Investigator writes about 1975 Ottawa Hills murdersWritten by Betsy Woodruff | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Just before Thanksgiving 1975, a man was smuggled into the home of Harriett Wernert and Velma Bush. He hid in their basement for a few hours, petted their poodle, Frenchie, and bludgeoned the women to death.
Wernert was 67 and Bush, her mother, was 97.
It was the first recorded murder in Ottawa Hills, an affluent community where residents left their doors unlocked and windows open at night.
Frank Stiles, a seasoned detective for the Toledo Police Department, was assigned to the case.
In his new book, “Blind Trust,” he tells the story of the killings, the capture and interrogation of the murderers and the trial that followed.
Getting people to talk
Stiles joined the Toledo Police Department in 1965 after two years in France with the Army.
He won the attention of his superior officers when he began finding key information on crimes that he was not assigned to investigate. The force issued a daily bulletin of serious crimes, and he kept the information on a clipboard. When he spoke with high school students, he would ask them if they knew anything about the crimes, sometimes gaining key information.
“I was pretty good at getting people to talk,” he said.
He was promoted to the felony squad, where he investigated homicides and burglaries. Because of his reputation as a skilled detective and interrogator, the Ottawa Hills police requested his help when Bush and Wernert were found dead in their home.
Stiles worked on the case for three days with no sleep. He solved it on Thanksgiving Day, ate dinner with his family and went to bed.
In “Blind Trust,” he includes specific details on the process of preparing to interrogate a suspect, including what kind of rooms he prefers to use for interrogations: small ones with simple furniture and few distractions.
“Interrogation is a science,” he said.
Dean Mandros, chief of the criminal division of the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, where Stiles now works, said he has a unique talent.
“He is relentlessly dogged,” Mandros said. “He is especially thorough as an investigator and he always seems to be able to arrest the right person and get the right person to confess. Some investigators have the knack, some don’t. He has the gift.”
The “knack” was key in helping Stiles zero in on three suspects: victim Wernert’s son, David Wernert; his wife, Patricia Wernert; and their friend, Richard Arterberry. Their motive was money, a $2 million inheritance the killers were impatient to claim.
All three murder suspects were tried concurrently so the expert witnesses would not have to make separate trips for each trial. This also meant the second and third defendants would not have an advantage by being able to read witnesses’ testimonies and having extra time to prepare their defenses.
The trial was difficult for Stiles and his family.
Because the crime’s punishment was the death penalty, the defendants’ lawyers had to argue that their clients were not guilty.
“They didn’t have any defense,” Stiles said. “I had full confessions from all their clients so they didn’t have much to work with.”
The lawyers based much of their clients’ defenses on questioning Stiles’ character. The trial was in the newspaper every day, so their arguments against Stiles were broadcast throughout the community.
“All your friends and relatives have to read that garbage until it’s finally over,” Stiles said.
His youngest son, who was 7 at the time of the trial, once said to him, “Hey, Dad, I saw you on TV! They said you’re a liar, Dad, but I know you don’t lie.”
He considered quitting his job during the ordeal, but his desire to protect the community kept him going.
“When people abuse people, I want to get them, I want to catch them, put them off the street,” he said. “My family and your family and my friends and relatives live in this community, too, and we want to keep it safe for everybody. Justice should be done. They should have to pay for it. That’s what always kept me going.”
The murderers were convicted and Stiles’ reputation was preserved.
Stiles spent two years writing “Blind Trust,” which was published in April, and is available at local bookstores and www.outskirtspress.com. He also wrote “Evil Brothers,” about his experiences tracking down Anthony and Nathaniel Cook, two brutal serial killers and rapists whose youngest victim was 12 years old.
He said he believes telling these stories is important.
“These victims shouldn’t be forgotten,” Stiles said. “And the murderers shouldn’t be forgotten either. We should know what they did and never forget what they did.”
Mandros said “Blind Trust” has an important warning for readers.
“It’s an ugly part of Lucas County history, and it’s important for people to remember to be careful. It can be dangerous in our community no matter what side of town you live on,” he said.
Stiles lectures on law enforcement at many local universities, and students often buy his books to learn more about his successful techniques.
Stiles retired from the Toledo Police Department after working there for 25 years. Now he works in the office of Lucas County Prosecuting Attorney Julia Bates as the chief investigator. He focuses on white-collar crimes, including embezzlement and Ponzi schemes, instead of burglaries and murders.
He investigated the case of Tom Noe, who stole $13 million from the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and illegally funneled $45,000 to Bush’s re-election campaign. Noe was convicted of 29 charges, including corruption, theft, money laundering and tampering with records.
He also is investigating Dan Burns, the former chief operating officer of the Cleveland Schools, who embezzled nearly $155,000 from the school district. Stiles is investigating him for a similar incident at the Toledo Public Schools while he was an administrator there.
He said transitioning from investigating violent crimes to white-collar crimes was not difficult.
“It’s a big difference, but there’s similarities; a theft is a theft. You look for how it’s stolen, and you put those elements together,” he said.
Stiles said he preferred his old position because helping victims was more satisfying than protecting large corporations.
“I felt like I was doing more of a service by helping victims of violent crimes,” he said.