COLUMBUS — A jobseeker from Florida who responded to a bogus Craigslist ad for a job on a southeast Ohio cattle farm was found dead, buried in a shallow grave, and another from South Carolina was shot but escaped by running away through the woods, a sheriff said Thursday.
Noble County Sheriff Stephen Hannum said two men were taken into custody after cadaver dogs found the body of the Florida man this week in a grave in a remote area outside Caldwell, a small village about 80 miles east of Columbus.
He said the search was undertaken after the South Carolina man escaped from the area on Nov. 6 and notified police, who later found a hand-dug grave authorities believe had been meant for him.
An autopsy on the Florida man was being performed Thursday in Licking County, outside Columbus, and Hannum said names of the suspects and victims were being withheld until at least Friday.
Authorities received a call five days after the South Carolina man was shot from the Florida man’s twin sister, concerned that her brother had not been heard from since Oct. 22 in Parkersburg, W.Va., the sheriff said. The twin, in Boston, said her brother had responded to what she believed was the same Craigslist ad, which sought a caretaker for cattle on a 688-acre farm.
The sheriff said the South Carolina man had been told to carry his belongings to Ohio because he’d be living at the farm, and robbery was believed to be the motive.
“It seems that this was just a ruse to lure victims into the trap, most likely to commit a murder and relieve the deceased of their personal property,” Hannum said.
He said it was unknown how long the ad had been online or how many people may have responded.
The sheriff said the call prompted officers to return to the remote area, where they found the grave believed to have been intended for the South Carolina man.
“A grave obviously had been dug that we assume had been dug for him, but he was shot and wounded and he got away,” Hannum said. “We brought in cadaver dogs thinking that a possibility that the person that was advertising on Craigslist and lured this guy down here may very well have lured someone else to the same area. Our hunch was correct.”
The cadaver search began Monday, and officers found the body the following day. The suspects were arrested Wednesday in Summit County, in northeast Ohio, about 90 miles away.
Hannum said the South Carolina man had hidden in the woods for about seven hours with a gunshot wound to his arm.
The man eventually made his way to a house about 2 miles away. He told police he had been walking in a wooded area with one of the men when he heard a gun cock and turned to see a firearm pointed at his head. He pushed it away and ran. He said multiple shots were fired and he was hit once.
The man said he had met the others for breakfast and later rode with them in a vehicle, believing he was headed to the farm, until he was told a landslide had closed the road and entered the woods on foot.
The Craigslist website, which features free classified ads for housing, jobs, personal announcements, articles for sale and services, among other things, has been blamed for a number of deaths, including that of a New York City masseuse who authorities say was killed in 2009 by a Boston medical student she met through the site.
More recently, in September, the last of four defendants was sentenced in the 2010 killing of a Tacoma, Wash.-area man in a home robbery during which the group pretended to be interested in a diamond ring advertised on Craigslist.
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark has urged people to take precautions when using the site.
“It’s been devastating to see that it can also be used by bad people to take cruel advantage of others,” he said in 2009 at a ceremony honoring a Minnesota woman who died after responding to a phony ad for a baby sitter.