Massillon resident Summer Rowley testifies that victim Ralph Geiger, who prosecutors say was the first victim of alleged Craigslist killers Richard J. Beasley and Brogan Rafferty, had fallen on hard times after his contracting company failed.
Ralph Geiger was someone Summer Rowley would speak with nearly every day.
“He was a father figure to me,” Rowley, a Massillon resident, said of Geiger during testimony Monday in Summit County Common Pleas Court.
Geiger was the first victim of Richard J. Beasley and Brogan Rafferty in Ohio’s Craigslist killings, prosecutors claim. Officials have accused Beasley of luring three men to their deaths by using a fake help-wanted ad on Craigslist offering work to a farmhand who would care for property in Noble County. Rafferty accompanied Beasley on trips with the victims and dug their graves, prosecutors allege.
Rafferty, a 17-year-old Stow resident, faces multiple counts of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and theft, and could receive life in prison if convicted. His trial started last week with three days of jury selection. Since testimony began on Friday, most of the evidence has been directed at Beasley, who will be tried separately early next year.
The trend continued on Monday. Only one of the six witnesses who testified tied Rafferty into the case. Defense lawyers didn’t have questions for three of the prosecution witnesses, including an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent who described the discovery of two bodies in Noble County.
Investigators contend Beasley, 53, killed his victims — Geiger, 56, of Akron; David M. Pauley, 51, of Norfolk, Va.; and Timothy J. Kern, 47, of Jackson Township – in order to steal their identities, as well as property.Monday’s testimony detailed examples of both.
Prosecutors are trying to paint Rafferty as a willing accomplice of Beasley, who has been described as the teen’s mentor. Defense lawyers counter the older man manipulated Rafferty with threats in order to have him help with the crimes.
LOOKING FOR WORK
Rowley said she met Geiger about seven years ago when he hired her to clean for his construction company. The pair developed a strong friendship and Geiger described her as his “stepdaughter.” The jury saw photos of Geiger and Rowley taken at Christmas in 2009 and in 2010 after Rowley’s child was born.
Rowley said Geiger’s business failed when the economy collapsed, and that by 2011 he was homeless and in a shelter in Akron. Rowley said it was early August 2011 when Geiger told her that he had gotten a job working on a farm in southern Ohio. She talked with him the day before he went to the farm with his new boss. Rowley tried his cell phone several times after he left, but she never heard from Geiger again.
Rowley said Geiger was excited about the job opportunity.
“He wanted to work,” she said. “He trusted people, obviously, maybe too much.”
VICTIMS LIST GROWS
Steven Burke, a special agent with BCI, testified that Geiger’s body was found Nov. 25 in a shallow grave on property near Caldwell. Investigators had recovered Pauley’s body on Nov. 15 in a grave nearby.
Page 2 of 3 - The investigation in Noble County started Nov. 6 after former Stark County resident Scott Davis, 49, was shot and wounded near the property. Davis escaped, then alerted investigators to the Craigslist ad.
Burke said he was part of three searches at site in rural Noble County. The first was to find evidence tied to the shooting of Davis. But officials received more leads after news reports spread word about Davis being shot after responding to a farmhand ad posted on Craigslist.
Burke said he returned to the shooting scene on Nov. 14 after the Noble County sheriff was told Pauley had responded to a similar ad and hadn't been heard from for two weeks. Debra Bruce, Pauley’s twin sister, testified that she called numerous police agencies when her brother didn’t contact her after meeting his new boss on Oct. 23 in Marietta.
Investigators returned again, Burke said, when they learned that Geiger was buried at the site.
But while friends and investigators looked for Geiger, one Akron family thought the missing man was their new acquaintance.
Donald L. Walters Jr. testified that he met a man named “Dutch” last October. The man – who turned out to be Beasley – asked for help getting trucks repaired and painted, then asked Walters if he could store some a truck and property found in a storage unit he bought.
During the course of helping “Dutch” with his vehicles, Walters said, he came to learn that “Dutch’s” name was supposedly “Ralph Geiger.” Walters said he remembered because Geiger is his wife's maiden name, and his new friend kidded that he must be a cousin.
Walter said that in late October “Dutch” drove a truck and rental trailer to his east Akron home where he and Dutch’s nephew – Rafferty – unloaded the trailer’s contents into Walters’ garage. Walters said “Dutch” planned to sell the items at the Hartville flea market, but kept some for himself, gave some to his nephew and allowed Walters to keep an array of Christmas lights.
Walters testified that the lights were on his house when FBI agents came in November to confiscate them and other property Beasley and Rafferty had left behind.
Prosecutors had Walters and Debra Bruce identify the Christmas lights and other items confiscated by the FBI.
Prosecutors also asked about Rafferty’s behavior while unloading the trailer. Walters described the teen as being calm and added that the boy “didn't seem to be under pressure.” Beasley and Rafferty searched each box and seemed excited by what they found, Walters said.
When asked to describe what he saw as Rafferty and Beasley interacted, Walters said: “I thought he was a lucky kid to have an uncle like him, as a mentor to help him out.”
Page 3 of 3 - The defense, meanwhile, asked for Walters’ opinion of Beasley.
“Would you say (Beasley) was very good at deceiving people?” asked John Alexander, one of Rafferty’s lawyers.
“Oh, Lord, yes,” Walters said without hesitation. Later Walters agreed that Beasley was very convincing, “an extremely really talented actor, I'd say.”
Walters said he became uneasy with Beasley the longer he knew him, but that he was surprised to hear about Beasley’s arrest the day after the FBI took Pauley’s Christmas lights from his house.
Alexander also asked if Beasley invited Walters to take a trip to Noble County. “Yes, he wanted me to look at some farm land,” Walters said, adding that he never took the trip.