Investigators in three states said the horror began in exactly the same way.
A woman, most times a single mother, would awake in her bedroom to find she was blinded by the glare of a flashlight. The man wore a ski mask. He covered her mouth tightly with a gloved hand.
“I'm just going to take a few things. I won't hurt you,” the intruder said. “Get up and come with me… ”
Retired Jackson Township Police Lt. Chris Rudy and George W. Davis, a retired police and government reporter for both the Beacon Journal and the Canton Repository, tell the story of the investigation and conviction of William E. Griffith Jr. in “The Last Victim.”
Griffith, who lived in Hartville with a wife and four children in the mid 1970s, was given a 20-50 year sentence for a Stark County rape and aggravated burglary, and pleaded to a Portage County rape six years later. However, Rudy and Davis believe he was guilty of as many as 30 rapes and at least that many more less serious sexual crimes in Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia.
The book details Rudy's and other Stark County investigators' role that led to Griffith's conviction. The trial was the first in Stark County in which DNA evidence was used. Although Rudy investigated Griffith for years, neither he nor Davis interview Griffith for the book.
“He hates Chris,” Davis said. “We wrote from the evidence and witness accounts.”
In “The Last Victim,” Rudy and Davis describe Griffith as a serial rapist and sexual addict whose addiction escalated over the years, from voyeurism, obscene phone calls and exposing himself to women in the late 1950s to his first rape, which the men believe occurred sometime in the late '70s.
Victims told the same story. The rapist would break in through a window, cut the phone lines and awaken them with a threat using some weapon of opportunity, often a knife at her throat.
Trailer parks, duplexes and apartments across the country along Griffith's route as a salesman, including Frances Acres off Portage Street Northwest in Jackson Township, were the scenes of Griffith’s crimes.
“He did his homework,” Rudy said. “He had a doctorate in stalking. He would spend his entire day driving, like streets were his hunting grounds. If he saw someone he wanted, he would peep in her window or call and hang up to see if a guy was in the picture. If one didn't work out, he always had a fallback victim.”
The book describes how Griffith was finally caught. Police matched a footprint on the floor of his last victim to shoes found at the home of Griffith's estranged wife in Hartville.
Page 2 of 2 - A parole meeting for that last victim, which the authors write about under a pseudonym, gave Rudy the inspiration to write the book with Davis.
“It gave me a newfound passion and recognition of the damage he did to those women,” Rudy said. “We can attach him to 60 incidents that affected 500 lives over 30 years.
“I don't think Ohio pays enough attention to violent sexual predators”Rudy said. “They serve their sentences and they're released.”
Both men support civil commitment of sex offenders, a law that permits states to confine offenders for treatment for an indefinite period after they have served a criminal sentence. Twenty states have civil commitment laws on the books.
“Ohio has had legislation before the General Assembly for the last seven years but has not voted on it,” Rudy said.
“I think (Griffith) is definitely sick,” Davis said, “but what he did is definitely evil. This is an addiction, just like drugs or alcohol.”
Griffith, is serving his sentence at Grafton Correctional Institution. His next opportunity for parole is in 2019. His sentence runs through 2036. Griffith would be 96 years old if he served the entire sentence.
“The Last Victim” is self-published and available locally at Books-A-Million, Barnes and Noble and at Amazon.com.
Rudy and Davis will sign copies of their book at the following locations:
Stark County District Library, Plain/GlenOak branch, 1803 Schneider St. NE, 2 p.m. April 30.
Massillon Public Library, downtown branch, 208 Lincoln Way E., 6 p.m. May 1.
Jackson Library, 7487 Fulton Drive NW, 6:30 p.m., May 14.
Stark County District Library, main branch,715 Market Ave. N., 3 p.m. May 19.
Stark County District Library, Perry/Sippo Lake branch, 5710 12th St. NW, 6:30 p.m. May 29.