ELYRIA — The summer of 1990 in Elyria was very grim when the bodies of two females were found.
Initially, police didn’t have a clue about the women’s identities, and the usual route to identifying them — comparing dental records — didn’t work in at least one of the cases because the woman never was reported missing.
That was 28-year-old Sandra Stuller, whose body tumbled out of a 1940s-era hope chest on June 20, 1990, that was unearthed at an excavation site off Schaden Road.
Stuller, a 1977 graduate of Elyria West High School, dropped out of sight around Christmas 1987, but she wasn’t reported missing because those closest to her — her aunts and uncles, as her parents were deceased — were told by the family of her ex-husband that she was in Europe.
Police engaged the services of Kent State University anthropologist C. Owen Lovejoy, who created a composite of what the dead woman might look like using the shape of her skull.
The lucky break came after The Chronicle published an artist’s rendering of the hope chest, and one of Stuller’s aunts recognized the design.
Detectives soon had a match of dental records and began delving into her life, and their focus quickly turned to her ex-husband, Douglas W. Hartman.
Stuller’s landlady at The Antlers apartments in Lorain said Hartman moved Stuller’s belongings from her apartment shortly after Christmas in 1987, but she didn’t see Stuller, and no forwarding address was left.
Police subpoenaed bank records and discovered that Hartman had siphoned off all Stuller’s assets.
Confronted with the evidence, Hartman confessed to suffocating his ex-wife and was sentenced in 1991 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 20 years.
The identity of the second body should have been easier, but police didn’t believe the remains could be missing 14-year-old Angela Hicks because of the state of decomposition.
Again, Lovejoy was asked to help and said the girl had Native American ancestry. Angela was part Cherokee, so authorities compared dental records and identified the body as Angela.
But police never obtained enough evidence for an arrest.
They said they showed the autopsy photos to Angela’s stepfather, Sam Legg, who had last seen Angela before she disappeared. The pictures made him cry, police said.
In recent years, no tips have come in on the Hicks case.
The lead detective, Charles Gallion, never lost interest and even worked on it after his retirement, according to Elyria Police Chief Michael Medders.
Medders welcomes the efforts of Angela’s best friend, Nicole Smith, to seek justice for the dead girl.
Anyone with information can call the detective bureau at (440) 322-1926.
“You have to get that one tip that opens up the case,” Medders said.
June 20 — A woman’s body is unearthed by a bulldozer clearing land off Schaden Road. The woman, who was believed to be in her late 20s or early 30s, had been buried in a hope chest decorated with flower baskets.
July 22 — Sam Legg reports his 14-year-old stepdaughter, Angela Hicks, missing from their apartment at 820 Rosewood Drive, off of Abbe Road, saying she left to get cigarettes.
July 24 — A.P.R.I.L. (Abduction Prevention Reconnaissance and Information League) begins looking for Angela.
July 25 — Angela’s mother tells The Chronicle, “We don’t suspect running away. I suspect abduction. Whatever she’s doing, she calls. She’s not a loner. She’s always got to be with a crowd.”
July 27 — Police order A.P.R.I.L. to stop searching because of concerns about the group’s fundraising efforts.
Aug. 8 — Body found off Schaden Road identified as 28-year-old Sandra Stuller.
Aug. 30 — A body curled in a fetal position is found on wooded land that would later become the site of the West River Branch of the Elyria Public Library. Police said, “We’re 99 percent it’s not Angela Hicks.”
Aug. 31 — The coroner enlists the help of anthropologist C. Owen Lovejoy.
Sept. 8 — The body found off West River Road is identified as Angela Hicks. Police repeatedly question her stepfather, Sam Legg, who had been alone in the apartment with Angela the evening of July 21. Authorities question Nancy Legg and Angela’s best friend, Nicole Smith, about a Barbie horse stirrup found under the body. They said Angela used to store her Barbie gear in an Army duffel bag missing from the apartment.
Sept. 8 — Police solve the case of the body found June 20 by arresting Douglas W. Hartman, who confessed to suffocating his ex-wife, Sandra Stuller, in 1987 around Christmas. Police cracked the case after an aunt recognized an artist’s rendering of the hope chest, and detectives discovered Hartman had emptied Stuller’s bank accounts.
— From news accounts and interviews