The Squonk & The Hag

Matthew Hoffman: The Leaf Killer | Episode 19

Matthew Hoffman destroyed a happy suburban family in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. The things he did were horrific, and there’s still debate as to what his motives truly were…


On November 10, 2010, the Mt. Vernon sheriff’s department got a call from a manager at Dairy Queen. One of the employees, Tina Hermann, 36, had not shown up for her 4 pm shift, which was extremely unlike her. Deputies were sent to the house to investigate, but nothing seemed amiss from the outside, so they left. 

Stephanie Sprang, 41, was reported missing the following day by her long-time boyfriend. Last he knew, she was going to help Tina Hermann, who would be moving soon. 

With Tina having not resurfaced and Stephanie now missing, the deputies checked with the school that Tina’s two children, Sarah, 13, and Kody, 11, attended to see if they were in classes that day. They were not. 

Soon Tina’s manager called in again; she had gone to the house to check for herself and found blood. Lots of blood. 

When deputies entered the home, they found an awful scene. There were three main areas of extensive blood pooling, drag marks, and splatter. The tub was coated in blood, and bits of tissue was still present. The stained shower curtain indicated that the blood had likely been 2” deep in the tub at some point. 

Although there were no bodies, the deputies knew there was little chance that the people whose blood they’d found were still alive. But with three blood sources, the question remained, why were there not four? 

Further examination of the blood stains revealed a set of shoeprints confirmed to match the treads of the shoes that came from an empty shoe box in Sarah’s room. So Sarah could have walked away, but where was she, and was she still alive? 

A Walmart bag with new garbage bags and tarps in the garage was an even more significant clue. Using the receipt, they could figure out that the items had been purchased around midnight.

Going to Walmart and asking for surveillance, they found an adult male walking comfortably around the store buying the things mentioned above. They could not see his license plate in the video, but his familiarity with the store’s layout led them to believe he was a local, so they looked up all of the males who owned silver Yaris’ in the area and quickly found their suspect. 

Matthew Hoffman, at the time, was a 30-year-old unemployed tree trimmer who lived less than half a mile from the crime scene. He had a criminal record, having spent six years in prison in Colorado for burglary and arson. 

With the possibility of Sarah still being alive, authorities moved quickly and without notice. They served a no-knock-warrant on Hoffman’s home on November 15th. Hoffman was asleep on his couch and was swiftly apprehended. Once they got to look around, though, what they found was bizarre. 

In Matthew Hoffman’s home were huge piles of leaves on top of tarps, some 3 feet deep. Investigators were worried that bodies, or other suspects, might be hidden in these vast leave piles.

As they cleared the leaf piles, they found other rooms, such as the bathroom, with walls lined with more than 100 shopping bags filled with leaves. 

Strange doodles were also written on the walls and doors. In the freezer were only two dead squirrels and red popsicles. 

A search of the basement yielded Sarah’s location. Sarah was bound and gagged on a pile of leaves. However, no signs of Tina, Stephanie, or Kody were found. 

Sarah was taken to the hospital but could tell authorities what happened to her. Sarah told them that on the 10th, she and Kody came home from school to find blood in the entryway. Sarah began calling for her mom when a man emerged with a knife. In a panic, she ran to her room and locked the door, but could hear her brother screaming.

Moments later, the man broke into her room and told her he would kill her if she didn’t do what he said. He tied her up and blindfolded her before taking her to a vehicle. He left her at his house and then left again. 

In terms of what Sarah experienced while held captive in Matthew Hoffman’s home, I won’t go into much detail. Sarah is an adult now who has courageously told her story as a way to advocate for living victims of these types of tragedies. Her story is out there.

For this, though, I will say that she was assaulted by Matthew Hoffman during this time and was confined to the bed of leaves she was found on. However, Sarah did not witness any violence committed against her family and did not know for sure if they were alive or dead during her captivity. 

The Confession

With Sarah now safe, the focus was on finding out what happened to Tina, Stephanie, and Kody. However, Matthew Hoffman was not talking.

A couple of days into trying to talk to him, Hoffman told one detective that he would write his confession only if they would let him escape so they would shoot him. When he was told they couldn’t do that, he continued his silence until November 18th, when authorities agreed to take the death penalty off the table if he confessed. 

In his confession, Matthew Hoffman claimed that the whole incident was a burglary gone wrong. He admitted to casing the house before the attack to learn when people would be out of the house and slept in the woods across the street the day of the crime to ensure he was there when the time came to break in. 

Hoffman spent quite a while in the home looking for valuables but was interrupted by Tina coming home with groceries. Hoffman had bought a large hunting knife and a blunt object to bring into the house.

He was in Tina’s bedroom and realized there was no getting out without her seeing him, so he confronted her intending to knock her out; however, Stephanie showed up around this time.

Hoffman claims he panicked, so he attacked and stabbed Stepanie and Tina. While Hoffman was “processing” the women’s bodies in the tub, Sarah and Kody got home, and the rest of the story played out. 

