(Publisher’s Note: Please see my comment after the story for some thoughts from Weelunk’s publishers. – Rochambeau)
(Editor’s Note: Kim Loccisano, veteran journalist for the Martins Ferry Times Leader, contributed her insight on the trial involving this case for this article.)
No ghouls or goblins trolled the streets of Bellaire, Ohio, for Halloween 20 years ago. Trick or treat was canceled. There was no candy for the kids.
Satan, and the unknown, were to blame.
Nathan Brooks, a 17-year-old student of Bellaire High School, was apprehended by officers at an undisclosed Bellaire residence not long after he slaughtered his parents, and media outlets reported that he told then-Sheriff Tom McCort, “People don’t understand.”
McCort said, “He said he tried to talk to people. He is a very intelligent young man and very well read. There is a fine line between madness and genius.”
Brooks is Prisoner #A337726 today at the London Correctional Institution in London, Ohio. It’s a facility that rests west of Columbus, 158 miles away from the site where Brooks, at the age of 17, murdered his parents inside their rural homestead on Sept. 30, 1995.
He shot his father, 53-year-old Terry, in the head three times at point-blank range with a hunting rifle before he decapitated him at the base of his neck with a hacksaw and placed the head in a punch bowl. He also used an axe and a knife to murder his mother, 52-year-old Marilyn, who had returned the day before from a trip to Florida.
Nathan’s brother, Ryan, was 16 at the time of the murders. The young man, who now resides in the Columbus area, discovered his parents’ bodies when returning home in the early morning hours the next day.
As a reporter for the Wheeling newspapers, I was dispatched to cover the story the same morning, and the scene at the house was surreal when I arrived after the brutal murders. According to the report, Road Sgt. Don Samples was first to respond, and later police officers and sheriff’s deputies were canvassing the property.
The officers going in and out of the house, however, appeared stunned.
They saw Terry’s head in the punch bowl, his eyes closed when the evidence photos were taken. Samples discovered the father’s headless body in his bed, arms above his torso, and blood splattered throughout the bedroom.
The deputies saw Nathan’s mother still covered by a blood-soaked comforter in her twin bed with a long knife deeply embedded in her right side above the waist, and they saw that she also had been chopped with an axe. Her son had left a ball peen hammer at the bottom of that bed, too.
The punch bowl holding Terry’s severed head rested on a wooden chair in the living room. A collage of satanic images hung on Nathan’s bedroom wall, and deputies also found the rifle, the axe, and knives. There also was a list of names left behind.
“Almost immediately the town’s officials canceled trick-or-treat because of the rumors about satanic worshipping, and no one knew who else could have been involved with Nathan Brooks,” said Bellaire Councilwoman Lou Ann Bennett. “Everyone was worried that these devil worshippers would do something to the kids. No one knew for sure. No one knew that that satanic stuff was taking place around here.
“It was scary. Everyone was hearing rumors that there was a list, and no one knew who may have been on that list,” she said. “Even though they had Nathan in custody, there could have been others involved. We were all very frightened at what was possible.”
Bennett’s daughter, Bobbie Jo, was a classmate and a friend of Nathan’s. Bennett said her daughter was caught off guard when the murders took place.
“She was shocked because he had never mentioned anything about it, and he didn’t try to recruit her,” she recalled. “They would sit together at the library and talk about school and talk about their classmates, but she says he never mentioned wanting to kill anyone.
“His father, Terry, was my mailman at that time, and he and I would talk sometimes because he said he was concerned about his kids and how they were doing in school,” she said. “I got the impression that he put a lot of pressure on those boys when their grades were concerned, but I have no idea if that was one of the reasons why Nathan did what he did.”
A jury of six men and six women found Brooks guilty on two charges of aggravated murder and of using a firearm in the commission of a felony. Deliberations in the double murder case took under three hours to complete; a time frame attorneys often agree bodes well for the likelihood a jury will return a guilty verdict.
