At different times during the fall of 2011, Ralph Geiger of Akron, David Pauley of Virginia and Timothy Kern of Massillon were lured into a trap and never made it out alive. A fourth man, Scott William Davis, barely escaped a similar fate, his lucky break ultimately leading to discovery of a devious plot and a halt to what could have become a long killing spree.
On Tuesday, in a Summit County Common Pleas Court, a jury convicted Richard James Beasley of the three murders and the attempted murder. In a separate trial last year, Beasley’s young protege and co-conspirator, Brogan Rafferty, 16 years old at the time of the crimes, also was tried as an adult and convicted of the murders. Confessing to the killings and telling of Beasley’s role, Rafferty has been sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.
The convictions bring a measure of justice to the infamous “Craigslist murders.” Each of the victims responded to an ad placed on the digital service by Beasley offering employment as the caretaker for a farm in Noble County. Under pretext of showing the remote farm, Beasley and Rafferty shot and killed their victims, burying their bodies in shallow graves. Evidence at the trial linked Beasley, whose criminal history included several years in a Texas prison, to the ad and bullets recovered from the victims.
Beasley wrapped himself in a religious cloak, a self-styled preacher whose goal, he claimed, was to help people on the margins of society to turn their lives around. But his mentoring relationship with Rafferty hid what turned out to be an exceedingly dark influence. The prosecution offered a fitting description of Beasley as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing. ” His calculating mind preyed on the hopes of men who were looking for honest employment.
Next week, Beasley will face the jury as it weighs whether he deserves the death penalty. It is his chance to provide any circumstances that might mitigate the heartlessness of his crimes.