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26 years later, murder still a mystery

Jessica Cuffman • Apr 25, 2015 at 4:44 AM

Twenty-six years ago — Jan. 24, 1988 — the body of Isabel Cordle was discovered where a killer left her dead with one ax blow to her head.

Cordle, 49, was sleeping on her couch when someone bashed her head in with a hatchet before walking outside and leaving the weapon against a tree in the front yard of her Bellevuearea home.

The next morning, her husband and children discovered her bloodied body still wrapped in a comforter, probably just as it was when she’d fallen asleep.    After months of sorting through a list of suspects, including Cordle’s husband and one of her sons, the Sandusky County prosecutor at the time, John Meyers, convened an investigative grand jury.

Indictments never followed. Within a year, Sandusky County deputies shelved the case.

Until a year ago, no one had touched the two boxes containing the case files in the basement of the sheriff’s office.

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Cordle’s husband has remarried and moved to Fort Wayne, leaving the West Main Street home where she was killed. Her six children have scattered across the region, their family unit, while never perfect, forever dismembered when their matriarch was found murdered.

No one has ever been charged with her death.

Responding to what Sandusky County Detective Sean O’Connell said was an offer from the television network TNT, in February 2013 he and Sheriff Kyle Overmyer dusted off those abandoned boxes.

The show “Cold Justice” had sent bulletins across the country, searching for cold homicide cases to assist in and feature on its series.

O’Connell and Overmyer picked out five forgotten homicide cases, then narrowed the field to three proposals they thought might have enough of a twist for TV. O’Connell mailed in letters asking for help from show stars Yolanda McClary and Kelly Siegler.

Eight months later, the episode “Hatchet” aired.

The show 

In October, the hour-long episode again sorted through a list of suspects, starting with one who had called himself “The Hatchet Man” following Cordle’s death.

John Onest, now of Willard, once wore an earring in the shape of a hatchet. His file in the Cordle murder investigation is stuffed with police reports from Norwalk and Bellevue, documenting a history of mental issues and encounters with law enforcement.

But investigators now, as they did then, eliminated Onest from the list, tracing his claims back to a joke between friends made in a gas station parking lot, a conversation overheard by an off-duty trooper filling up his gas tank — a conversation that added him to the list of suspects and haunted him for years when no one was charged in Isabel’s death.

Next came Cordle’s husband, Richard Cordle Sr.

He was her second husband, he had a drinking problem, and he’d been in the house that night, sleeping after drinking at least a dozen beers when Isabel arrived home from a bingo game in the Clevelandarea.

It was no secret Richard Sr. had affairs with other women, and one of his stepdaughters suspected him in her mother’s death.

In 1988, however, he passed a polygraph test and he was never charged.

When re-opening the case, investigators tracked Richard Sr. to Fort Wayne, where he moved from the Bellevue area with his new wife, who he married in the year after Isabel died.

Eventually, detectives crossed him off their list for a second time.

“I don’t think he’s told us everything he knows, but I don’t believe he committed the murder” O’Connell said.

Next on the list: Mark Carter, a next-door neighbor who was 27 when Isabel died. He was incarcerated in January 1988, serving a prison sentence for raping Isabel’s 14-year-old son about a year before she was murdered, according to court documents.

Now 53 and living in Clyde, Carter maintained his innocence in both Isabel’s death and the assault on her son when he spoke to Sandusky County detectives last summer.

Five months before Isabel died, a judge sentence Carter to 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison for corruption of a minor, according to court documents.

Prosecutors originally charged Carter with felonious sexual penetration and rape for assaulting Richard Jr., but in a plea agreement he was ultimately convicted of the lesser charge.

Last summer, detectives ran into the same issue they had in 1988 while considering Carter a suspect. He was in prison. If he had any hand in her death, he would have had to order a hit and commit her murder by proxy.

By the end of the episode, the list of suspects came round robin, leaving Richard Sr., again, shadowed by suspicion.

But that’s when the case started to get interesting.

After the show

Minutes after the show ended, O’Connell said people were calling the sheriff’s office, some simply reminiscing about Cordle’s death.

But from those half a dozen tips came some useful information — new witnesses and new documentation leading to evidence that has O’Connell certain he knows who killed Isabel Cordle.

“A lot of that was what allowed us to continue with it after (Cold Justice) had left” O’Connell said.

Cordle’s husband and son are eliminated from the suspect pool, he said, contrary to how the show ended. In his opinion, there’s enough evidence to file a criminal indictment against at least one suspect.

Whether that suspect is Mark Carter, O’Connell wouldn’t say. He also refused to say — if the suspect is Carter — who the co-conspirator was who may have carried out the bloody murder.

An associate of Carter’s in the 1980s, 16-year-old Greg Weller, of Clyde, earned a second look after the show aired.

“Greg Weller’s name came back into play. Can I comfortably say Greg Weller is the one responsible for the murder? No,” O’Connell said. “Do I have reason to believe that this person was behind the murder of Isabel Cordle? Yes, I do”

When asked to provide clarification about that statement, O’Connell merely reiterated that Weller was one of a few suspects who detectives reconsidered after the show aired.

He referred to Weller as a friend of Carter’s. In fact, Weller was listed as one of about two dozen witnesses who could have testified on Carter’s behalf if the sexual assault case against him had gone to trial, according to court documents.

Weller died only three years after Isabel was killed.

His parents, too, have since died: Kathleen Voorhees Weller, who court records show was divorced from Greg’s father, David Weller, in the 1980s.

David Weller worked briefly as a deputy at the sheriff’s office, ending his five years there in 1982, O’Connell said. By the 1990s, David Weller had relocated to Florida, according to court records.

Given Carter’s criminal history and his association with a 16-year-old boy, there was reason to question the nature of the relationship and whether it had any similarities to the one Carter had with Richard Jr., O’Connell said.

“Is there anything that suggests that? Not at the moment, no. No reports, nothing from talking to family of Greg’s” he said.

Cold justice?

O’Connell said he handed over the case file to Sandusky County prosecutor Tom Stierwalt for consideration of charges, but none have been filed in the case.

One of Isabel Cordle’s children, Richard Jr., says Stierwalt has delayed the case, most recently stating it could appear before a grand jury in March.

Stierwalt did not return multiple calls from the Register seeking comment.

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