|Birth: ||Jul. 11, 1986|
|Death: ||Mar. 26, 2011|
Disturbing story emerges of murdered woman's life
By JORDAN CRAVENS
On the surface, Vera Jo Reigle was like many other young women. She loved to sing along to country music and hang out with her friends, and she just adored her 17-month-old, blue-eyed daughter, Willadean.
But some of her family, and court and police records, tell a disturbing story of a simple, pretty blonde who suffered almost unspeakable abuse during her 24 years.
It ended only when Vera Jo's body was found, mutilated and abused beyond what can be described here, during the Sunday morning darkness on the CSX railroad tracks near the Blanchard River in Findlay. Two people have been charged.
The damage began years before. Vera Jo was 11 years old when her father raped her, according to court records. Willard E. Reigle Jr. is about halfway through a 20-year sentence at Lima's Allen Correctional Institution.
In 2005, a stranger shoved her off her bicycle, hurting her badly enough to be hospitalized, according to a police report.
In January, someone beat her up, according to a police report. She was taken to the hospital again, but would not press charges, the report said.
Vera Jo was mentally challenged with a deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to police reports and her mother, Verna Messersmith.
Despite low reading and math skills, she took special classes and earned her Findlay High School diploma in 2005.
But Vera Jo never had a job. And she had her baby out of wedlock with a boy six years her junior. She and Zachary Brooks, now 18, had been on-again, off-again for the past five years.
When her mother and stepfather moved away a few years ago, Messersmith said, Vera Jo moved in with the Brooks family. Today, that family lives at 300 Center St., a threadbare, two-story house. A picture window facing the four-lane road features dusty, menacing dolls, including "Chucky" of horror films.
Vera Jo found little peace there, police records show.
Officers were called to the house at least 10 times over two years because of complaints about harassment, threats, child abuse or neglect, fighting, and poor living conditions. Police also went there to escort a social worker inside to check on Vera Jo and baby Willadean.
Officers' reports said the house was "filthy" and "smelled terrible," in part because a pig was living there and defecating in a closet.
On Jan. 21, a woman told police Vera Jo was being held "against her will" and was "not allowed to go outside of the house or be involved with her baby at all," according to a police report.
The woman said the Brooks family kept Vera Jo because she received Social Security disability checks, according to the report, which identified the woman as someone who lived elsewhere.
Officer Marcia Hill investigated and found that Cheri Brooks, mother of Zachary Brooks, was Vera Jo's guardian and payee for her disability checks.
Hill reported that officers saw Vera Jo's face was bruised and cut, and it appeared she had a broken nose. Vera Jo said an ex-boyfriend from Lima hurt her "awhile ago."
An ambulance took her to the hospital and the police report was forwarded to Children's Services.
"She did not, or could not, provide any other details surrounding the event," Hill reported. "She stated she likes it with the Brooks family and that she is 'happy here.'
"I told Vera if she needed any help I could help her," Hill reported. "She insisted she was fine.
"I asked her if she thought this environment was healthy and safe for her and Willadean. She stated she thought it was.
"I pointed out all the hazards I could see with just this room. She looked around the room and said this was all she needed," Hill reported.
During this conversation on Jan. 21, Hill first noticed the pig.
"I turned and looked and there was a pig in the closet. The pig looked as though it may have been young, however, it was fairly large, approximating his weight at 100 pounds," Hill wrote.
"The pig was confined to the closet by a piece of plywood that was about two feet high. The pig had his front legs and head on top of the plywood. It was clear the animal was using the space as a toilet as well," she wrote.
Three days later, police returned with a Children's Services worker.
"When we opened the door, a very foul smell was coming from inside the house," Officer Shawn Nungester reported.
"The house was very dirty and it did not appear that the Brooks family owns a vacuum for the carpets," Nungester wrote.
While there, Nungester said he saw a cockroach on the wall near the front door and another on the floor in front of a television.
The two people charged in Vera Jo's death were at the house last Saturday in the hours before her body was found.
Daniel Bixler, 21, of Tiffin, who was just released from prison March 3, and an unidentified 17-year-old girl from Fostoria were charged with aggravated murder, according to a police press release. The Brooks family identified the 17-year-old as Bixler's girlfriend.
