Suspect identified in Ashland, Richland County murders

Three bodies found, woman escapes

A third body was discovered near a burned-out Richland County house Tuesday after authorities were led there by a man taken into custody at an Ashland house where two bodies were found earlier in the day.

Shawn Grate, 40, is being held  in the Ashland County Jail on a kidnapping charge in a connection case, according to Chief Deputy Carl Richert of the Ashland County Sheriff's Office.

Richland County Prosecutor Bambi Couch Page confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the man said he had murdered a woman in a house at 1027 Park Avenue East in Madison Township in June. That house was destroyed by fire in June.

Couch Page, standing near the half-burned small house, said authorities had found a female’s body at the rear of the house in a wooded area, down a ravine.

“Her identity at this time is unknown, but we have a lead as to possibly who she might be and the sheriff’s office is going to follow up on that information,” Couch Page said.

Couch Page said it is her understanding that the suspect has admitted to murdering three women.

The Richland County discovery was the latest twist in a case that started about 6:40 a.m., when a woman who had been abducted and held in a Covert Court house in Ashland called police and was found alive.

The remains of two bodies were found in the same house by authorities, who took a man into custody in connection with the abduction.

Ashland police and state Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification agents were present on the 300 block of Covert Court and a nearby laundromat on Fourth Street since Tuesday morning. The Covert Court house is owned by Pump House Ministries.

Investigators brought a police K-9 into the house and brought out several pieces of evidence, including evidence boxes that appeared to be for firearms. Police and firefighters set up a perimeter around the scene using vehicles and a temporary emergency shelter, obstructing the view of what was happening outside the home during the investigation.

During a brief 4 p.m. press conference, Ashland County Coroner Dale Thomae said he had not been given access to the scene and would not be permitted to inspect and identify the remains until after BCI finished processing the scene.

The local chapter of American Red Cross was called to the Ashland scene Tuesday evening to provide a mobile feeding unit for first responders. Officials told Red Cross they expected BCI to be processing the scene until after midnight Wednesday.

Richland County Sheriff J. Steve Sheldon said Ashland County authorities advised his office  that a suspect said he had disposed of a body in Richland County.

Sheldon said authorities found the body within five minutes of arriving on the scene. He said the body was in the woods and was not buried.

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Madison Township Fire Capt. Mike Shears said the vacant house burned on June 20 or June 21.

“It was definitely suspicious,” he said Tuesday. “The State Fire Marshal’s Office came in to investigate.”

Couch Page said the fire and the woman’s remains are believed to be connected.

Richland County coroner’s investigator Bob Ball said a forensic anthropologist from Mercyhurst College out of Erie, Pa., will help authorities identify the body, as there is a significant amount of decomposition. “DNA testing will be inevitable,” he said.

Police on Wednesday said the remains found in Richland County are too old to be those of Elizabeth Griffith or Stacey Stanley. It is believed that the remains were at the scene since early June.


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