George C. Brinkman has already been convicted in the deaths of three people in Cuyahoga County.
CANTON Scores of people filled the church during calling hours for Bobbi and Gene John.
What had been scheduled for four hours stretched to nearly six. Throngs paid respects to the couple found slain in their Lake Township home in June 2017. Person after person expressed how the couple impacted their lives.
Not only those who had known Bobbi (formally known as Roberta) or Gene (formally known as Rogell) for years. But those who had known them even casually.
A teacher whom had been mentored by Bobbi 30 years earlier. People in their Weight Watchers group. Others who knew them only from encounters at local farmers' markets. Someone who had carried newspapers for Gene two decades prior when he worked in the circulation departments of The Canton Repository and The Massillon Independent.
Tears were shed. Hugs were exchanged. Fleeting grins appeared on sorrowful faces.
And loved ones who had already known of Gene and Bobbi's kind hearts and generous spirits were overwhelmed.
"It was truly remarkable how many people they sort of touched on the periphery that weren't close friends, family or coworkers or from church," said Todd Pincombe, Bobbi's son. "Just these people from the community, who had these brushes with them, to feel so compelled to stand two or three hours in line just to share an anecdote was a powerful thing to hear."
The outpouring came only days after the couple returned home from visiting Pincombe and his three children for a week-long beach vacation in North Carolina.
Gene, 71, and Bobbi, 64, didn't return to an empty house. A family friend, George C. Brinkman, had been watching it and caring for their 17-year-old dog.
So they walked inside, possibly with Brinkman carrying their luggage to the door. Then he fatally shot the Johns, according to investigators.
He was far from a stranger. Brinkman had known the family for more than 10 years, working for Gene's telephone book distribution business and formerly dating his daughter. The couple trusted him to care for their sick dog.
Bobbi's two sons had been on vacation with Brinkman in the past. And he had crafted a personalized drink coaster for one of them.
More than two years since the tragedy, family members are still reeling emotionally from their loss, and the same confounding question remains: Why would Brinkman murder Bobbi and Gene, only hours after he had killed three people in Cuyahoga County.
"It's still hard to believe," said Amy Studer, Bobbi's sister.
Trial set to start
Those horrors will be revisited when Brinkman's trial begins Tuesday morning in Stark County Common Pleas Court. The 47-year-old Stark County man already has been convicted and sentenced to death in the Cuyahoga County case.
Brinkman is scheduled for a non-jury trial, according to court records. He's charged with two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated robbery and single counts of aggravated burglary and tampering with evidence.
In July, Judges Taryn Heath and Kristin Farmer had been drawn randomly to join Judge Chryssa Hartnett on a panel in case Brinkman waives his right to a jury trial.
If convicted, Brinkman faces the death penalty a second time.
Pincombe will be traveling from the Atlanta area to Canton for the trial. But he says there's no explanation from Brinkman and no punishment that will replace what's been stolen from the family.
"It's not just our loss, it's the world's loss, it's Northeast Ohio's loss, it's Stark County's loss," Pincombe said during a telephone interview late last week. "I can't have what I want out of this case — I just want him to receive whatever will take the most joy away from him because he's taken the joy of so many other people."
"There's nothing the judges can do," he added. "I just want my mom back; I want Gene back — that's what I want and that's not obtainable.
Ultimately, (prosecutors) are going for the death penalty and that's fine."
Studer, of Canton, said she attended the first day of Brinkman's trial in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in November.
He admitted killing Suzanne Taylor, 42, and her two daughters Taylor Pifer, 21, and Kylie Pifer, 18. In addition to the death penalty, Brinkman was sentenced to an additional 47 years on other charges stemming from their deaths.
Witnesses had said the two daughters looked up to Brinkman like a second father.
"We wanted George to see us," Studer said. "We wanted George to know we were supporting these people.
"Nobody is ever going to understand why he did this," she said. "To us, the five people who were left in his life who cared about him he murdered."
Bobbi was a former educator, having both taught and worked as an administrator in special education.
She worked for the Stow-Munroe Falls, Alliance and Louisville school districts.
Her passion for special education was traced to a friend's brother who had Down syndrome. And whether at school or home, she never stopped caring for children with special needs.
Bobbi's other son, Brant Pincombe, recalled when their mother would invoke the voice and unflinching gaze of a teacher, scolding friends who used the word "retarded."
"Our mom took their heads off," he recalled. "And they got an entire lecture about why you don't use that word. And you just never said it again."
Todd Pincombe corroborated the story, laughing at the reaction of his friends but also deeply admiring his mother's conviction.
"That was her mission," he said. "To make sure special needs children had the same opportunities and inclusion, whether it be in school or in life as typical children did."
And she passed on her compassion to younger generations.
The son said he was touched when his 10-year-old daughter told him she had helped organize a group of students to hold parties for kids with disabilities.
"It was one of the more proud moments of the 10 years of her life," he said. "She just knows that was important to my mom and a way she can carry on her memory."
Brant Pincombe said that after the tragedy, he was overwhelmed when learning of the countless donations the couple had made to charities.
"They were always fighting for people that didn't have a voice, who weren't able to do anything physically or financially or emotionally," he said. "The reality, and the most messed up part of it is, that includes George, too."
The last goodbye
Bobbi was an avid walker. Gene helped cook meals for shut-ins and those in need. Bobbi belonged to a group that made quilts and head scarves for cancer patients. Both sang in a church choir.
But nothing was perhaps more fulfilling to them than spending time with their grandchildren.
In June 2017, it had been Bobbi's idea to go on the beach vacation. Todd Pincombe's daughter had casts on both legs, and grandma wanted to cheer her up.
The week at Ocean Isle was wonderful. Before departing, they had breakfast together at a diner.
Not far from the ocean, they got into their vehicles. Pincombe's daughter sat in a van crying.
Bobbi went over to the child, asking why she was sad. "I just want to know when I'm going to see you again," the 8-year-old said.
Grandma replied how she always did: "I'll see you soon."
Recounting the moment, Pincombe hesitated, then his voice quieted as he told what happened two days later.
"I sat my children down and told them their grandparents are gone."
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