March 21, 2023
An Akron, Ohio man was convicted this week of the murders of two women in Summit County in the 1970s.
Gustave Alexander Sapharas, of Stark County, was born in Akron, Ohio on July 23, 1944 and is currently 78 years old.
His crimes span from 1970 – 1991 and, at the time of writing, has two confirmed murder victims.
Of the confirmed victims so far are two local women, Karen Louise Bentz, who was 18-years-old at the time she was brutally stabbed to death in April of 1970, and Loretta Jean Davis, another local woman who was 21-years-old when she was stabbed to death in August of 1975.
Sapharas also has several surviving victims, who were between the ages of 20 – 28 years old, all referred to by their initials only in documents. According to Summit County Common Judge Alison Breaux, Sapharas kidnapped and assaulted multiple women over a span of 20 years, killing those who refused to comply when threatened.
Karen Bentz lived just off East Market Street in Akron and was last seen leaving her parents’ house on Jewett Street at 11:15pm on April 29, 1970. The following day, a motorist spotted her dead body in the Tallmadge Woods allotment and reported it to police. She had been stabbed a total of twelve times and her clothing was found throughout different spots in the local and wider area, with some items found two miles from her body.
Tens of friends and individuals associated with the victim were interviewed and subjected to polygraph tests, but despite their best efforts, police could not identify the killer. In an article titled: Getting Away With Murder, published in the Sunday May 25, 1975 issue of the Akron Beacon Journal, the writer states: "It is unlikely that Karen Bentz' murder will ever be solved." Edward Duvall, Akron Police Sgt. said of the case at the time "It’s not closed, because you're always getting information that you can drop in the file or check out." Little did they know at the time that modern day methods involving DNA and genetic genealogy would aid in solving decades long cold cases.
The body of Loretta Jean Davis, 21, was found off Congress Lake Road in a rural area in Portage County, Suffield Township in much the same condition as Bentz. Davis’s jeans had been pulled down off her hips. The top half of her body was naked with her shirt over her head.
Gustave Sapharas became a suspect in Davis’s case a year after her murder, but when questioned by police in 1976, denied knowing the victim.
Victor Biasella, an investigator on the case at the time, said he recalled seeing a groove in the dirt near her body, suggesting she had been dragged to the location her body was found. She also had red fibres on the soles of her shoes. There was no sign of a struggle at the scene, which further suggested to investigators at the time that she had been killed in another location and her body later transported to Congress Lake Road. She had stab marks near each of her breasts and a small piece of black plastic, theorized to be part of a knife handle, was found caught in her blouse during the autopsy. The cause of death was ruled as a stab to the heart.
On the night she was murdered, Davis went with a friend to a drive-in movie and then out for something to eat. She left a note telling her parents what she was doing that night but never made it home. She was last seen in the early hours of the morning on the night she was killed, in a silver Chrysler Cordova with an unidentified male. The man was said to be parked next to Davis’s Plymouth Duster outside of Tallmadge Auto Parts. Her vehicle was discovered in the same place several days after her murder, unlocked with her purse and personal items on the passenger seat.
In March 1970, Gustave Sapharas was given two years' probation after sexually assaulting a woman he was on a date with. He pleaded to lesser charges of assault and battery and carrying a concealed weapon as part of a plea agreement.
In December 1972 Sapharas was accused of the rape and kidnap of a 22-year-old woman, however, a mistrial was declared.
In January 1973, Sapharas got away with yet another alleged crime against a 20-year-old woman who accused him of offering her a ride in Akron before driving her to a rural area where he then strangled her and forced her to perform oral sex on him. The grand jury returned a no bill.
In May 1975, another Akron woman claimed Sapharas raped her outside of her own home in his car and threatened her with a knife. The woman escaped to a nearby business, however, Sapharas went on to claim that the two had consensual sex.
In June 1975 another woman, 20, accepted a ride from Sapharas, again in Akron. She was driven to a remote area where she was choked until she was unconscious and sexually assaulted. Sapharas pleaded guilty to assault.
In 1977, Sapharas was sentenced to 15-60 years behind bars for the rape of a 28-year-old Cuyahoga Falls woman in the fall of 1976.
He was paroled in November 1990, however, violated his parole when he was accused of rape and assault by a Columbus woman. He was released again in September 2000 and arrested again in September 2019 for the 1970s murders of both Karen Louise Bentz and Loretta Jean Davis.
Earlier this month, a jury found Gustave Sapharas guilty of aggravated murder, murder, murder in the first degree involving an abduction, murder in the second degree and maiming or disfiguring another, for which he could face life in prison without the chance of parole.
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