MARION - Wednesday marks a month since Sheriff Tim Bailey announced that serial killings suspect Shawn Grate had confessed to a local murder, but deputies are still working to identify the victim through tips and searching a state database.
Grate, who grew up in Marion County, reportedly confessed that this was the first time he killed a woman, according to Bailey. Grate has been charged with murdering two women in Ashland County and linked to the deaths of two more women in Richland County. He was arrested Sept. 13, after a sixth woman called 911 saying he had abducted her and she was rescued in Ashland.
“We continue to work this case,” Bailey said Tuesday. “We’re not giving up...If this takes another six months or a year, we’re going to continue to make every attempt to identify her and notify her family and get her back to her family.”
Over the last 30 days, Lt. Christy Utley said, she and other deputies have received 10 to 15tips regarding the victim’s identity. Bailey said five or six have been promising, but there’s still “no match.”
They’ve come in from beyond central Ohio, including two women reported missing in California and Canada, respectively. Utley said they wouldn’t let geography stop them from following a lead, but those two haven’t panned out.
Bailey said the woman missing in Canada was ruled out as a match, and the California woman had no known ties to Ohio and wasn’t issued a local license, according to Sacramento police and the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Grate reportedly said he kept an Ohio license belonging to the victim for some time after the killing.
Much of what law enforcement knows about her comes from Grate himself, as he provided details in three interviews and spoke with a Delaware County Sheriff’s Office analyst who made a sketch of the victim.
She may have been named Diane or Dana, lived in Ohio outside of Marion County and was around 26, according to Grate. Officials believe she was killed around 2005, but Grate reportedly does not remember the exact date of the killing. Bailey and Utley said Grate has been cooperative with what he remembers.
The two names and similar variations may yield the victim’s identity, as investigators are scouring a state law enforcement database for women who match the profile and whose licenses expired in the hope that will lead them to the victim. On Monday, Utley also posted on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page seeking local leads about magazine sellers in the area around 2003 and 2004.
The woman had reportedly come to Marion County selling magazine subscriptions, and while Grate’s mother purchased one she never received the expected copies. Bailey said this angered Grate, and several months later he saw the saleswoman walking along South Prospect Street. Bailey said Grate got her into his vehicle by offering to buy a subscription himself, but instead he drove her to a residence in the county, where she was killed.
Utley said investigators also are seeking records from companies that employed people in those roles, however the age of the case has made that difficult. Bank records that could show who Grate’s mother purchased a subscription from also are not available.
Grate reportedly confessed that he took her body to a dumping ground near Victory Road two days later, and the woman was found on March 10, 2007. The details of her death had been unknown until Grate reportedly confessed to officials in Ashland after his September arrest there.
When the remains were first found, Bailey said, he feared the victim could be someone with “very little background” who might never be identified.
“There could be a lot of dead ends on this case, but we’ll deal with that when we get there,” he said in 2007. Still, Utley and Bailey said the case has progressed “backward” — they have a suspect in custody who’s confessed and had information not released to the general public that makes his account appear to be genuine.