By Phil Trexler
Beacon Journal staff writer
TALLMADGE: Tallmadge police are in the throes of a double-homicide investigation focusing on the deaths of a mother and child whose bodies were dumped behind their home, apparently several weeks ago.
The badly decomposed remains of Wendy Ralston, 31, and her 5-year-old son, Peyton, were identified officially Tuesday through forensic examinations by the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office.
While a cause of death has yet to be determined, Tallmadge police are treating the deaths as a homicide based on the fact their bodies were found Saturday wrapped in a bed comforter and dark blue sheet in a patch of woods, about 100 yards behind their Stone Creek Drive home.
Lt. Ron Williams said detectives and agents with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation have collected a “massive amount of evidence” from inside the home Ralston shared with her son’s father. Officers also took possession of Ralston’s car and her boyfriend’s Jeep.
The vehicles will be processed for evidence, Williams said.
Detectives believe Ralston and her son were killed inside the home, probably around July 23, Williams said. Because of the extensive decomposition of their bodies, an anthropologist has been asked to aid in handling the remains.
Ralston was last known to be alive the morning of July 23, when she posted a note for Facebook. Family members and her boyfriend say she has a history of being gone from her home for long periods of time, and her sudden disappearance did not immediately draw suspicions, police said.
The boyfriend, 39, has been cooperative through several police interviews and is not considered a suspect at this time, Williams said. A call to the man’s cellphone Tuesday was not answered and no messages could be left.
The boyfriend is not living at the home because police have the duplex sealed while they comb the unit for evidence.
“We talked to him. We also talked to many people,” Williams told reporters Tuesday. “What we’re going to do moving forward is, we’re going to analyze this massive amount of evidence we have in the next few days.”
For now, Williams said, the boyfriend remains a “person of interest because he lives in the house, but nothing beyond that.” He also said that others — none of whom were named — remain persons of interest as well.
During the 15-minute news conference, Williams would not reveal what the boyfriend said during his interviews nor what he believes happened to the man’s son and girlfriend.
Ralston’s family declined to comment.
Authorities visit home
Records released by Tallmadge police Tuesday show officers had been called to the Stone Creek Drive home three times since Ralston disappeared last month: once each July 31, Aug. 7 and Saturday.
The first visit was prompted by concerned neighbors, who told police they hadn’t seen Ralston since hearing her son crying “Mommy, wake up” several days earlier. Police officers found Ralston’s boyfriend in the backyard, and he appeared calm and cooperative.
Nothing suspicious was noted and the officers left, police said.
On Aug. 7, the boyfriend and Ralston’s mother, Marie Ralston, each called police to report the woman’s and child’s disappearances. According to a report, the boyfriend told police that Ralston went on a “vacation to an unknown place,” but had not been heard from in two weeks.
“The mother was not yet overwhelmingly concerned because it was not uncommon for Wendy to break contact with the family” for extensive periods of time, Williams said.
On Saturday, Marie Ralston visited the home herself and found the remains while searching the wooded area.
Friends say Ralston has had an off-and-on relationship with her boyfriend for more than a decade. Police say that neither Ralston nor her boyfriend were currently working, and court records show Ralston had agreed to move from the rental property by Friday.
Past police calls
The boyfriend moved in to the Stone Creek Drive home in the spring. Since then, officers have been called four other times to the home for domestic-related events, none of which warranted an arrest, Williams said.
There were two calls in May and one each in June and July. In a May 31 report, an officer noted that the couple “began arguing about how they should discipline their child.”
Ralston alleged her boyfriend wanted to spank their child, and when she tried to stop him, she was pushed onto a couch. The boyfriend alleged he was merely trying to block Ralston from punching him.
“Neither suspect was willing to leave for the night to cool off,” an officer wrote.
Since neither person appeared hurt and no primary aggressor could be determined, the officers left the home, the report shows.
The other calls did not rise to the level of a report and dealt with Ralston calling about “an unwanted guest” who had been living at her home.
Akron police records also show a history of domestic disputes between the two dating back to 2005. In one case, Ralston was arrested for domestic violence. In two other cases, her boyfriend was arrested.