On April 12, 1990, a 19-year-old fisherman discovered the body of a woman wrapped in a waterbed mattress on the bank of Lick Run around 5:40 PM. He had been fishing right beside the mattress for some time before noticing blood on the plastic. He started to pick up the mattress when he saw the victim’s leg. He immediately ran home and phoned the sheriff’s department. Deputies responded to the scene. The only clue investigators had to work with was a 1984 Fostoria High School class ring the victim was wearing and the victim’s physical description, 6’2″ and 160 pounds. Investigators traveled to Fostoria on April 13. Because the victim was so tall, coupled with the class ring, she was quickly identified as Michelle Huffman. Huffman had been on maternity leave from her receptionist job at an accounting firm. She had given birth to a healthy boy just 16 days before she was found murdered. Her vehicle was found abandoned at the Chillicothe Inn, north of Schrader Road.
Officers in Fostoria arrested three men, Christopher Doyle, Jim Dauterman, both of Fostoria, and Brian Mullins of Bucyrus. Doyle first drew the attention of investigators because he knew Huffman. Doyle was a co-owner of a pallet business and also co-owned a business that sold furniture, including waterbed mattresses. Dauterman was an employee at Doyle’s pallet company. It was later revealed that Doyle, who was married, was having an affair with Huffman, who was single. Doyle was the father of the baby that Huffman had just given birth to. If Huffman’s murder wasn’t horrific enough, the baby was missing.
The investigation quickly shifted to a search for the missing 16-day-old baby, Christopher Anthony Joseph (AJ) Huffman. Teletypes were sent out and police and the state patrol checked trashcans and rest areas between Findlay and Chillicothe to no avail. Divers searched the creed where Michelle’s body had been discovered but found nothing. All three men in custody denied having any knowledge as to the whereabouts of the baby. By April 20, investigators shifted the search for the missing baby to an incinerator at the pallet company that was used to destroy damaged pallets. A baby’s pacifier had been found on the property by police executing a search warrant. Investigators sent ashes from the incinerator in five 55-gallon drums to a forensic lab to be processed. The results of the test came back in early May, finding no trace of human remains in the ash.
A fourth man, Vance Bennett, was arrested in Bucyrus on April 26 and charged with complicity to aggravated murder. Bennett was a former member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang. He was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in 1988 and had previously been convicted on drug-related charges. Bennett was the roommate of Brian Mullins, one of the three originally arrested.
An affidavit filed on April 27 stated that Doyle tried to hire a hitman to kill Michelle Huffman. Doyle paid the killer half of his $15,000 fee to do the job, but the person who was hired skipped out with the money. Bennett had served as a middleman who handled the transaction between the hitman and Doyle. Mullins stated in an affidavit that Bennett had approached him about doing a job involving driving a car and disposing of a body. Mullins agreed to do the job. He was to be paid $5,000 to dispose of the body and was to give Bennett one-third of the fee for arranging the deal.
On April 30, James Dauterman pleaded guilty to his part in Huffman’s murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Dauterman stated that Doyle asked him for help in killing Huffman. Dauterman contacted Bennett, who found a killer-for-hire who agreed to murder Huffman. When the hitman skipped out with Doyle’s money, Doyle decided to kill Huffman himself. Dauterman apologized and said he wished the entire ordeal had never happened.
A day later, Brian Mullins pleaded guilty to disposing of Huffman’s body in Ross County and was sentenced to 10½ to 28½ years in prison. Mullins said he regretted his decision to help in the murder plot. Mullins stated that he wasn’t present during the murder, but helped Doyle put Huffman’s body into the trunk of her car after Doyle had bludgeoned her to death in the Findlay pallet yard. Mullins then left in the car, heading south. The plan called for Mullins to dispose of Huffman’s body in West Virginia or the Ohio River and drop her car off at Port Columbus. However, Huffman’s car began to have transmission problems as he neared Chillicothe and Mullins feared the car would break down. Mullins exited the highway after crossing the Scioto River and looked for a remote location near water to dump the body. After dumping Huffman’s body, Mullins drove to Jackson, Ohio, to meet up with Bennett and another friend around 2:40 AM. After about an hour, the three men left. Mullins drove Huffman’s car while Bennett and the other man drove in a different car. They drove to the Chillicothe Inn where Mullins left Huffman’s car. The three men then drove back to Bucyrus and Bennett threw Huffman’s car keys, gloves, shoes and a coat worn by Mullins from the car has they drove. Bennett pleaded not guilty in his role on May 9 and a pretrial hearing was scheduled.
At this point, Christopher “AJ,” the baby who had been missing since his mother was murdered, was still missing. All of the suspects continued to maintain they did not know his whereabouts. That would soon change. On June 26, 1990, Christopher Doyle pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of Michelle Huffman and her infant son. Doyle filed his plea after the prosecutor ordered Doyle to provide hair, blood, saliva and handwriting samples to police. Doyle went on to explain that he and Huffman met through her job at the accounting firm and had struck up a relationship. He was married and she was not. Huffman became pregnant with Doyle’s baby and police believe he planned to kill Huffman to escape paying her child support. Doyle began to plan the murder as early as October 1989. Dauterman put Doyle in contact with Bennett, who then hired Frank Kovaleski and Terry “The Nerd” Workman to carry out the murder. Those two, however, skipped out with Doyle’s money.
Huffman went to visit Doyle at the pallet yard on April 11. Doyle said that he and Huffman were having an argument when he grabbed a board and started swinging it at Huffman, striking her in the head. Doyle then began tossing items out of Huffman’s car, including his infant son. Doyle tossed the baby, still in his car seat, about ten feet. Doyle didn’t check on the baby for about fifteen minutes while he continued to throw items from the vehicle. When Doyle finally checked on the baby, he could see blood coming from his nose. Doyle stated at that point he knew the baby was dead. He hid the baby’s body and other evidence before Mullins arrived to dispose of Huffman’s body.
The morning after the murder, Doyle returned to the pallet yard to retrieve the baby’s body and other items associated with the crime. Doyle placed the body into a plastic garbage bag, weighted down with rocks, and dumped the bag into the rain-swollen Eagle Creek south of Findlay. Police searched the area where Doyle admitted to disposing the baby’s body but were coming up empty-handed. A local resident heard of the search and decided to walk along the creek bank behind his rural cottage. After searching for about twenty minutes, the resident spotted a gray rag in a pile of rubble on the west bank of the creek. He lifted the rag and saw the sleeve of the baby’s jumper. He immediately approached deputies who were searching farther down the creek and told them he had found the baby’s body. Authorities had found the container with stones near the bridge where Doyle had tossed the bag from.
Doyle was sentenced to two life terms in August 1990. The sentence was to be served concurrently and Doyle would be eligible for parole after twenty years. Doyle remains incarcerated as of this 2014 posting. Bennett went to trial in September and October 1990. All three men already convicted testified against Bennett at his trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with a chance of parole in 20 years. Bennett filed for a motion to be released from prison in 1999 due to health concerns, but the motion was denied. He died in 2006.