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Ohio man charged with four murders in separate incidents

The charges against Donald Hoffman were announced during what had been a scheduled hearing on an alleged probation violation.

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Authorities have identified Donald Hoffman as a person of interest in the slayings of four men found dead separately in Bucyrus, Ohio, earlier this week, and he being held for a probation violation with a hearing scheduled Thursday.

Crawford County Ohio Sheriff's Office/AP

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An Ohio man was charged with aggravated murder Thursday in the slayings of four men who were found beaten in separate homes earlier this week.

Donald Hoffman had been in custody since Tuesday. The charges against the 41-year-old were announced during what had been a scheduled hearing on an alleged probation violation.

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Crawford County Coroner Michael Johnson said Billy Jack Chatman, 55, and Freelin Hensley, 67, were found dead Monday. The next day the body of 65-year-old Darrell Lewis was found in his apartment and 65-year-old Gerald Lee Smith's body was found at a different apartment building elsewhere in town.

Johnson said the cause of death in the four homicides hasn't been determined yet. He said a preliminary autopsy report would be available Thursday.

He said authorities believe the slayings are related "because of the sequence and time, and appearance of the scene." He would not be more specific.

Bucyrus police Chief Dave Koepke noted at least one gruesome commonality: "All the victims suffered." Koepke said each man had trauma above the shoulders, but he wouldn't give specifics.

Brenda Lauthers, a Bucyrus resident whose brother was among the slain men, said that she found a frying pan in a bathroom sink near his body and that the family of another victim told her that man apparently was hit with a hammer. Police refused to discuss those kinds of details, citing the ongoing investigation.

Crawford County Sheriff Scott Kent, whose office is assisting local police, said Wednesday that the man in custody gave some information as to why the killings occurred, but authorities weren't releasing the details.

The town is unaccustomed to violent crime but doesn't shy from discussing what residents and police describe as prevalent drug problems, especially with heroin.

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Some residents said after the slayings that they were worried about their safety. Neighbors of some of the victims said they were reluctant to talk publicly about the men because they worried the case somehow was connected to the city's drug problems and feared potential retribution.

Friends and relatives say at least some of the victims knew each other and Hoffman.