Bixler had been behind bars since July 2008 on burglary, theft and receiving stolen property charges filed in Seneca County.
Cheri Brooks told The Courier she last saw Vera Jo with the couple in the kitchen around 8:30 p.m. Saturday. She said the three later took a walk.
She said when Vera Jo did not come back, she asked someone about her whereabouts and was told, "Oh, don't worry about Vera," that she was with a male friend. It is unclear who told Brooks not to worry.
Later, Brooks said, Bixler and the 17-year-old told family members gruesome details of the killing. Police declined comment when asked if the couple was arrested at the Brooks home. They also declined to comment on a motive, and whether drug use was involved.
Police and prosecutors say they are still investigating.
Vera Jo's mother, Verna Messersmith, now back in Findlay, said the murder suspects abused Vera Jo in the hours before her death and members of the Brooks household knew it.
"Nobody defended her. Nobody tried to stop it because they feared for their lives," Messersmith said.
Messersmith admitted she had been estranged from Vera Jo and had not seen her since September 2009. They occasionally talked by telephone, she said.
"They were talking bad to her, saying I didn't love her and I didn't want her," Messersmith said.
The Brooks and Messersmith families don't get along. Both claim Vera Jo as their own and even argue about her last name.
Messersmith was used in Vera Jo's obituary. Her mother and stepfather handled the funeral arrangements.
The Brooks family wants her to be known as Reigle, her father's name.
Verna Messersmith was upset that Cheri Brooks was called to identify Vera Jo's body, not her, because Vera Jo lived with the Brooks family.
Cheri Brooks said she had lived with them for the past five years, as her son dated her off and on, and she had his baby.
The families are also at odds on whether Bixler is Vera Jo's cousin. The Brooks family says yes and the Messersmiths say no.
There is even some confusion over charges against the unidentified 17-year-old girl.
A Findlay police press release Monday reported that she and Bixler "have been taken into custody for aggravated murder."
But on Friday, Hancock County Prosecutor Mark Miller said the girl has not been charged in Vera Jo's case, but was being held in Seneca County on unrelated charges.
"What charges are appropriate (for the girl) will be determined upon a review of all the evidence," Miller said.
On Friday afternoon, Vera Jo was laid to rest beneath a sunny sky at Knollcrest Gardens near Arcadia.
Later, more than a hundred people gathered at the corner where Clinton Street meets the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. bridge in downtown Findlay to remember her.
They lit white candles and passed the flame to one another. Then they walked up the bridge and released purple balloons just above the railroad trestle where Vera Jo was murdered.
As darkness set in, some went to the tracks and leaned their candles against the trestle, where flowers had already been placed.
Cravens: 419-427-8422, firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @CourierJordan
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Findlay woman slain, two people charged
By JORDAN CRAVENS
A young Findlay woman was slain early Sunday, her body found lying on CSX railroad tracks near the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. bridge. Two people have been charged with aggravated murder in connection with her death.
Vera Jo Reigle, 24, of 300 Center St., was found on a railroad bridge near the Blanchard River around 2 a.m. Sunday by a train operator, Findlay police Lt. Chuck Wilson said Monday.
Charged in Reigle's death are Daniel "Danny" M. Bixler, 21, of Tiffin, and a 17-year-old female from Fostoria, whose name has not been released by police.
Hancock County Coroner Dr. Mark Fox said Reigle suffered multiple blunt and sharp trauma to her torso, head and legs. He said the injuries were not caused by being hit by a train.
A possible motive was not released by police.
Reigle's family said her body was mutilated by her assailants.
"She never hurt anybody. She didn't deserve to go out like this," said Cheri Brooks, the mother of Zach Brooks, the father of Reigle's 17-month-old daughter.
Reigle had lived with the Brooks family on Center Street for the past five years. Reigle was a sweet, quiet woman, and known by her family as being a good mother, and one who always did her part around the house.
"She'd do anything you asked her to do," Cheri Brooks said.
"You can't just say, well, she's gone and forget about her. I have known her since she was in diapers," Cheri Brooks said.
Bixler is behind bars at the Hancock County jail and the Fostoria girl is being held in the Seneca County Juvenile Detention Facility.
The suspects were at the Center Street home hours before Reigle was killed, Cheri Brooks said. The last time she saw Reigle was at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
"I'm shocked they did it," Cheri Brooks said of the alleged killers.
