Scott Davis had answered the job ad on Craigslist on October 9,and now, four weeks later to the day, he was watching the future it had promised glide past the car window: acre after acre of Ohio farmland dotted with cattle and horses, each patch framed by rolling hills and anchored by a house and a barn—sometimes old and worn, but never decrepit. Davis rode in the backseat of the white Buick LeSabre; in the front sat his new employer, a man he knew only as Jack, and a boy Jack had introduced as his nephew, Brogan. The kid, who was driving the car, was only in high school but was already a giant—at least as tall as his uncle, who was plenty tall.
He was chatty, telling Davis about his ex-wife, his favorite breakfast foods, and his church.
Davis, 48, had left his girlfriend behind in South Carolina, given away the s for his landscaping business, and put most of his equipment in storage. Moving back home at his age might seem like moving backward in life. On a densely wooded, hilly stretch, Jack told his nephew to pull over.
Davis got out to help, stuffing his cigarettes and a can of Pepsi into the pockets of his jean jacket.
He followed Jack down the hill, but when they reached a patch of wet grass by the creek, Jack seemed to have lost his way and suggested they head back up to the road. Davis turned around and started walking, with Jack following behind him now. Davis heard a click, and the word fuck.
Spinning around, he saw Jack pointing a gun at his head. Where we got that deer at last time. In a flash, it was clear to Davis: he was the next deer. Davis instinctively threw up his arms to shield his face. As Davis heard the crack of the gunshot, he felt his right elbow shatter.
He turned and started to run, stumbling and falling over the uneven ground. The shots kept coming as Davis ran deeper into the woods, but none of them hit home. He ran and ran until he heard no more shots or footsteps behind him. He was losing a lot of blood by now, but he hid in the woods for several hours, until the sun was low, before he made his way back to the road and started walking.
But he asked Schockling to call Sheriff Stephen Hannum of Noble County arrived after about 15 minutes. He would later describe Davis as remarkably coherent for a man who had been shot and was bleeding heavily. But what Davis was saying made no sense.
Most of the large tracts of land had been bought up by mining companies. Davis kept going on about a Harley-Davidson, and how the guy who shot him was probably going to steal it. The sheriff sized Davis up—middle-aged white guy, puffy eyes, long hair, jean jacket, babbling about a Harley—and figured he was involved in some kind of dope deal gone bad.
Hannum made a few calls to his local informants, but none of them had heard anything. Then he located the truck and trailer in the Food Center Emporium parking lot, and they were just as Davis had described them. Davis truly was a victim rather than whatever I thought he was at the beginning.
More than people applied for the caretaker job—a fact that Jack was careful to cite in his e-mails back to the applicants.
He wanted to make sure that they knew the position was highly sought-after. Jack had a specific type of candidate in mind: a middle-aged man who had never been married or was recently divorced, and who had no strong family connections. Someone who had a life he could easily walk away from. Jack painstakingly deed the ad to conjure a very particular male fantasy: the cowboy or rancher, out in the open country, herding cattle, mending fences, hunting game—living a dream that could transform a post-recession drifter into a timeless American icon.
If a man applied, he would ask for the critical information right off the bat: How old are you? Do you have a criminal record?
Are you married? Jack seemed drawn to applicants who were less formal in their e-mail replies, those who betrayed excitement, and with it, vulnerability. I really hope you can give me a chance. I would stick with you until you found help.
Thank you very much, George. If a candidate lived near Akron, Jack might interview him in person at a local Waffle House or at a mall food court.
Jack explained that his uncle owned the place, and he had six brothers and sisters with a lot of kids and grandkids running around, especially on holiday weekends and during hunting season. The picture Jack painted was of a boisterous extended family living an idyllic rural life—pretty much the opposite of the lonely bachelor lives of the men he was interviewing. If the interview went well, Jack might tell the applicant that he was a finalist for the job. For one candidate, everything seemed on track until he mentioned that he was about to get married.
Jack immediately stood up and thanked him for his time.
But the mood of the interview immediately changed for the worse. Scott Davis left and David Pauley righttwo of the men who had the misfortune of answering the Craigslist ad placed by the mysterious "Jack". He was 51 years old, divorced, and living with his older brother, Richard, in his spare bedroom in Norfolk, Virginia.
For nearly two decades, Pauley had worked at Randolph-Bundy, a wholesale distributor of building materials, managing the warehouse and driving a truck. He married his high-school sweetheart, Susan, and adopted her son, Wade, from an earlier marriage. For most of his life, Pauley was a man of routine, his relatives said.
He ate his cereal, took a shower, and went to work at precisely the same times every day. But Pauley grew increasingly frustrated with his position at Randolph-Bundy, and finally around he quit. He bounced around other jobs but could never find anything steady.
He and Wade often had disagreements, and in he and Susan got a divorce. Sometimes he had to borrow money just to buy toothpaste. He got along fine with Richard and his wife, Judy, but their second bedroom—with its seafoam-green walls, frilly lamp shades, and ornate dresser—was hardly a place where he could put up his poster of Heidi Klum in a bikini or start enjoying his post-divorce freedom. Pauley was cruising online job opportunities when he came across the Craigslist ad in October Usually Pauley looked for jobs only around Norfolk.
But his best friend since high school, Chris Maul, had moved to Ohio a couple years earlier and was doing well. And the Craigslist job sounded perfect. On top of that, his brother, an ex-Navy man, was always pestering Pauley to cut his long hair before job interviews. With a gig like this, who would care whether he had long hair—the cattle?
Pauley sat down and wrote an e-mail to Jack. Pauley called Jack several times to see whether there was anything else he could do to help him decide. But early that evening, the phone rang. When Pauley got on the line, Richard recalls, his whole face lit up.
I got the job! He immediately called his friend Maul on the walkie-talkie and started talking a mile a minute. Next Pauley called his twin sister, Deb, who lives in Maine. Everyone there agreed that God had finally heard his prayers.
He packed up all his stuff—his model trains, his books and DVDs, his Jeff Gordon T-shirts and posters, his Christmas lights, and the small box containing the ashes of his old cat, Maxwell Edison—and hit the road. It was not far from Marietta, Ohio, where he was supposed to meet his new employer at a Bob Evans for breakfast the next morning. He called his sister, who told him that she loved him and said to call back the next day.
Give me an exact location so I can come down Saturday and we can hang out. The next day came and went with no call from Pauley.
Maul tried him on the walkie-talkie, but there was no response. Yes, everything was all right, Jack told Maul. Yes, he would pass on the message when he saw him the next day. But a few more days went by without a call, so Maul dialed Jack again. This time Jack said that when he showed up at the farm that day, Pauley had packed all his things in a truck and said he was leaving. There was no way, Maul thought to himself, that Pauley would take off for Pennsylvania without telling him. They kept their walkie—talkies on their bedside tables and called each other before they even got up to brush their teeth in the morning.
When she and her brother were 14, their mother got emphysema. She typed the name into Google and found the local paper, The Daily Jeffersonian. The article cited the Noble County sheriff, Stephen Hannum. ZIP: 45249