From the voice on the telephone he sounded like an elderly man. He told how he just put down the newspaper after reading Ohio held its first execution of a death row inmate in three years.
“I sat in my chair and cried,” he said.
“You’ve forgotten, too,” he said. “Forgotten what happened 35 years ago. It’s why I believe in the death penalty today. It’s why I called.”
I told him I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.
“Betty Jane Mottinger,” he answered, his sturdy voice now cracking
I told him I did remember her name, but didn’t get a chance to say much more.
“I was cleaning boxes in my basement, it flooded, and came across old copies of The Lima News,” he said. “Aug. 9. 1982 — that’s when she was abducted. … They believe she was killed days later. I started reading them, what that family went through. …”
Mottinger went to work that morning at the post office in Elgin, where she was the postmaster in the tiny Van Wert County village. She was discovered missing after the morning mail was not picked up. In the weeks that followed federal officers and local lawmen would conduct an intensive search, even offering a $5,000 reward. Her husband would make impassioned pleas for her life. More than a month later her body was found near Findlay.
John Spirko, of Swanton, would be charged with the crime a year later and sentenced to death, all for a robbery and murder that netted a couple of hundred dollars and postage stamps.
“Her family’s life was turned upside down. They were nice people who worked hard and treated people with respect,” the man said. “Then something like that happens? That’s when I started to believe in the death penalty. I know it’s not Christian — you’re not supposed to judge others — and I feel terrible I feel this way. I struggle with it. That’s why I cried.
“When I read about that baby killer today, I again couldn’t help but think he deserves to die. I hate it I feel this way. But they kill and after a few years we forget about the victims … their families, someone’s mom. It’s just not right.”
I asked his name, telling him I wanted to write about our conversation.
“You don’t need my name, just remember her name.
“Betty Jane Mottinger.”
ROSES AND THORNS: Two men who think big find places in the rose garden.
Rose: To Steve Neff, who had a 27-foot, 1,000-pound aluminum cross put up on his property on state Route 501. He worked in his backyard for a month building the cross.
Rose: To Jeff Jarvis, president of the University of Northwestern Ohio. Twenty years ago the school purchased and began the development of Limaland Motorsports Park, now a premier dirt-racing track.
Rose: This year’s United Way campaign marks its 100th anniversary.
Rose: To Auglaize County Fair Manager Fred Piehl and caretaker Gary Leppla. Both will be retiring after working for the fair for more than 30 years.
Thorn: A lightning strike knocked out the Lima Wastewater Treatment plant, with damages likely to eclipse $3 million.
PARTING SHOT: If it were not for hope, the heart would break.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.