Phil Trexler

Ed Draher’s family can’t imagine him setting fire to the farm home he built, especially with his two faithful dogs inside.


Nor can they envision him then taking a gun and shooting himself in the back of the head.


But if Draher didn’t do all this himself — and police are unsure he did — then someone else killed the 66-year-old Copley Township retiree. And that scenario is just as unthinkable to Draher’s wife and daughter.


Who would want to murder the unassuming and gentle grandfather?


Police are investigating both scenarios as they try to unravel what happened Thursday morning to Draher as he died alone inside his expansive dream house that sits secluded on Earhart Avenue amid a dozen alpacas and 27 acres on the eastern edge of the township.


“There’s a lot of what ifs and why nots and what happened,” said Draher’s daughter, Michelle Davis.


Draher’s body was pulled from a first-floor room by firefighters, who battled sizzling heat, collapsing floors and intense flames inside the 4,000-square-foot house. Draher’s body was burned badly.


Authorities found a bullet wound in the back of his head. They also found several firearms from Draher’s collection that will be tested to determine which may have caused the fatal wound.


Also in the house, fire investigators found several gas cans and a propane tank. It was clear, Copley Police Chief Michael Mier said Friday, that the fire was intentionally set. What remains unclear is how Draher wound up shot.


Was it suicide? Investigators say others intent on dying have set fires, or shot themselves in the back of the head.


Was it a homicide? Mier said that has not been eliminated.


“While we don’t suspect foul play, we’re not ruling it out either,” he said.


Police have interviewed those close to Draher, including his wife of 21 years, Cynthia, and his longtime handyman, David Lacy, an Akron man who discovered the fire when he arrived for his job at the farm Thursday morning, just after 11.


Lacy, who has worked for Draher for about 15 years and visited four days a week to feed the alpacas, said he saw heavy smoke spewing from the eaves and windows and tried knocking on the door in an effort to contact Draher.


“I’m thinking, ‘Ed should be in there.’ So I knocked on the door, come around to the windows. I see the house full of smoke. You can’t see in it,” he recalled.


Emergency call


Lacy dialed 911, but the call failed, he said. Now frantic, the 58-year-old Lacy sped through the grass, injuring his thigh in the process, and ran to a neighbor’s home where he said he tried to reach someone inside. He heard nothing but a barking dog.


Undaunted, Lacy again dialed 911 from his cell phone and finally reached a dispatcher. He then turned his attention back to the house.


Peeking inside the windows, Lacy said he could only see smoke; the fire inside, he said, was too far along for him to enter safely. He didn’t try to open a door and shout for Draher, he said, out of fear that the rush of air would only worsen the flames.


“I was going all around the house. Nobody was outside. I said, ‘If Ed and the dogs are in there, they’re probably gone by now. There’s just too much smoke,’ ” he said.


The dogs perished in the fire.


Indeed, at least three firefighters were injured trying to bring the flames under control. It appears the fire had a lengthy head start before Lacy came around. According to one report, two firefighters were hurt when they fell through the floor into the basement.


Lacy said he fed the alpacas while firefighters waged their war.


The handyman revisited Draher’s home on Friday and recalled seeing his longtime employer and friend being brought out on a stretcher, a horrifying vision that provoked his emotions a day later.


“I can’t get that sight out of my head,” he said, sobbing. “All that smoke, he didn’t have a chance.”


Lacy said he “never got an indication” that Draher would commit suicide. He seemed happy, loved his home, his wife and his family. At the same time, Lacy said he also doesn’t know who would want to harm his friend, or why.


“I thought it was a dream,” he said.


Cindy Draher, 62, had left her home about 8 a.m. and rushed back from her office in downtown Akron when she received word of the fire. At the end of Earhart Avenue, police stopped her; she wasn’t allowed past the mailbox at the end of her home’s long driveway. From her faraway view, she didn’t think the fire was all that bad.


And when she saw an ambulance pass her, she figured her husband was OK, that maybe he inhaled too much and was being taken to the hospital as a precaution.


Family doubts suicide


The Drahers met in Salem and married 21 years ago. They eventually settled on the Earhart Avenue farm, a quiet setting that gave each of them peace and solitude.


Edward Draher had two children and four grandchildren. He was retired from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, where his family said he did a little bit of every duty, including teaching hunters the way of the land.


He was also a creature of habit: awakening at 4 to take his dogs outside. He’d then go to the computer room, while his wife slept until 7. During the day, he would perform all sorts of chores — feeding the alpacas, the goats and tending the yard or making one of his almost-daily trips to Walmart or Home Depot in Montrose. His cat, Frannie, would follow Edward as he trolled the property on his golf cart.


While some say Draher had a gruff, grumpy side, he possessed a keen sense of humor and showed a tender heart for babies and animals. Each night, he held hands and prayed with his wife over dinner.


He was diabetic and wasn’t feeling well the morning he died, his wife said. But generally, he was active and happy, loved to fish, boat or hunt. He loved his home, his life, they said.


Suicide seems so unlikely, his wife said.


“We just don’t know,” she said. “He didn’t feel good the day before. I don’t know. He has diabetes and he’s worried about that a little bit. He felt he wasn’t able to do what he used to do. I said, we’re all getting older.”


His daughter and wife said they can’t envision Draher taking his own life. There was no suicide note left behind.


“We’re shocked. That’s just not like my dad,” Davis said. “I’ve never known my dad to be like that. My dad has been through a lot of horrible things in his life and [suicide] was never an option. I can’t wrap my mind around it. Why would he do that. This is his home, it’s what he loved and where he wanted to be.”


She also said she can’t envision someone killed her father.


“I would hate to think that, but it’s a possibility,” she said. “There’s a million what ifs. I just don’t think my dad would do this to himself.’’


Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or ptrexler@thebeaconjournal.com.