NEW FRANKLIN: Jeffrey Schobert told a friend that he feared for the safety of himself and his wife.
Hours later, they both lay dead.
Schobert, a wealthy and prominent attorney, and his wife, Margaret, a charitable volunteer and doting mother, viciously were attacked before sunrise April 2 inside their spacious New Franklin home.
Since that day, a tangled, twisted story has unraveled, exposing only what is known now as senseless brutality.
Who is involved? What was the motive?
A series of interviews with law enforcement sources and others immersed in the case has done little to clarify what led someone to kill a couple that generously opened the doors to their lives.
The investigation centers on Shawn Eric Ford Jr., the former boyfriend of the Schoberts’ 18-year-old daughter, Chelsea.
His life inside Akron’s inner city could not be more different than hers, yet Ford’s family members say the Schoberts treated Ford like a son — buying him clothes, taking him to dinners and welcoming him into their home.
That all ended around March 23, just 10 days before their death.
Ford, 18, attended Garfield High, but dropped out before graduating. He was raised by his mother and stepfather.
Ford began dating Chelsea Schobert in September as she was settling into her senior year at Archbishop Hoban High School. On the surface, it does not appear to be the type of relationship the Schoberts envisioned for their daughter.
Along with Ford came an extensive juvenile criminal history.
His first arrest, according to court records, came in 2006 — on the day before his 12th birthday — for possession of a fake firearm. Fourteen more court cases followed for offenses that included assault, burglary and theft.
Tracy Wooden, Ford’s stepfather, said the Schoberts welcomed Ford into their family. The couple would travel into the Summit Lake neighborhood to pick up Ford, sometimes taking along his stepbrothers, for dinners at places like Wasabi or shopping trips for expensive clothes.
“They liked Shawn. It wasn’t like they were scared or saw him as a threat,” Wooden said Friday. “They came here, picked him up and took him to their house. They treated him and my boys nice.
“They were some very sweet people. That’s why I hate that this happened to them.”
Chelsea lived comfortably by comparison. She had her own car, nice clothes and regular vacations. Friends say her parents were generous — almost to a fault.
In turn, Chelsea was just as generous with Ford, they said. On March 19, the day of Chelsea’s 18th birthday, the couple expressed their love on Facebook.
“What a great day with my girl on her birthday I love you Chelsea,” Ford wrote.
“I love you too Shawn,” Chelsea replied, adding a heart-shaped icon.
“Love you more Lol,” Ford responded.
Ford also wrote, “I got something good & I’m not letting that go.”
Four days later, however, that sentiment apparently changed.
Chelsea found herself in Akron’s Summit Lake neighborhood, hanging out with Ford and three of his friends inside an Andrus Street home. At some point, police say, Ford became enraged and attacked Chelsea with his fists and a knife.
Friends say Chelsea might have been trying to end the relationship.
“Whatever it was about, Ford just went off,” said a law enforcement source, who like several other officials interviewed for this article requested anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. “But we never did get an explanation.”
After the attack, Ford drove Chelsea for treatment at Akron Children’s Hospital. He also tried to pin the attack on someone else, police said, and his friends backed up the story.
Chelsea never identified her attacker, but the Schoberts suspected Ford had something to do with their daughter’s assault and her subsequent silence, police said.
So while Chelsea lay in the intensive care unit connected to a ventilator, unable to speak for several days and suffering from a knife wound to her neck, the Schoberts made sure hospital security blocked Ford from visiting her.
It was an arrangement that simmered inside Ford, police said.
At the time, he was free on bond while awaiting sentencing in a December robbery that he tried to pull off with a BB gun inside an East South Street barbershop.
Police theorize Ford feared Chelsea eventually would name him as the person who assaulted her. He also was concerned that Peg Schobert, while maintaining a vigil at Chelsea’s bedside, was urging her to cooperate with investigators.
Ford wanted to speak with Chelsea but couldn’t.
“I think it was building up in him for a while. I really think he was afraid of her telling the truth,” an investigator said.
Police say Ford’s simmering temper came to a boil late April 1 and into the early morning hours of April 2. They say he and a 14-year-old friend, Jamall Vaughn, walked from the inner ring of Akron to the Schoberts’ home on Rex Lake Drive abutting the Portage Lakes — about nine miles, with temperatures in the upper 20s.
At this point, authorities would not say if, instead, it appears more likely someone drove the two teens to the Schobert residence. They will only say their investigation is ongoing.
Those familiar with the case said Ford had visited the Schobert home often, knew the family dogs, where the door key was hidden and how much cash they had inside the residence.
While police publicly have speculated Ford was angry with the Schoberts over their efforts to block his attempts to see their daughter at the hospital, others close to the case speculate the slaying might have resulted from a burglary that turned deadly.