Reigle's 17-month-old daughter, Willadean Elizabeth Jo Brooks, with light hair and blue eyes, laughed and played unknowingly at her house Monday, showing off her newly honed walking skills.
"It's hard knowing my kid has to grow up without a mom now," said Zach Brooks, Willadean's father.
The homicide is the city's first since the October 2009
Victim's family seeking answers
By JORDAN CRAVENS
Answers and justice.
That is what family members of Findlay murder victim Vera Jo Reigle are pleading for.
"I just want to know why they decided to pick my sister. She was 24. She was kind-hearted," said Ashley Messersmith, Vera's 23-year-old sister.
"I just want answers. Why did they murder my sister and why did they put her on the tracks?" she said Tuesday.
Reigle, of 300 Center St., was found on a railroad bridge near the Martin Luther King Jr. bridge around 2 a.m. Sunday by a train operator, police said.
A Tiffin man and an unidentified 17-year-old Fostoria female have been charged with aggravated murder in her death.
"She was a sweet girl. She loved everybody and I don't know why this had to happen to her," said Reigle's mother, Verna Messersmith, who lives on Davis Street.
"To me, she never had a mean bone in her body," she said.
Verna Messersmith said she first heard reports this weekend that a young woman's body had been found on the tracks and it might be her daughter.
"I didn't believe it because you hear all kinds of rumors around town," she said.
But later, rumors became reality.
"I felt rage. I just want the people that did it to rot in prison for the rest of their lives," she said Tuesday.
"Knowing I have to make funeral arrangements for my daughter, who is 24 years old, just isn't right," Messersmith said.
"It's been pain and agony."
Reigle had been living at 300 Center St. with the Brooks family. Verna Messersmith said the last time she saw her daughter was in September 2009, but they talked over the phone since then.
"I knew she was around town and I knew where she lived, but I could never see her," she said.
Verna and her husband, Lynn, are seeking custody of Reigle's 17-month-old daughter. As recently as Monday, the child had been living with the Brooks family on Center Street.
"I know her little girl is going to miss her mom," Verna Messersmith said.
Editor's note: In an obituary on page A5 of today's Courier, Reigle is identified by the last name Messersmith. However, she has been identified by police as Reigle.
VERA JO MESSERSMITH
The Courier March 30, 2011 (page 5)
Vera Jo Messersmith, 24, of Findlay passed away on Sunday, March 26, 2011. She was born in Findlay on July 11, 1986, to Lynn and Verna (Garner) Messersmith. Vera Jo is survived by her parents, her daughter, who she loved dearly, Willadean Messersmith, sisters: Allyson (John) Huss of Tiffin and Ashley Messersmith of Findlay. She is also survived by nephews: Domanic Bowser, Gabe Bowser, Brandon Lee Messersmith, cousins: Sydney Bland, Stacy Bland, Allen Garner, Jr., Tammy (Mark) Ball, Brandon Garner, Adam Perkins, A.J. Donaldson, aunts and uncles: Allen (Ruby) Garner, Pastors Don (Mary) Garner, Ester Perkins, Nina (Randy) Heck, Burt (Linda) Messersmith, Roy (Vicki) Messersmith, Steven Hide and Jane (Terry) Boltz. Vera Jo was preceded in death by her paternal grandparents, Glenn (Alva) Messersmith, maternal grandparents Thomas (Edna) Garner, cousin Brandy Lynch and aunt Bobbi Hide. She was a 2005 graduate of Findlay High School. Vera Jo loved to be around people and especially loved her daughter. She liked country music and wearing jewelery. She will be sadly missed by her famly and friends. Visitation will be held on Thursday, March 31, 2011, from 2:00 - 4:00 & 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. at COLDREN-CRATES FUNERAL HOME. The funeral service will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, April 1, 2011, at COLDREN-CRATES FUNERAL HOME, with Pastor Don Garner officiating. Burial will follow in Knollcrest Gardens, east of Findlay. Memorial contributions can be made to the family c/o Coldren-Crates Funeral Home, 205 W. Sandusky St, Findlay, OH 45840. Condolences can be sent via www.coldrencrates.com.
Created by: S.(Rodabaugh)Hanley
Record added: Mar 30, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 67649557