STEUBENVILLE - Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said Stanley Rusnak, 65, of Cleveland always was a suspect in the murders of three county residents 39 years ago but it took decades of gathering statements from people Rusnak allegedly bragged to concerning the deaths.
Rusnak was indicted by the Jefferson County grand jury on Wednesday on three counts of murder.
Rusnak is believed to have murdered his uncle, James Kelsie Noble, 75, and Noble's sister-in-law and caretaker, Sophie Groch Bell, 52, during a home invasion at Noble's residence on county Road 11 in Piney Fork on April 1, 1975. Noble was suffering from terminal cancer at the time of his death.
Rusnak also is believed to have murdered Robert Scott, 78, sometime between July 1, 1977, and July 19, 1977. Scott's body has never been found, however authorities at the time did find evidence of a home invasion and homicide at Scott's residence in Rayland.
Rusnak was arrested without incident near his home in Cleveland not long after the indictments were returned.
"There was never any other suspect," Abdalla said.
Abdalla said he interviewed Rusnak Wednesday evening and into this morning after Rusnak waived intrastate extradition to Jefferson County.
Abdalla said Rusnak also is a suspect in the murder of a husband and wife in Harrison County in 1978. Abdalla said he worked with former Harrison County Sheriffs Richard Rensi and Mark Miller and current Sheriff Ron Myers about that case. Abdalla said the couple had a bar and cashed checks for miners at a nearby coal mine.
Abdalla was assisted in the Jefferson County cases by the Ohio Attorney General's Office and its Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He said BCI agents were able to get some new information on the case, and, coupled with what already had been gathered, the decision was made to present it to the grand jury. Assistant attorney generals in the Attorney General Mike DeWine's cold-case division presented the information to the grand jury on Wednesday.
"What broke this case was the good detective work by local authorities over the years, along with the more recent help of our BCI investigators to assist in uncovering some new evidence," DeWine said. "Despite the amount of time that has passed, this suspect will be held accountable for his actions."
Abdalla said he began working on the old murder cases when he became sheriff in 1985.
"I worked on it off and on throughout the years. Something else would come along and I would drop it but came back," he said.
Abdalla said he has investigated 50 murders during his time as sheriff - all solved.
"We had to work the recent murders and then went back to the old cases," he said.
Abdalla said he interviewed Rusnak about 10 years ago.
The sheriff said he still doesn't know the motive for the killings.
"He would have to tell me why. I don't know whether he thought they had money and robbery was a motive. I wish I could answer that question," he said.
Abdalla said he is happy the grand jury came back with the murder indictments.
"It was one of my best days of being in law enforcement. It would be a better day if he is found guilty by a jury," Abdalla said. "These were cold-blooded crimes he committed."
Abdalla said one of the hardest parts of the case was locating the physical evidence.
"In 2009 and 2010, the evidence was still laying in crime labs around the state. Thirty-nine years is a long time. It took a long time to put the file together." Abdalla said.
Abdalla said he also worked with Cleveland Police and the FBI office in Cleveland during the investigation.