’92 cold case cracked

Indictment zeroes in on longtime ‘person of interest’

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Helen Francis, 60, of Marietta, visits the grave of her daughter Patsy Sparks in Reno Tuesday, the day the Ohio Attorney General’s Office announced Sparks’ suspected killer had been indicted in Noble County.

A 26-year-old cold case murder of a Marietta teen has moved into the forefront in Noble County with an indictment for aggravated murder.

“I had just hoped that I didn’t leave this world without knowing what had happened. I got my wish I guess,” said Helen Francis, 60, of Marietta.

Francis’ 19-year-old daughter Patsy Sparks went missing in April 1992 after a night at a bar in Parkersburg. In 1994 her skull was found by hunters in the rural forests of Noble County.

“It was just her remains left, they had to identify her from her dental records,” said Francis, on Tuesday. “At the time they didn’t have anything. They were just going on a whim trying to come up with what happened to her.”

Now Sparks’ suspected killer, first identified as a main suspect in the ’90s, has been charged in connection with the death.

Patsy Dawn Sparks, 19, was last seen April 22, 1992 at the Wheel Club in Parkersburg. Her remains were found Dec. 19, 1994 in the rural woods of Noble County.

Convicted sexual predator Randy Slider, 56, formerly of Marietta, was indicted by a Noble County Grand Jury last week on three counts of aggravated murder and one county of murder. He was notified of the indictment while in prison at Chillicothe Correctional Institution Monday. He’s serving a 40-year sentence for unrelated sexual assault, kidnapping and robbery convictions from Clermont and Hamilton counties.

The Ohio Attorney General’s office announced the indictment Tuesday, though the prosecuting attorneys on the case were not available for comment.

Slider’s arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 14 in Noble County Common Pleas court.

“(Sparks) died from blunt force trauma to the head,” said Lt. Bruce Schuck of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit, which reopened the case approximately two years ago. “We’re not prepared to share where the murder took place but she was at the Wheel Club in Parkersburg and had asked around for a ride to a bar on the west side of Marietta and Randy Slider offered her that ride.”

Schuck and Lt. Jeff Seevers have worked on the case, combing over original evidence, statements and timelines and mapping out what they believe happened on the white boards of what some refer to as the war room in the sheriff’s office.

Randy Slider’s mug shot from the Washington County Jail, where Slider was booked 20 times between 1981 and 1993.

“Randy claims when they got out in the parking lot she got in a car with someone else and he went on his way,” said Seevers.

But new evidence, new witnesses and previously identified witnesses deciding to share their accounts are what Schuck said has brought the case to a head.

“We found a witness who had seen them after they left the Wheel Club,” he explained.

“And there’s new evidence being tested in the lab now that we’re waiting on,” added Seevers.

Though the pair would not explain how they believe Slider is connected to the location where Sparks’ body was found, the rural nature of Township Road 268 begs the question.

Slider’s mug shot from the Ohio Department of Corrections. Slider is currently serving a 40-year prison sentence at Chillicothe Correctional Institution for kidnapping, robbery and sexual assault.

“It was a very remote area of Noble County,” said Schuck. “And certainly he was not only known in Washington County as a rapist but also in Clermont and Hamilton counties.”

Slider’s history of entanglement with the law didn’t begin with the investigation into Sparks though, and it didn’t end there either.

There were 15 drunk-driving arrests, 20 bookings in the Washington County Jail between 1981 and 1993 and a 1989 trial for five counts of rape for which he was acquitted. Seven additional accusers came forward but feared pressing charges. Then in 1993 Slider was accused again of attempted rape and assault.

“The victim explained to law enforcement officers that she met Slider in a bar on March 12, 1993. After midnight, the victim traveled with Slider to another bar. At approximately 3 a.m. the victim attempted to give Slider a ride home,” reads an court document from the District Court of Appeals. “Slider directed the victim to a rural area of Washington County where they stopped on a gravel road leading to a barn. The victim reported that Slider then made sexual advances, including grabbing her breast and crotch areas. When the victim repelled the advances, Slider struck her several times in the face. The victim fled the car, but Slider chased her and forced her back into the car. He again struck her several times in the face, causing severe bruises and breaking her jaw and nose.”

