Daniel Tighe walked around Tallmadge for nearly two months, shaded by a cloud of suspicion that he killed his son and girlfriend and dumped their bodies behind their home.
All the while, he walked the streets or lived with friends, most recently in a camper parked in a driveway off Breiding Road in North Akron.
Many in suburban Tallmadge wondered why Tighe, 39, was not immediately charged and why he was set free. After all, he lived with Wendy Ralston, 31, and their son, Peyton, 5, when the mother and son were found dead, wrapped in a blanket behind their Stone Creek Drive home Aug. 10.
But police waited. At first, they slapped Tighe with the pop-culture idiom “person of interest.” It wasn’t until last week that he was elevated to a full-fledged suspect.
On Thursday, Tighe became a murder defendant. Detectives and U.S. marshals arrested him at the Akron camper. He is being held in the Summit County Jail on charges of aggravated murder, murder and domestic violence.
A grand jury is expected to review the case within a week. A lawyer for Tighe could not be identified through court records.
Meanwhile, Tallmadge police on Thursday unveiled more details of their case and said a death-penalty charge is “appropriate.”
Police Lt. Ron Williams said Tighe’s sometimes awkward freedom for two months was part of a plan as detectives awaited test results on forensic evidence. They hoped Tighe, in some way, would help their investigation. Maybe with his words, maybe with his actions.
“And he did,” Williams said.
Police questioned Tighe on Aug. 10 after the remains of Ralston and her son were found, Williams said. He told investigators that he thought Ralston took her son and went on a vacation. He couldn’t explain why she left her cellphone and credit cards behind, Williams said.
Lie detector test
In an attempt to prove his innocence, Tighe drove to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation on Aug. 11 and took a polygraph test. Williams would not reveal the results.
“But he asked for a lawyer afterward,” the lieutenant said.
Police in the meantime were combing Tighe’s rented duplex, where he had lived with Ralston for several months, looking for clues and evidence of violence.
It was inside the home, possibly around July 23, that police believe Tighe killed Ralston. Afterward — and police aren’t sure exactly how long — Tighe killed his young son.
Williams said a small amount of blood from the mother and the son was found inside the home. The blood was found despite an effort to clean up the house with an undisclosed cleanser, Williams said.
Afterward, the bodies were wrapped in bedding and taken to a wooded area about 100 yards behind the home, Williams said. They remained there for more than two weeks until Ralston’s mother, Marie, worried over her daughter’s disappearance, found the remains.
During those 18 days, Williams said Tighe “watched Netflix and ate pizza.” He never called police to report Ralston missing until his girlfriend’s mother did so Aug. 8.
Detectives believe Ralston was killed during a quarrel. Williams said detectives expect to learn a manner of death soon. The remains have been examined by the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office and forensic anthropologists.
Williams would not discuss any preliminary findings. He would only say that no weapon — such as a gun, knife or blunt instrument — was used in the slayings.
“Obviously, it was an act of violence. At this point, I can’t say what triggered that,” Williams said.
Ralston and Tighe had an on-and-off relationship for about 10 years, and Peyton was their son. During that span, both accused each other of domestic violence at one time or another.
Building a case
Williams said Tighe was closely watched during the time he remained free. He was unemployed and did not appear to have the means to leave the area. Police were content to build their case.
“Actually, it was very intentional,” Williams said. “We didn’t have enough to charge him. We were curious who he would talk to, what he would do, what he would say, who he would say it to.
“He talked to people. He didn’t confess, but he complicated his life.”
Those complications, Williams said, center on Tighe’s alibi and his recollection of Ralston’s whereabouts around the time she was missing. People he spoke to in the past two weeks are now considered witnesses, Williams said.
Williams said officers notified Ralston’s mother of the arrest. The family is relieved to get some sense of being closer to a resolution, he said. A memorial service for Ralston and Peyton was held last weekend. Tighe did not attend.
The Rev. David Zachrich of Tallmadge Lutheran Church said Marie Ralston and her husband, William, have been apprised of the police investigation’s progress throughout and appreciate the department’s efforts.
“[Marie and William are] relieved. I won’t say glad or joyful, they’re not that way. They’re not the kind of people to say, ‘Gosh, we’re really glad.’ ... Obviously, there’s a lot of grief, and today’s one more of those things that exacerbates the grief.
“It’s been a tough day, but police had assured them that this was unfolding, that they were going to patiently and painstakingly do their work and now they’ve come to that spot. And the family is relieved that we’re at this point.”
Police said a grand jury can return with death-penalty specifications against Tighe based on the two killings, one involving a child under 12.
“This guy did this to his family and then sat in the house for two weeks watching Netflix and eating pizza,” Williams said. “I’m thinking he’s got something coming.”