CALDWELL—When a South Carolina man answered a Craigslist ad seeking a farmhand in Ohio, there was no job waiting for him. There was a freshly dug grave.
The man was shot and wounded in what investigators say was a murderous robbery scheme that used bogus help-wanted ads to lure victims. He managed to escape, but another job-seeker was later found dead in a shallow grave nearby. And two suspects — a man and a 16-year-old boy — are under arrest.
Neighbors living near the property where the graves were dug were shocked by the bloodshed. The sheriff said it is unclear how long the ad had been online or whether there are other victims.
The wooded piece of land sits on the former site of a strip mine and is owned by a coal company and rented out to hunters. It is isolated, with no lights and only one-lane gravel roads running in and out.
"It's an ideal place to get rid of a body," said Don Warner, a rancher who lives nearby.
A judge issued a gag order in the case Friday, and the names of the two victims and two defendants were not released.
Before the order was imposed, Sheriff Stephen Hannum said that the South Carolina victim was taken Nov. 6 to the desolate area, where he managed to deflect a gun cocked at the back of his head and ran. Wounded in the arm, he hid in the woods for hours, then showed up covered in blood at the first well-lighted place he could see, a farmhouse outside Caldwell, about 80 miles east of Columbus.
This week, cadaver dogs were brought in, and authorities found one hand-dug grave they believe was intended for the South Carolina man and a second grave that held the body of a Florida man.
The Akron Beacon Journal identified the suspects as 52-year-old man from Akron, about 90 miles away, and a high school student from the Akron area. The teenager was charged Friday with attempted murder. No immediate charges were brought against the man.
The South Carolina man who escaped to a neighbor's house told the homeowner, Rose Schockling, that he had answered an ad on Craigslist for a job and was told he would be erecting fences for a cattle farm.
But Schockling said there is no farm of the size the man described nearby, with most of the surrounding countryside either woods or strip mines.
The man had been told to bring his belongings with him to Ohio because he would be living at the farm, the sheriff said. Investigators believe robbery was the motive.
A few days after the man went to the police, authorities received a call from the Florida man's sister, concerned that her brother had not been heard from for weeks. The sister said her brother had responded to what she believed was the same Craigslist ad, for a caretaker for cattle on a 688-acre farm.
"We brought in cadaver dogs thinking that a possibility that the person that was advertising on Craigslist and lured this guy down here may very well have lured someone else to the same area," the sheriff said. "Our hunch was correct."
Investigators have not disclosed the cause of the Florida man's death.