The document goes on to describe that the victim escaped Slider after he passed out in her car.

“She walked 30 minutes through a snowstorm in the early morning hours before finding help,” it reads. “Slider left the area in the victim’s car. Slider’s confession corroborated the victim’s account of the crimes.”

Slider pleaded guilty to the assault on July 13, 1993 in exchange for the state dismissing charges of kidnapping and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. And the Fourth Appellate District affirmed the Washington County Common Pleas Court determination that Slider is a sexual predator.

“Slider’s offense was cruel…Slider admitted that he knew his actions were wrong, but could not stop,” wrote Judge Roger L. Kline in concurrence with judges Abele and Evans. “Thus, we find that the trial court’s classification of Slider as a sexual predator is not against the manifest weight of evidence.”

After Slider served eight years in prison for the Washington County assault, he moved to Hamilton County near Cincinnati. After a subsequent move to a mobile home in nearby Clermont County Slider was arrested Sept. 27, 2002 for drunk driving. Then days later he went on to kidnap, hold at knifepoint and rob two women, along with raping one of them. He was caught Oct. 1, 2002, after a police chase through Butler County and is currently serving a 40-year prison sentence on those robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault charges.

In the Sparks case, investigators have not yet revealed the events that led to the 19-year-old’s death.

Sparks’ mother said wishes she had accompanied her daughter that fateful night.

“I woke up from a dead sleep and thought I heard her screaming, I heard ‘mommy help me,'” Francis described Tuesday. “We knew she had gone out that night and I woke my husband but we just thought it was a bad dream.”

Francis said it wasn’t until the next morning that the dream became a nightmare.

“The next day my mother had called me and asked if (Sparks) had come over. She said she didn’t know where (Sparks) was and that was unusual,” recalled Francis. “I thought maybe she’d just taken off with some friends but then her friends said no and we didn’t know what happened.”

She said the worry turned to fear as no news of her daughter came forward.

“Days led into weeks and weeks led into months. Then it went on two years and we couldn’t get any answers,” she said. “It just didn’t go anywhere.”

Then on Dec. 19, 1994, hunters on foot found a human skull in the rural woods of Noble County.

A subsequent search by the Noble County Sheriff’s Office and local volunteers led to the collection of other skeletal remains.

“That’s when it went from a missing person case to a homicide investigation,” said Seevers. “Slider’s been a person of interest for years. He was the last person to be seen with her alive.”

Randy Slider

¯ Randy Slider, 56, graduated from the Washington County Career Center in 1980.

¯ He worked as a grocer and then a clerk at a lumber store in Washington County as a young adult.

¯ Between 1981 and 1993 he was booked 20 times in the Washington County Jail, 14 of which were for driving under the influence.

¯ Slider’s driver’s license was suspended five times, the longest for three years in 1985.

¯ In 1989, Slider stood trial for five counts of rape in Washington County Common Pleas Court but was acquitted in 1990.

¯ In the course of the trial, seven additional accusers came forward alleging Slider had assaulted them.

¯ April 22, 1992: Slider is the last one seen with Patsy Sparks, 19, at the Wheel Club on Juliana Street in Parkersburg.

¯ 1993: Slider pleaded guilty to felonious assault and gross sexual imposition in Washington County Common Pleas Court. A 24-year-old woman who had given Slider a ride home from the Waterfront Lounge in Williamstown accused him of trying to rape her on a gravel road near a barn in a rural part of Washington County. He beat her but she escaped and walked through a snowstorm to find aid.

¯ Dec. 19, 1994: Hunters in the woods of Noble County discover Sparks’ skull.

¯ April 2, 2001: Slider is released from prison after serving eight years on the 1993 conviction. No family would take him in so he moved to a Hamilton County halfway house and registered there as a sexual predator.

¯ After living in the halfway house for 16 months Slider moved to a mobile home in Clermont County around Aug. 14, 2002.

¯ Sept. 27, 2002: Slider is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

¯ Oct. 1, 2002: Slider is caught after a police chase through Butler County, after kidnapping and robbing two women within three days, holding them at knifepoint and raping one of them.

Source: Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Washington County Clerk of Courts, Fourth District Court of Appeals, Cincinnati Enquirer.

COMMENTS