Jeffrey, last seen walking his dog in the neighborhood about 7 p.m. April 1, was home alone when Ford and Vaughn arrived sometime after midnight, police have said. Peg, as she had done since her daughter’s attack, was still at Akron Children’s Hospital, where she would remain until the early morning.
Like his daughter, Jeffrey Schobert was attacked with a large, sharp instrument and suffered multiple lacerations. He was also beaten with a sledgehammer. His body was found in his bed.
Meanwhile, his cellphone was used to text Peg to gauge when she would arrive home. About two to three hours after Jeffrey was killed, Peg arrived home, police said.
As she walked inside the couple’s bedroom, she was ambushed. Investigators say the assault on Peg was far more violent than the attack on her husband. The same sledgehammer was used to strike her nearly 20 times.
A family friend, Nick Gerring, who was doing construction work with a crew at the Schoberts’ home stumbled upon the crime scene about 2:30 p.m. that day. He went inside the unlocked home to use the bathroom and passed the master bedroom.
The scene was horrific.
“He was just talking to me about this last night,” an emotional Gerring told a 911 dispatcher. “He told me that, ‘What’s to stop them from coming to my address?’ ”
Gerring went on to retell the assault of Chelsea in which she was “damn near stabbed to death” and that the teen was a “material witness.”
“Jeff was just talking about this with me last night because he was worried something like this would happen because his daughter identified the gangbangers that stabbed her,” Gerring said in the emergency call.
On a dresser inside the bedroom lay an Akron police detective’s business card. The detective was investigating Chelsea’s assault.
New Franklin police soon would be talking to Shawn Ford.
At first, police said, Ford denied any involvement in the attack on the Schoberts. Nor, at that point, had he been charged with the assault on Chelsea. Another man was in custody, largely based on false information Ford and two others who were inside the Andrus Street house where Chelsea was attacked had told police.
Soon, however, Ford was charged in both attacks.
“I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t see this coming at all,” Ford’s stepfather, Wooden, said.
Within the first 48 hours of its investigation, New Franklin police said they collected evidence and tips that put Ford inside the Schobert home and connected him to the slaying.
Police Chief Dan Davidson would not comment on the evidence.
Meanwhile, late on the evening of April 2, roughly 18 hours after the slayings, Kent police arrested Ford on obstruction charges related to the attack on Chelsea. Authorities say he took her for treatment after the attack and had claimed his girlfriend was assaulted in Kent.
Ford’s bond in Portage County was set intentionally high — $350,000 — to ensure he remained in custody as New Franklin Detective Michael Hitchings and Akron police Detectives Rich Morrison and Bertina King continued to investigate the Schobert slaying.
By April 4, Ford was sitting down for a videotaped interview with detectives. Law enforcement described his statements only as “cooperative.”
Davidson would not elaborate.
Afterward, Ford was charged with two counts of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary. Under Ohio law, a slaying involving two or more people can be tried as a death-penalty case. Prosecutors are expected to seek that outcome.
His attorney, Jon Sinn, said Friday that “police are being very tight-lipped about the investigation. It is still ongoing, and they are still pursuing leads.”
He declined further comment.
On April 5, Jamall Vaughn was charged as an accomplice to the Schoberts’ murders.
Prosecutors have begun the process of having him tried as an adult.
While not eligible for the death penalty because of his age, Vaughn, a seventh-grader at the Akron Digital Academy, could be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, if convicted.
His only previous brushes with the law came when he was charged with trespassing at a school demolition work site and with truancy.
“Usually you do not get that kind of jump in the severity of criminal charges,” his attorney, Adam VanHo said. “I would have expected someone charged with an aggravated murder to at least have something else on their record ... before being charged [with] aggravated murder. That is not the case for Jamall.”
VanHo said he has yet to review the state’s case against Vaughn, but he said the boy, at 5-foot-5 and 140 pounds, is not much bigger than the sledgehammer used in the killings.
He called it “hard to fathom how someone as small as Jamall could commit such a brutal crime, which is why I’m very interested to see the government’s theory of the case.”
Ford is being held under a $2 million bond at the Summit County Jail. Last week, during a hearing in Barberton Municipal Court, he was dressed in a green-and-white jail uniform. Such colors are generally reserved for suicidal inmates.
Jail officials, citing privacy laws, withheld medical information contained in Ford’s records.
Davidson said search warrants have been conducted at two locations, forensic testing is taking place and other suspects are being investigated as the case continues.
Last week, Akron police detectives charged two men who they say witnessed the attack on Chelsea but provided false information, leading to another man’s arrest. Zachary Keys, 20, and Joshua Greathouse, 26, both of Akron, are charged with obstructing justice.
As to motive, a police detective familiar with the case said: “I don’t think [Ford] has one, none that’s even worth mentioning. Let’s put it this way: He never gave an explanation that I would feel good enough to even take.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or email@example.com. He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PhilTrexler. Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.