Mary Beidelschies knew the history of the home at 5540 S. Turner Road in Canfield when she and her husband, Richard, moved in four years ago.
"We heard stories about the murders, but it didn't stop us from moving in," Beidelschies said. "We get a lot of cold stares when we tell people where we live."
On Thursday, Beidelschies reacted to the news that, after 39 years, authorities have a suspect in the grisly triple homicide at the home.
Tribune Chronicle / Ashley Newman
Scene: This home at 5540 S. Turner Road, Canfield, was the site of a triple murder 39 years ago. A suspect in the slaying was indicted Thursday.
"That is absolutely unbelievable," Beidelschies said. "For this to happen after all these years is just stunning."
A Mahoning County grand jury Thursday indicted prison inmate James P. Ferrara, 64, formerly of Youngstown, on three counts of aggravated murder, a count of aggravated burglary and a count of aggravated robbery in connection to the Dec. 13, 1974, death of Benjamin Marsh, 33, his wife, Marilyn, 32, and their daughter, Heather, 4.
The three were found in their 5540 S. Turner Road home. Their 1-year-old son, Chris, was alive and covered in blood, according to Tribune Chronicle archives.
Benjamin and Heather had been beaten by what authorities believed to be a butt of a gun. Case files said both had been shot first.
Sheriff's deputies at the time said the house was entered through a garage window. Missing from the home were Marilyn Marsh's purse and a family car, which was later found in a parking lot in Austintown.
Officials said the big break came when the detectives from the sheriff's office entered fingerprints from the cold case into the "AEFIS" fingerprint identification system, which is a fingerprint database, in 2009 and received a hit on Ferrara. One fingerprint investigators were able to pull from the crime scene was reportedly taken off of a cigarette butt.
"That was definitely the 'aha' moment," Detective Pat Mondora said during a press briefing. "Once we got the hit back on the fingerprints, the ball just started rolling from there."
Mondora and Detective Dave Benigas, who retired in 2011, did the majority of the leg work on the case. Benigas said the decades-old cold case was difficult to investigate because departments and organizations often purge records on cases going back that far.
According to reports, Ben Marsh and Ferrara worked at the General Motors Corp. plant in Lordstown at the time of the crime, which is one of the places investigators focused over the last several years.
"There was a lot of interviewing people one-on-one, finding people that worked at GM back then," Benigas said. "So, it was a long process, but it finally paid off. It's just like a jigsaw puzzle. When we got the fingerprint, all of a sudden, a piece moved over here and things started falling into place."
The suspect is serving 20 years to life in Marion Correctional Institution for robbery, aggravated murder and drug trafficking not related to this case. He is up for parole in 2015.
Court records indicate he shot and beat two Columbus-area drug dealers to death with a gun during what was supposed to be a massive cocaine theft.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains commended the detectives for their diligent work, though he did not get specific on any additional evidence. Gains said the case is still open and he would not comment whether or not others will be charged.
"As this case progresses through the courts, you will see the evidence that these officers were able to develop and the techniques they used in developing that information," Gains said.
"I think you will find, as I have, the exemplary work that they've done. They put in good, credible, what we think is admissible evidence to be used against Mr. Ferrara if it goes to trial or if it results in some kind of plea,'' Gains said.
Because the alleged crimes occurred in 1974, Ferrara will not be eligible for the death penalty, but is subject to a potential life imprisonment on each aggravated murder count. The U.S. Supreme Court deemed Ohio's capital punishment "cruel and unusual" in a 1981 decision.
In addition, Ohio's revised code did not include firearm specifications in 1974, so Ferrara's charges will not include that specification.
"Still, if he is convicted, he will die in prison," Gains said.
According to Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene, the Marsh family has been notified of the findings.
"The family is obviously very happy," Greene said.
Ohio did not initiate the AEFIS system until 1985. Prior to that time, fingerprint analysis was conducted by a forensic scientist physically comparing the fingerprints, officials said.
"Thank God, BCI (Ohio Bureau of Criminial Identification and Investigation) kept the evidence," Gains said. "Like Detective Benigas said, some of these departments purge their evidence. BCI didn't do that in this case."
Ferrara will be brought to Mahoning County where he'll be arraigned on the charges, Gains said.