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44-year-old cold case cracked in Hamilton County

Ohio Attorney General

After more than 40 years, the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office has indicted Ralph Howell for the rape and murder of 19-year-old University of Cincinnati student Cheryl Thompson.

On March 24, 1978, Thompson went missing after leaving her home to meet her boyfriend at a bar in Oakley.

Weeks later, her body was discovered along the banks of the Little Miami River in Loveland, where police determined Thompson had been strangled and raped.

Investigators collected physical evidence from her body, but were unable to identify a suspect in the murder.

The case remained unsolved until earlier this year when Loveland Police and agents from the Bureau of Criminal Investigations tested a DNA sample from the scene. The results pointed in the direction of the family of Ralph Howell.

Howell was killed in a car wreck in 1985, seven years after the murder of Cheryl Thompson.

Family members of Howell submitted DNA samples for testing. The results excluded the family members but indicated the suspect could be a close family relative.

With this information, investigators located Howell's body in a Cincinnati cemetery and obtained a DNA sample from his jaw, which matched the DNA found in Thompson's body.

The suspicion around Howell was strengthened after investigators found he was arrested in 1983 for the attempted abduction of a woman.

Howell offered a ride to a woman on the side of the road. Once she entered the vehicle, he placed a rope around her neck and began strangling her and demanding sex. The victim was able to escape from the vehicle.

Following the attempted abduction, Howell pled to a lesser charge and was released.

Based on the evidence, the prosecutor's office says Howell may also have been responsible for killing numerous other women in the Cincinnati area, including 17-year-old Charmaine Stolla, 18-year-old Nancy Ann Theobald, and 24-year-old Victoria Hincher.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Ralph Howell was a serial killer," County Prosecutor Joe Deters said.

Deters says there were several other cases around the time similar to the murder of Cheryl Thompson and it's believed that Howell had more victims.

Anyone with information related to Ralph Howell is asked to contact the Bureau of Criminal Investigation at (885)-224-6446.

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.