After the verdict was announced, Judge Charles Knapp asked for a polling on the record to affirm it was a unanimous verdict.
Brooks is not eligible for his parole hearing until July 2038.
“Everyone paid attention to that trial every single day and in every single newspaper article,” Bennett reported. “Everyone wanted to know if they were on the list because of all the rumors about it. We wanted to know about this satanic worshipping, too, because before the murders no one thought it was possible around here.
“No one was surprised with the results of the trial. I just think people wanted more of the details so we all knew what to be watching for in case there were more involved.”
There were indeed names Nathan Brooks left behind at his parents’ house, and authorities collected it as evidence.
Several expert witnesses testified that the reality of the unexpected turn of events made Brooks stray from his chosen plan and may well have saved his younger brother’s life and the lives of others who were included on what came to be called his “kill” list. In large part the general public had little patience for suggestions that Nathan Brooks had formulated such a list.
Rumors had run rampant in the days immediately following the murders suggesting Brooks had made several “hit lists.”
Who could be next? Brooks may be in jail, but was he working with other satanic worshipers?
Initially law enforcement personnel said reports of such lists were false, but during the trial the public learned there was, in fact, such a “kill” list and that it contained a total of 16 names. The list was said to have his brother named as the first-planned victim.
I secured the cooperation of the Belmont County Sheriff’s Office to confirm that photos of the list – Nathan’s plan of attack – do exist, and that next to his brother, Ryan’s. name are the words, “Dismember. Decapitate.”
“Mother” and “Father” are listed second and third on the roster. “Eviscerate, crucify,” are next to his mother’s name. “Decapitate,” is beside his father’s name.
But who else was on it? Were there 16 names or 19 names?
No one knew for sure at that time, but now it can be confirmed that 13 first names, including three of four immediate family members, are scribbled on a notebook piece of paper. On the same page Brooks had written times, all of which had been crossed out, and he had drawn a sketches of Satan and a pentagram. He also jotted, “Satan will show you peace” at the top of the page.
The names that are still legible on the photos are first names only. No surnames were included by the convicted murderer.
In order, those names are the following:
Next to some of the names is, “Molest some.” Next to others, “Skin.” After two names of females, “Dismember, eviscerate.”
Two names are crossed out, and no times are listed next to those deleted entries. It is apparent from this piece of paper that Brooks planned to carry out the killings both individually and in groups. Amber and Lisa are listed together, as are Jason, Ryan, and Dave. Ashley and one of the scratched-out would-be victims are grouped, as well.
Brooks was not the sort of 17-year-old whose outward demeanor demanded the attention of those around him. However, that reality was forever changed in the early morning hours of Sept. 30, 1995.
Brooks was the middle of three children born to Terry and Marilynn Brooks – all boys. At age 17 he slaughtered his parents as they lay in bed at the modest family home located in the hills above the “All-American Town” of Bellaire, Ohio.
Looking back on the tragic situation, it is all too safe to say Brooks got his five minutes of fame, but the extreme brutality of the crime sent shockwaves across all communities in the Ohio Valley.
Belmont County Judge Charles Knapp presided over the double-murder case in his second-floor courtroom at the Belmont County Courthouse, and Brooks was incarcerated the majority of the time in Barnesville. When the verdict was read, Brooks took the news just as he had taken developments throughout the trial: devoid of any outward emotion.
Knapp, not a man known to make extemporaneous comments in connection with trials over which he is presiding, stepped aside from that tradition after the verdict was entered into the record.
“We know it wasn’t an easy task. But for whatever it’s worth, the court agrees with your verdict,” Knapp offered in appreciation to the jury members. Knapp then expressed his opinion of Brooks’ crimes by imposing the maximum sentence allowable under Ohio Revised Code.
