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Episode 90

Who Killed Janice Christensen?

May 17, 2021   Tags: , ,
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In August 1987, 31-year-old Janice Christensen was murdered while out jogging. She was the first of four murders in Akron, Ohio over the next five months. One of the four murders have been solved, but three cases remain unsolved. It's left many to wonder over the next three decades if a serial killer was hunting the area.  

The Murder of Janice Christensen:
31-year-old Janice Christensen worked as a computer operator at Cuyahoga Falls General Hospital. Janice and her husband of seven years Ken lived in the neighboring village of Peninsula, Ohio. She was health conscious and worked out everyday.

On August 10th, 1987 Janice and Ken went to the gym early in the AM. Around 7 AM, Ken went to work at the landscaping company where he was a foreman. Janice went home.

She called her mom Ann at 9:30 AM.  She told Ann she was going for a jog and they could meet at 1 PM at Janice’s to go shopping. Janice left the house in her 1983 orange Toyota Tercel. She would often drive to different trails and parks in the area to jog.

When Ann arrived at the house, Janice was nowhere to be found. She waited for Ken to get off work but Janice was still not home. The two called the police.

At dawn on August 11th, Ken left the house with a flashlight and their Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, named Wolf. He drove ten minutes to the Bike and Hike Tail in Hudson. 

Janice’s car wasn’t in the parking lot, but he decided to search the trail anyway.  Around 6:30 AM, Wolf stopped at a spot filled with brush. Following his dog, Ken discovered Janice’s body. 

The area was 20 feet off the trail. It was a quarter mile north of Barlow Road. There were shoe prints at the scene. Also at the scene was a pair of shoelaces that weren’t Janice’s. The Summit County coroner investigator Doug Jenney noted Janice was “in excellent physical condition. He also said no signs of a struggle were evident. 

According to reports, the autopsy showed Janice had been stabbed multiple times in the chest. The murder weapon was called a sharp instrument, possibly a knife. The time of death was estimated to be around 10 AM on the 10th. 

Janice had been sexually assaulted. Semen samples were collected at the time. They were sent off for testing, but the results were not released. 

Missing from the scene were Janice’s keys and the murder weapon.

Five days later, on August 16th, Janice's car was located at the local drug store Revco. The store was roughly 12 miles from Hudson where Janice’s body was found. 

The car was sent to the lab at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. It was processed for fingerprints and other evidence. It yielded no clues to the offender. 

The Murder of Joann Bartholomew:
48-year-old Joann Bartholomew worked at her church and taught Sunday school.

On Wednesday, October 21st, 1987, Joann went to church services in the evening. She finished up around 8 PM. Instead of going straight home, she went to the Chapel Hill Mall to look at VCRs. Usually Charles went to church with Joann, but he was preparing to open a new Dairy Queen store in Medina. 

Charles got home from the store at 9 PM and Joann was still out. He turned on the World Series and fell asleep on the couch. He woke up around midnight and Joann still wasn’t home. He drove around looking for her. He tried to follow her steps for the evening but saw no sign of his wife. 

Around 5:30 AM, he headed back home.  At 7:30 AM, he called Joann’s church friends. No one had seen her since she left the church the night before. Then he called the Akron police. 

JoAnn’s car was located near the entrance of Chapel Hill Mall. It was parked haphazardly. Joann was nowhere to be found.

On Saturday, near Buchholzer Boulevard and Howe Road--about a half mile from the mall--a family member located Joann’s body. The area was seven miles away from where Janice’s body was found.

According to the Newark Advocate, Joann’s body was “lying face up about 25 feet into a wooded section over an embankment.” Like Janice, she was partially clothed. She had been repeatedly stabbed in the chest and sexually assaulted. DNA was collected from the scene. But Joann’s belongings were not nearby.

Two days after the remains were found, a person came across Joann’s credit cards two miles from the mall. A search of the area also found Joann’s purse.  The next day--three miles away this time--more credit cards and a verification card of Joann’s were found. 


The Murder of Marcia Piotter:
36-year-old Marcia Piotter was a receptionist at a dentist office. She had two children from previous relationships, and had been married to a man named Larry for five years. 

On December 14th, Marcia ran errands before meeting her parents for bingo. She loved bingo. The trio met at St. Martha’s Church on Tallmadge Avenue for the game. The night ended around 10:30. Marcia didn’t win but she had a great time. Her parents walked her to her car after the games were over. 

According to reports, her husband Larry realized around 4:30 AM that his wife hadn’t made it home. He called her family and friends--no one had seen her. Then he called the police. Everyone began searching for her. 

When night fell, the search was paused. Two tenants at an apartment complex off North Pershing Avenue came across Marcia’s car around 11:30 PM. The complex was five miles from the church and only six blocks from her home.

Inside, laid out across the seat, was Marcia’s body. Unlike Janice and Joann, Marcia was fully clothed. She was not sexually assaulted. However, she had been stabbed in the neck. 

Her purse had been emptied and her credit cards were missing.

The Murder of Barbara Blatnik:
Just five days after Marcia’s murder, the Akron metropolitian area experienced another woman murdered. On December 19, 1987, 17-year-old high school student Barbara Blatnik went to a party on Turney Road around 4 PM. 

Around 10:30 PM, she called her dad and said she’d be home soon. Her mom waited for her on the couch. But Barbara never made it home. Her parents called her friends the next morning. No one had seen or talked to her. At 3 PM her father was just about to call the police to report her missing, when the police showed up at his door. 

Law enforcement said that around 10 AM, an oil and gas employee discovered Barbara’s body. Her body was in a wooded area off O’Neil Road in Cuyahoga Falls--24 miles from her home of Garfield Heights. It was an access road that led to Blossom Music Center.

Barbara was nude. She had been strangled and raped. 

Barbara's case was cold until 2020. Our Akron based friend, journalist, podcaster, author James Renner, started a nonprofit called the Porchlight Project. The purpose of Project Porchlight is to help with funding of cold cases in the area. 

The first case they helped to fund for DNA testing was Barbara Blatnik’s. In May 2020, the California company Identifiers, which does forensic genealogy, found a match to the case. James Zastawnik was arrested for her murder. 

James was from Cleveland and Barbara’s family didn’t know him. Currently, James has pleaded not guilty to murder.

ASSIGNMENT:
Before the four murders, there were two sexual assaults. A 17-year-old girl was attacked on Memorial Day Weekend. Six weeks later another woman was assaulted. The sketch above was generated by the 17-year-old.  

It’s unclear whether any, all or some of these cases are related. So we want to give you the information again. Janice Christensen went for a jog at the Bike and Hike Trail in Hudson around 9:30 AM on August 10th, 1987. She would have parked her 1983 orange Toyota Tercel in the parking lot. It is believed she was killed around 10 AM that morning. She was stabbed in the chest and sexually assaulted. 

Joann Bartholomew went to Chapel Hill Mall around 8 PM on October 21st. Her body was located half a mile from the mall three days later.  Joann had been stabbed and sexually assaulted. 

Marcia Piotter played bingo with her parents at St. Martha’s Church in Akron on December 14th. Her body was discovered the following day in her car at an apartment complex near North Pershing Avenue. 

If you have any information, please contact us.

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As tips come in, Jensen and Holes will work to verify them. If they look good, we will publish them here to try and get us closer to their names.

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