AKRON, Ohio — Joann’s Pantry bustles most days in this Akron neighborhood. Hundreds of residents are still hurting from the Great Recession, lugging a box of food to help carry them through another month.
Overlooking 45 volunteers is a photograph of the food bank’s namesake: Joann Bartholomew.
It’s been this way for over 30 years, a tribute to the Stow woman brazenly abducted and killed in the fall of 1987.
"It was heartbreaking,” said Lawana Partlow, who runs the pantry for First Church of Tallmadge with her husband, Jim. “To know that someone who would have given you anything you ask her for would have been treated in such a way. It broke your heart. it really did."
Joann Bartholomew, 47, taught Sunday school classes at First Church and ran a local Dairy Queen with her husband, Chuck. The couple had two adult sons.
Chuck Bartholomew can easily recite nearly every minute of Oct. 21, 1987, the last day he’d be with his longtime love.
"I live it every day,” he said. “It never will go away."
"[Joann] was my best friend. My business partner. The mother of my children. I just could not have had anything greater than what I had with her. We had a great marriage and our church was in the middle of it."
It’s no surprise then that the last hours of her life were spent at her church.
While her husband worked into the evening, Joann attended Wednesday night church services.
Chuck arrived home about 9 p.m., grabbed a bite to eat and settled into the couch to catch Game 4 of the World Series. Dozing off to sleep, he wasn’t alarmed by his wife’s absence. Not yet.
At midnight, he awoke.
“…and I got up and I called and she wasn't there. And I looked in the garage and her car wasn't there. And I got scared."
Chuck called his son, but didn’t want to alarm others. He went out driving, trying to locate his wife. Under department policy, Stow police couldn’t take a missing person report until the next day.
The following day, Joann’s car was found. Parked askew at the Chapel Hill Mall. She was not inside.
Friends and family now joined in the search for Joann. Day and night. It ended Saturday when her partially clothed body was found by a family member in a wooded patch off Buchholzer Boulevard.
"I wish I had found her. I wish I had found her sooner," Chuck said.
Joann’s purse and other personal belongings were found a few miles away, scattered in the street. An autopsy found that Joann had been sexually assaulted and stabbed repeatedly.
"The kind of hate that had to be in this person's heart that did that to someone… I just can't imagine," Chuck said.
Joann’s death came on the heels of the abduction and slayings of three other women. Police initially thought the cases were connected. Detectives no longer believe that, an Akron police detective said this week.
Decades of police work have yet to yield an arrest. While the case remains open, there’s been little movement.
DNA collected at the scene has yet to provide a suspect.
For Chuck Bartholomew, all that remains are memories. He’s since remarried and has three grandchildren. He’s now 79 years old, but remains a hands-on Dairy Queen owner.
He said his faith continues to carry him and his family.
"People have said to me, because of her faith, where was God?” he said. “He was there... He held her hand so she could go through what she had to go through."
Anyone with information about the death of Joann Bartholomew can call Akron police detectives at 330-375-7491.