Authors: Robert Scott,Sarah Maynard,Larry Maynard
A hundred thoughts raced through Sarah’s mind as she lay on the kitchen floor. What
had happened to Kody? What had happened to her mom? And was this man going to kill
Sarah’s shock was beginning to gradually make way for survival mode. She began to
wonder what she had to do to stay alive. Should she try and talk to this man? Should
she just stay silent?
He told her not to struggle or make any noise. If she did, he would kill her. He then
blindfolded her, picked her up once again and took her down some stairs. Even though
she couldn’t see, she soon realized he had placed her into Stephanie’s Jeep. She could
feel something in the backseat next to her, but she didn’t know what it was . . .
PRAISE FOR ROBERT SCOTT AND HIS BOOKS
“Compelling and shocking . . . [A] groundbreaking book.”
—Robert K. Tanenbaum
“Fascinating and fresh . . . [A] fast-paced, informative read.”
“Skillfully written . . . [Scott] has the ability to tell a true story with compassion
and taste while grabbing and keeping the reader’s attention.”
“An excellent true crime writer.”
—True Crime Book Reviews
THE GIRL IN THE LEAVES
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THE GIRL IN THE LEAVES
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with Robert Scott
Berkley premium edition / January 2013
Copyright © 2012 by Robert Scott.
Cover photo courtesy of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
Cover design by Diana Kolsky.
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I’d like to thank my editor, Shannon Jamieson Vazquez, for all the help on this book,
and my literary agent, Sharlene Martin. I’d also like to thank the Knox County Sheriff’s
Office and Knox County Prosecutor’s Office. And special thanks go to Larry, Tracy
and Sarah Maynard.
“He’s a Real Weirdo”
MOUNT VERNON, OHIO—NOVEMBER 2010
Relations between Dawna Davis (whose name would often be spelled as Donna in future
accounts and articles) and her next-door neighbor on Columbus Road in Mount Vernon,
Ohio, had not always been strained. Dawna, the mother of three children, initially
liked the young man, thirty-year-old Matthew Hoffman, who resided next door in a two-story
house with his girlfriend and her eight-year-old son. In fact, Dawna’s eldest son
often went over to Hoffman’s house to play with the girlfriend’s son. The two boys
would toss a football around, watch TV and just generally hang out together after
Dawna’s friend, Leanda Cline, agreed that Hoffman was friendly in the beginning and
referred to him as a nice guy. Leanda’s son, who would also play over at Hoffman’s
house, told her that Hoffman let the boys jump around on a trampoline, and made popcorn
for them too. They would often sit in front of the TV watching a DVD and eating popcorn.
Dawna and Leanda’s sons also had sleepovers at Hoffman’s house, and on occasion, Hoffman
would give Dawna’s fourteen-year-old daughter rides home from the movie theater in
Mount Vernon. All in all, he seemed just as Leanda had indicated, “a nice guy.”
But near the end of summer 2010, Matt Hoffman began to change. He became more irritable
and moody. One day, his dogs suddenly disappeared. Dawna later said, “I believe in
my heart that he killed those dogs. He started pulling back and acting strange. I
don’t know what set him off. He was just getting more and more weird.”
Around the same time, Hoffman began setting squirrel traps around his yard. Dawna
learned from his girlfriend that Hoffman was catching the squirrels, taking them into
his house, butchering them and eating them. On occasion, the girlfriend said, he would
even barbecue the squirrels. It freaked Dawna out. She said later, “We liked those
squirrels and used to feed them. And then he killed them!”
Dawna quit letting her daughter ride home from the movie theater with Hoffman when
she learned he was taking the girl on indirect routes home. These roads ran through
sparsely populated areas of woods away from the main logical route back to Columbus
Road. Dawna’s daughter told her, “We didn’t take the main roads back home, we took
back roads. It made me uncomfortable.”
Dawna also quit letting her son play next door. Hoffman was just becoming “too weird”
in her estimation. Hoffman’s girlfriend was changing as well. She had initially been
talkative and outgoing, but as autumn came along in 2010, she became more reserved
and quiet. In fact, by that point, whenever she came over to see Dawna, it was almost
as if she had to sneak out of Hoffman’s house so that he wouldn’t know that she was
there. It got so bad that Dawna and Leanda later said that they began to fear for
her safety. “We knew something was wrong.”