By the end of the business day on Oct. 27, 1996, convicted killer Nathan Brooks had become an inmate of the Ohio prison system, ultimately being assigned to serve out his sentence in the maximum security environment at the prison in Lucasville. He will not be eligible for a parole hearing until he has served at least 43 years of his sentence: guilty of two counts of aggravated murder and of a single gun specification.
What may have saved the youngest of Terry and Marilynn Brooks’ children was Ryan’s decision to attend a football game and then spend the night at the home of a friend. It was even revealed the killer had walked the distance to the home of the friend with whom his younger brother was spending the evening and actually left him a note affixed to a household wall with a knife.
The youngest of the Brooks’ boys had not been found there by his brother, nor had anyone been home when Brooks arrived at the home looking for his brother.
“This is Nathan. I murdered two people, and I am going to turn myself in,” he said in a note to his brother.
The nature of the crime was made even more gruesome and disturbing when, through courtroom testimony, details of just how Brooks actually went about murdering his parents was shared with the jurors.
Without fail during the trial, Brooks was routinely escorted everywhere by a six-person-or-more, heavily armed law enforcement detail. Knapp had never been one to allow overt drama to have any place in the operations of his courtroom, and despite the highly dramatic nature of these crimes he maintained that standard wherever possible.
But Nathan Brooks was different. The methods employed by Brooks to murder his parents were especially gruesome, so much so that court officials decided not to allow the public to view images of the carnage at the crime scene.
Belmont County Public Defender Jim Nichelson’s singular point of argument during the trial was that the teen was insane at the time of the murders. The three experts brought unto the proceedings were split specifically on the point of whether or not Brooks had been insane at the time of the murders; thus it was impossible for him to be held to a standard knowing right from wrong in his actions.
There was never any effort at the trial by either side to say Brooks was not responsible for the murder of his parents.
This evening the children of Bellaire will trick-or-treat from 6-7:30 p.m., and members of both the police and fire department will be overseeing the annual ritual from several vantage points. It’s a safety practice that began the year after Brooks committed the double murder.
Village leadership also started a “Boo at the Park” event 10 years ago as a way to keep the children safe from the unknown. Bennett said more than 600 kids attended on Oct. 20 at the Bellaire Historic Park in front of Bellaire High School.
“The kids today do not know about what Nathan did 20 years ago, and they don’t need to know,” the council representative said. “They just come to that event, and they get a lot of goodies, and then they go across the street to the First United Methodist Church for hot dogs and drinks. It’s a great evening, and next year we’ll plan for 700 kids.
“And the police officers and firefighters have kept a close eye on trick-or-treat because, well, I think everyone is still shocked with the details of those murders. I think it taught everyone a lesson we unfortunately needed to learn,” she continued. “There were a lot of community meetings after those murders because no one knew about satanic worshiping and what we all learned was that it’s possible anywhere and at any time.”
The residents of Bellaire, Bennett said, still often recall Brooks and the alleged sacrifices of his mother and father, especially at this time of the year.
“Parents never used to go trick-or-treating with their kids in Bellaire. The kids used to just go off by themselves,” she said. “Not anymore. Not since those murders. From the year after up to today, every kid is accompanied by one or both parents.
“But I hear about it every year around this time, and people still wonder about the list and about the reasons why he did what he did,” Bennett continued. “The way he went about those murders was so brutal, like something you would only see in a movie or hear about from a much bigger city somewhere. But not in Bellaire. Not then. Not now.”
But it did happen two decades ago, and in 2011 permission was granted for an evidence review to an individual conducting a clinical case of the murder and trial for a book project. No such volume has been published as of today.
“There had to be a lot of anger and frustration inside of that boy, I would think, to do what Nathan did the way he did it. Something had to be seriously wrong in that house,” Bennett said. “In one way I feel sorry for him because he’ll never see the light of day again, and all he has to do in prison is think about what he did and why he did it forever.
“Something had to happen. That’s my theory anyway, and I think most people in Bellaire would agree with me,” she added. “But it still haunts Bellaire; I can tell you that.”