In this article:
- Matthew Hoffman, dubbed “The Leaf Killer,” killed three people in 2010. He also kidnapped and raped a 13-year-old girl before being caught four days later.
- Hoffman always had a strange love of leaves and trees. In fact, his entire home was filled with leaves and he stuffed his victims into a hollow tree.
- Despite being raped and having her brother and mother viciously murdered, Sarah Hermann was willing to courageously stand up to her killer in court.
Trigger warning: mentions of violence and sexual assault.
Many serial killers have a signature. The so-called “Beltway Snipers” who committed a series of murders in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area were known for leaving tarot cards behind at the scene of the crime.
Ed Gein was known for using body parts from his victims to make furniture for his home. Keith Hunter Jesperson, a serial killer who wreaked havoc around Portland in 1990, was known for drawing crude smiley faces on confession letters that he sent to media outlets.
However, one serial killer who murdered three people and kidnapped a little girl in 2010 in Ohio had a particularly strange calling card: leaves.
Yes, when Matthew Hoffman was finally captured, the police discovered that rooms of his house were lined wall-to-wall with leaves. The floors of other rooms were likewise covered completely in leaves, all of which were believed to have been collected within a matter of days.
But Matthew Hoffman’s love for leaves didn’t end there. He had been also working as a professional tree trimmer just a short time before committing his atrocious crimes and, in fact, was known to have always had a love of trees and leaves.
Yes, the twisted mind of this sick man managed to corrupt something as wholesome and beautiful as nature. It was this obsession that earned him the nickname “The Leaf Killer.”
This article will detail the horrific crimes of Matthew Hoffman in mid-November of 2010 that victimized the Hermann family and their friend Stephanie Sprang. While most of this story is about the tragic deaths of three people and the sexual abuse of an underage girl, there is a glimmer of optimism towards the end.
Sarah Hermann, the girl who was kidnapped and raped by Hoffman, showed her outstanding bravery and strength by refusing to let this vicious killer intimidate her.
Who Was Matthew Hoffman?
Now, there is not a whole lot known about who Matthew Hoffman was before he committed a series of despicable crimes in November of 2010. For the most part, he seemed to have been a fairly normal-seeming person up until the few months before the crimes. He was born in 1980 in Warren, Ohio to his parents Robert and Patricia Hoffman.
He was a quiet kid who sometimes came across as strange to others, but no one really believed he was dangerous. And, not that it was any indication of what he would do later in life, but he had a major fascination with trees and leaves.
Previous to the crimes that he committed in 2010, Hoffman was arrested in 2001 for first-degree arson, burglary, and theft after setting a condominium ablaze in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
After he was released from prison, things started to get even weirder.
Hoffman’s neighbors reported that he started trapping and killing squirrels, sometimes grilling them and eating them. They also reported that he would spend hours up in a tree in his backyard, watching them from his perch.
At the time, Hoffman was also working as a professional tree trimmer. It was clear that his obsession with trees and nature was getting a bit strange. Still, no one could have predicted what he would do in 2010.
On the night of November 9, 2010, Matthew Hoffman positioned himself in the woods across from the home of Tina Hermann in Apple Valley, Mount Vernon, Ohio after parking his car a mile away and walking there.
The house was relatively isolated and there were few neighbors in the area. He set up his sleeping bag and camped there until the next morning. Hoffman waited until the two kids in the house, Kody Maynard and Sarah Hermann, went off to school.
Then, once their mother Tina Hermann went out to the store, Hoffman broke into the house and waited.
As soon as Tina returned from the store, Hoffman dragged her into a bedroom and stabbed her several times with a hunting knife, killing her. What Hoffman did not predict, however, is that Tina’s friend Stephanie Sprang was coming to meet Tina at her house that day.
So, Stephanie, who had no idea there was a murder going on inside, entered the house and found herself being brutally stabbed in the chest by Hoffman. Hoffman continued to stab her many times after she was dead.
After the two murders, the family dog began to bark wildly, so Hoffman decided to kill the dog as well. He then dragged all three of them to the bathtub, dismembered them one by one, and put their bodies in trash bags.
Just after attempting to clean up the mess, the two kids, Kody and Sarah, arrived home from school.
As soon as they walked through the door, Hoffman sprung on the children and stabbed Kody, an 11-year-old boy, in the back of the head, killing him immediately. He then stabbed Kody many more times after he was dead.
Hoffman then chased Sarah, a 13-year-old girl, up into her room and tied her up with the cord from the fan in her room.
After killing the other members of her family, Matthew Hoffman gagged Sarah Hermann and threw her in the back of Stephanie Sprang’s Jeep next to the trash bags containing the dead bodies.
Hoffman drove the Jeep to his own car, a Toyota Yaris parked a mile from the family’s home and transferred Sarah into that car. He then drove back to his own home and locked Sarah in a bathroom while he hid the bodies of her family.
Afterward, Hoffman was exhausted from a day of bloodthirsty murder, so he decided to take a nap. Not wanting Sarah to escape, he tied her to himself while he slept. Sarah looked around the house in horror as she saw that his walls were lined with bags of leaves and his floor was covered completely in leaves as well.
Eventually, Hoffman awoke, went back to the Hermanns’ house, stole the family truck, and planned to use it to retrieve gas cans that he would use to burn the home down. The truck, however, stalled out, so Hoffman had to abandon it in a parking lot.
Hoffman chained Sarah up in a crawlspace for around three days. The room was covered in leaves, dark, cold, and wet. Hoffman repeatedly raped the little girl. He only fed her rotten food. He fashioned a diaper out of a trash bag that he taped to her body and didn’t let her clean herself.
It was only after three days of being in this crawlspace that police raided the home and discovered Sarah in that appalling condition.
The Arrest and Aftermath
Matthew Hoffman finally became a suspect after he was found sitting in his own car by the abandoned Hermann family truck.
On November 14, 2010, police raided his home and discovered Sarah locked up in the crawlspace. They were not able to untie her until they took pictures of her for evidence.
Once she was finally freed, she asked the police to take her to school, fearing that she would miss out on her studies. This is the kind of incredible person that Sarah Hermann is.
After being arrested, Matthew Hoffman still refused to give up the locations of the bodies of the other three people. It was only after law enforcement brokered a deal that involved taking the death penalty off the table that Hoffman revealed the location.
Sometime after he killed them, he took their bodies out to a remote place in the woods where he climbed a large, hollow tree with an opening about 35 feet up in the air. He used this opening to dump the bodies into this hollow tree, where they surely would have never been found if Hoffman didn’t tell law enforcement.
The liar and monster that Matthew Hoffman is, he tried to tell interviewers that he treated Sarah Hermann with dignity and respect, playing video games, reading books, and watching movies with her.
He said that he cooked meals for her and tried to make her a “comfortable” bed of leaves. All of this was a lie.
In regards to these claims, Sarah Hermann said, “I think he was just trying to say that in his letter to make people think that he felt good about himself, for him to think he fed me and stuff. He didn’t. He didn’t let me shower or do any of that stuff.”
During Hoffman’s trial, Sarah Hermann requested that she make a statement to him in court; however, she was advised not to. According to her, “I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t scared of him. I just wanted to live my life.”
In January 2011, Matthew Hoffman pleaded guilty to 10 counts and was sentenced to life without parole.