It was more than just a gut feeling on their part. In mid-October an incident brought
to light just how much Matt Hoffman had changed from the nice guy next-door neighbor
into something else.
Hoffman’s girlfriend had finally had enough of his increasingly bizarre behavior and
she and her son moved out of his house. She came back one day to pick up some items
that she’d left behind, and almost immediately she and Hoffman got into an argument.
As it became more heated, she started to leave, but he pushed her over a chair and
knocked her to the floor. Then he began choking her.
She later related in a police report, “We were in his living room talking and he got
upset and pushed me against a wall. He had his forearm up against my neck and was
choking me. I got loose, but he grabbed me again and we tumbled over a chair to the
floor. I was fighting to try and get him off of me, but he choked me on the ground.”
She estimated that they struggled for two minutes, with him choking her on and off
as they rolled around on the floor. Finally he let her up, and they spoke briefly
before she left his house. She reported the incident to the police, but then for whatever
reasons, decided not to press charges.
After Hoffman’s girlfriend and son moved out, Dawna no longer let her children go
anywhere near Hoffman. In fact, she wouldn’t even let them play in their own yard
if Hoffman was outside. He was too erratic, in her estimation, to be anywhere around
her children. And his habits were becoming more and more strange.
On occasion he would climb up into the branches of a large tree on his property and
perch up there for hours. Just what or who he was looking for, Dawna didn’t know.
He would also spend great amounts of time in a hammock in a tree. He seemed to be
obsessed with trees.
By now, Hoffman gave Dawna the creeps.
As if that wasn’t enough, Hoffman, who had always been addicted to computers, had
his electricity turned off. Suddenly even that outlet for him was gone. With winter
coming on, it seemed crazy to be without such power. But crazy is exactly the word
Dawna now used to describe Hoffman. She soon started letting everyone know, “He’s
a real weirdo.”
* * *
Matt Hoffman didn’t care what Dawna Davis or anyone else thought about him. He had
always marched to the beat of a different drum. For example, more than ten years earlier,
when he was nineteen years old, he had left Ohio and moved to Colorado, where he had
gotten himself into a great deal of trouble. Though he rationalized to himself that
he had mainly been the victim of bad luck, that bad luck had cost him prison time
and made him a very angry young man.
After his prison stint, Hoffman had moved back to Ohio, where his mother lived, as
a condition of his parole. He got a job as a tree trimmer, which suited him. He had
always liked being in and around trees. Like his neighbors, his employer at Fast Eddy’s,
a grounds-maintenance and tree-trimming service in Mount Vernon, at first thought
Hoffman was a nice guy. Office manager Sandy Burd later said, “There was nothing strange
about him in the beginning. He just blended in. But as time went on, he struck me
as really strange. He would just stare off into space.”
Not only that, but Burd learned that Hoffman had oversold his tree-trimming experience
and had not disclosed that he had been in prison. Hoffman’s actions became so troubling
that at the end of October 2010, he was let go from his job.
Hoffman was bitter as October turned to November 2010. Now, as Hoffman sat in his
house, with no job, no electricity, no gas and no girlfriend, he became more and more
angry. He was worked up and agitated, and when he was in such a state, he had to blow
off steam. That’s when his urges were at their strongest. And the urge right now was
as it had been back in Colorado. He liked breaking into people’s homes. People who
led “normal lives.”
He didn’t consider himself to be normal. He thought of himself as extraordinary. The
rules that pertained to others didn’t pertain to him. When he felt these urges, he
was a man of action, and he acted upon them come hell or high water. He knew about
a place in the town of Howard named Apple Valley. It was a house that sat alone on
a street across from some woods. Best of all, its garage door would not close all
the way, giving easy access into the interior of the house. He’d wait until all the
people in the house had left for the day, and then he’d sneak inside and take whatever
he wanted. Hoffman got a charge out of those kinds of things, and was no stranger
to breaking and entering.