Matthew Hoffman used the victim’s cars at various points to transport Sarah and the garbage bags of dismembered body parts. Hoffman informed authorities that he had dumped the bags into a hollow tree using a pulley system. He made sure to point out where the tree was but wanted them to promise that they would not damage it in the process. 

In his confession, there was no genuine apology or plea for forgiveness. He maintained that he never intended to kill anyone and that he was working in a complete state of shock during and after the murders.

He also insisted that he treated Sarah well while holding her captive, claiming he cooked her dinner, watched movies with her, and made her a comfortable bed of leaves. Sarah said no such thing happened. 

Matthew Hoffman pleaded guilty to 10 counts in early 2011 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

The Psychology 

What makes this case so fascinating to many is the state of Matthew Hoffman’s home when they served the warrant. However, leaves and trees had nothing to do with the actual murders besides where he dumped the bodies. 

From everything I gathered, there hasn’t been much said about Hoffman’s obsession with leaves and trees that isn’t based purely on speculation. There is a ton of speculation and sensationalism around this case because the person who does know everything is simply not speaking. Hoffman did not explain the piles of leaves in his confession, and it would seem that he has not spoken since. 

Here’s what I did find out, though. At the time of the crime, neighbor’s claimed that Hoffman had been acting more and more strange. He would climb into trees and just watch. He was catching squirrels and eating them; there was no evidence he was grocery shopping.

He had recently been fired from his tree trimming job due to poor work performance, so he was drawing unemployment at the time. Some sources claimed that his car got repossessed, so I’m not sure how that fits in if he was identified due to the Yaris he was driving. 

His girlfriend and her young son had recently moved out of the house after breaking up with him. There was an incident on October 24th where he choked his ex-girlfriend, but she did not press charges.

Overall, he had become more paranoid and irritable. He had the power to his house disconnected and seemed to be in an abysmal mental state. 

One piece of speculation is whether or not Matthew Hoffman is a psychopath or not. At the time of his conviction, most talking head experts claimed that his behavior seemed more in line with someone suffering a severe mental break. One such expert speculated that he likely found trees comforting, so he put the bodies in the hollow tree to provide a safe place for them. 

However, while watching the Twisted Killers episode, I noticed that Hoffman was being characterized differently. They asserted that he was, in fact, a psychopath and experienced dendrophilia, the sexual attraction or love of trees.

However, the only evidence to “prove” he is a dendrophiliac is that he had piles of leaves in his home. That’s it. That’s their evidence. He had leaves in his house, so that must mean he wanted to knock knobs with trees. 

As for being a psychopath, that could be, but again we only have speculation and nothing official. It was pointed out that in addition to the knife, he bought gloves and duct tape before the crime– items not used in a burglary.

He also didn’t seem to show much remorse; as I said, he didn’t offer any apologies in his confession. On the show I watched, they analyzed how long he was in the house and how casually he shopped in Walmart afterward. He seemed completely comfortable and even added a shirt and sandwich to his garbage bags and tarps purchase. One person on this show went so far as to say that the bodies were put into the tree so that he would have a shrine to return to later. Again, no solid evidence to back up this speculation, so I don’t know. 

When his previous stint in prison was brought up, they mentioned that he had burglarized a townhome and then went back later to burn it down because he kept obsessing over the potential fingerprints he left behind.

One of the men who worked on the murder case pointed out that perhaps the leaves in the house were there as accelerants and he was prepared to burn his own house down if he thought it was necessary.

The day after the murders were discovered, Matthew Hoffman had tried to go back to the house to burn all of the evidence but didn’t realize the police were already there. He was stopped and spoken to by a deputy to find out why he was there, but he claimed he was just walking around while waiting for his girlfriend to get off work. Obviously, at that point, they had no clue he was their suspect, so he was able to go on his way. 

I don’t know if he is a psychopath or someone suffering from a severe mental break. I see evidence of both. He was not treated for mental illness before the murders.

Strangely enough, one officer claimed that Matthew Hoffman told him if the police didn’t shoot him, he would end his own life– he was insistent that he didn’t want to be injected with Thorazine (a drug that treats schizophrenia) for the rest of his life in jail. I’m not sure how true that is, but if it is, perhaps he had been diagnosed but was hiding it. Needless to say, what he did was horrible, and I’m glad this case was solved. 

The Aftermath

The horrors of Sarah’s life sadly did not end with the conviction of Matthew Hoffman. She went on to live with her father and stepmother were later convicted of abusing and assaulting the teen. Her father punched her in the back and just a few days later, her stepmother pushed her down a flight of stairs. She has since distanced herself from social media, assumed to be leading a peaceful and happy life with other family.

Sources: Oxygen Crime News, MurderpediaTwisted Killers episodeOdd Murder & Mysteries, and NamNab

Researched by Alley from The Squonk & The Hag

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