Karen Bentz and Loretta Jean Davis Murders: Where is Gustave “Gus” Sapharas Now?

In April 1970, the body of a young woman was discovered on the side of a desolate road in Tallmadge, Ohio. The victim, identified as 18-year-old Karen Bentz, had been brutally murdered, bearing multiple stab wounds. Five years later, in 1975, another 20-year-old woman named Loretta Jean Davis was found murdered in the nearby village of Portage, Ohio. The evidence and the manner of the crimes bore striking similarities, but it would take the police several decades to apprehend the killer. In the episode ‘Where He Belongs’ of Investigation Discovery’s ‘On the Case With Paula Zahn,’ the dedicated police work that ultimately led to the capture of this dangerous perpetrator is detailed.

Karen Bentz and Loretta Jean Davis were Killed in a Similar Manner

Karen Bentz was in her final year at Central High School. Described as bright and cheerful, the 18-year-old was beloved by all who knew her. In April 1970, she took a step towards independence by moving into an apartment with a roommate, embarking on her journey into adulthood. Despite being a young mother with her daughter under the custody of her parents, Karen had an agreement with them. If she could establish a stable life by the age of 21, she would regain custody of her child. She worked various jobs and was determined to straighten out her career path.

On the morning of April 29, 1970, the police were alerted by a citizen of Tallmadge, Ohio, who reported the discovery of a young girl’s body lying almost face down on the side of the road. Upon arrival at the scene, law enforcement observed the body, noting multiple stab wounds on the arms and torso. Nearby, they found a pair of stockings, a white shirt dress, and a navy blue coat, along with a ring from Central High School bearing the initials KB. The victim was identified as Karen.

Her family stated they had last seen her around 11 p.m. the previous night, as she was walking towards her apartment from her parents’ home. The cause of Karen’s death was determined to be stab wounds to the heart and lungs, with evidence of beatings and strangulation. The amount of blood at the scene made it clear that Karen had been killed somewhere else. Although there were no signs of sexual assault, it was established that she had been killed approximately 8 hours before her body was discovered.

On the morning of September 28, 1975, a woman stepped outside her home in Portage, Ohio, and discovered the lifeless body of a young woman. She promptly alerted the police, who arrived at the scene and identified the victim as Loretta Jean Davis, a resident known for her diligence, brightness, and kindness. Like Karen, Loretta also had stab wounds on her body, with the cause of death determined to be a single stab wound to her heart. As with the previous case, there was minimal blood at the crime scene, leading investigators to conclude that she had likely been killed elsewhere. Loretta bore no signs that indicated that she had been sexually assaulted, but since her left breast was exposed when her body was found, her death was ruled as a sex-related homicide.

The Killer of Karen Bentz and Loretta Jean Davis was Caught with the Help of DNA Evidence

The investigation into Karen Bentz’s murder had stalled after weeks of efforts to gather evidence. With no eyewitnesses, and despite collecting swabs from her fingernails, authorities at the time could only determine the blood type of the DNA sample obtained. When the investigation into Loretta Jean Davis’s murder began, the lead investigator was unaware of the similarities between her case and Karen’s murder.

The police discovered key pieces of evidence on Loretta’s body that pointed them in a specific direction. Red fibers matching those found on car carpets were found on her shoes. Additionally, witnesses reported seeing Loretta sitting in the car of a stranger the night before her murder, identifying the vehicle as a Chrysler Cordoba. Although efforts to locate the vehicle initially yielded little success, when police learned of an assault case reported in Cuyahoga Falls involving a suspect wielding a knife, they believed they might have found their suspect.

The detectives received a significant lead regarding the type of knife used in the assault. It was revealed to be a steak knife, and the wounds found on Loretta’s body closely matched those inflicted by such a knife. Additionally, a piece of plastic assumed to have fallen from the knife was found near her body. During interrogation, Gustave “Gus” Sapharas, identified as a suspect, denied any knowledge of Loretta. However, a search warrant executed at his residence uncovered several steak knives. It was discovered that his family owned a restaurant that used similar steak knives, which were sent for forensic analysis.

The police further investigated Gustave’s ex-wife and discovered that she owned a Chrysler Cordoba with red carpeting, matching the fibers found on Loretta’s shoes. These findings were subjected to forensic analysis, but unfortunately, both pieces of evidence yielded only partial matches. As a result, the authorities lacked sufficient evidence to charge or arrest Gustave. However, he remained under police scrutiny in the following years. In 1991, Gustave faced trial for the murder of a woman named Bonita Parker, as his DNA was found under her fingernails. However, additional male DNA was also discovered, leading to Gustave’s acquittal.

In 2017, detectives rekindled their investigation into Karen’s case, recognizing similarities between her murder and those of Loretta and Parker. Determined to pursue justice, they sought to retry Gustave. Leveraging technological advancements, they submitted DNA samples from Karen’s fingernails for testing, which yielded a match with Gustave’s DNA. Subsequently, the police opted to charge him with the murders of both Karen and Loretta.

Gustave “Gus” Sapharas is Serving His Sentence Today

Gustave “Gus” Sapharas had an extensive criminal record, with over seven prior arrests for assault. In 1991, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for assaulting Margery Lang. In 2023, he faced trial for the murders of Karen Bentz and Loretta Jean Davis. The jury found him guilty on multiple charges, including aggravated murder, murder in the first degree (abduction resulting in death), murder in the second degree, and maiming or disfiguring another. He received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, along with an additional 15 years to be served concurrently. Currently 79 years old, Gustave is serving his sentence at the Richland Correctional Institution in Ohio and would never be eligible for parole.

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