection for another offense.
Wood County Prosecutor Raymond Fischer could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Northwood police Chief Jerry Herman said investigators believe Doren entered the home on Lester Avenue where Miss Meeks lived with her mother and her mother's boyfriend, Boyd "Smitty" Smith, "to commit a theft offense" when he encountered Miss Meeks.
Chief Herman called Doren an "associate" of Mr. Smith, who did auto body work in the garage at the home.
Early in the investigation, police focused on associates of Mr. Smith, who was known to have large amounts of cash and other valuables at the home. They speculated that someone went there to rob him and, finding Miss Meeks at home, killed her.
Chief Herman, who joined Northwood police in June, 2000, said that remains their theory. He said Miss Meeks was clearly an innocent victim. "Very innocent. It was just bad timing for her," he said.
A 1989 Lake High School graduate, Miss Meeks had just completed basic training with the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing. She was working at Maumee Bay State Park and Jo-Ann Fabrics, saving money for college in the fall.
Her mother, Joyce Baird, said yesterday she was unaware of the indictment and did not want to comment. The victim's father, Larry Meeks, could not be reached for comment.
Ottawa County Chief Deputy Bob Bratton, who was a Northwood detective at the time, said the investigation led police down numerous paths and resulted in numerous arrests for other criminal activities.
"[Doren's] name was mentioned early on, but we would have so many phone calls, 'Have you checked this guy? Have you checked that guy?' " Mr. Bratton recalled. "There were hundreds and hundreds of leads that were followed up."
Northwood police cracked a chop-shop ring in the course of the investigation, a case they hoped would lead to Miss Meeks' murderer. It did not.
In October, 1993, the murder appeared to have been solved when a Wood County grand jury indicted Craig Magrum, 23, and his brother, Todd Magrum, 26, for her murder, but those charges were dropped in January, 1994 because of what then-Prosecutor Alan Mayberry called problems with the evidence.
Chief Herman said he feels Doren is responsible for her murder.
"We've got the right guy," the chief said. "I'm confident."
He said the Meeks case was setting idle when he came to Northwood four years ago.
After he began looking through the department's cold- case files, he decided in January, 2003, to assign Sgt. Trent Schroeder to the Meeks case.
Sergeant Schroeder worked on the case for a year before the information was taken to the Wood County prosecutor.
"From a police perspective, getting this indictment was a huge, huge milestone, especially in a case like this where there had been former indictments of suspects," Chief Herman said. "We handled it very carefully because of the past history of this case."
Knowing the prime suspect was in prison allowed investigators to take their time and make sure they had the evidence they needed, he said. Doren is not slated for release until 2017 at the earliest.
"That was a big relief for us, and it allowed us to be able to spend the time that we did on this case," the chief said.
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