BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) — Boardman Township police announced Tuesday they believe they know who is responsible for the 1972 murder of a 12-year-old boy.
In a press conference, Chief Todd Werth said they believe Joseph Norman Hill, a former township resident who died in 2019 in California, is responsible for the April 1972 strangulation death of 12-year-old Brad Lee Bellino.
Werth credited former Chief Jeffrey Patterson, who reopened the case in 2001 and sent clothing of Brad’s to the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation that had DNA on them that did not belong to him.
After a series of tests that took years through several private firms and BCI, investigators were able to link Hill to the crime.
Werth said BCI says there is 98.2% probability that Hill’s DNA is the DNA that was found on Brad.
“We believe there is sufficient evidence that if he were still alive, we would present his case to a grand jury,” Werth said.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Gina DeGenova said her office reviewed the file and also believes the case could be taken to a grand jury.
DeGenova praised the work of investigators, saying they never abandoned the case and stuck with it over the years as DNA technology advanced.
“Over 50 years and they did not let go,” she said. “They didn’t stop.”
One of the reasons Werth said he went public Tuesday because police want to know if any other people in the township ever had contact with Hill. He said law enforcement in California are also looking into other cases to see if there is any link to Hill.
Kakascik said Hill’s name never came up in the investigation and he was never considered a suspect.
Anyone who has any information about Hill is asked to call detectives at 330 726-4144.
The boy’s body was found about 8 a.m. Tuesday, April 4, 1972, in a large trash container behind an Isalys on Boardman-Canfield Road. A tan belt was wrapped around his neck and his clothing was in disarray. Investigators said he was sexually assaulted before he was killed.
The Mahoning County Coroner at the time, Dr. David Belinky, said in news reports the boy’s death was “the act of a degenerate.”
Boardman police said they had some leads immediately after the body was found but they also decried what they termed “phony information” which they said was hampering their investigation. There was some thought that Brad’s death could be connected to the 1970 beating death of 15-year-old Thomas Baird of Afton Avenue, who was found Dec. 3, 1970, on Lake Park Road badly beaten. He died of his injuries 10 days later.
Werth said police will reexamine the Baird case as well as the case of David Evans, 13, whose body was found in a parking lot near U.S. 224 and Market Street in January 1975 a few days after he was reported missing.
Werth said an autopsy showed that Evans died of natural causes and Baird’s death was also different than Brad’s, but police will check the cases again to make sure there is no connection with Hill.
Two days after Brad was found, township police Chief David Hartsock told reporters detectives had “two good leads” to pursue. The belt used to strangle Brad was also sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation for analysis.
A neighbor told a newspaper reporter that Brad “was a gentle boy with a sunny disposition.” Brad had been at a friend’s house the Friday he was killed and investigators estimated he had been dead for 48 to 72 hours before he was found.
Police said Brad was last seen April 1 in North Lima hitchhiking, but the mother of the boy Brad was visiting said that had to be a mistake. She told a reporter Brad had been at her Applewood Acres home on March 31 and was allowed to stay until 9 p.m., but about 7:30 p.m. that evening, he called for a ride. When his father didn’t answer, the mother of Brad’s friend said he left then.
She said the timeline had to be wrong and perhaps whoever claimed they saw him in North Lima was confused because there was no school on March 31.
Werth said Hill was a truck driver who drove for a local water bottling company. He was 32 when Brad was killed and moved to California in 1978.
Hill died in July 2019 in a nursing home in California. His body was cremated.
Werth and Capt Al Kakascik, chief of detectives, both said investigators were able to get DNA samples from Hill’s family members, some voluntary and some through “other means.”
There was never a link between Hill or Bellino that investigators could find, Kakascik said. Brad was found about a mile away from where he was last seen.
Kakascik said the autopsy on Brad found he had an undigested meal in his system, which means he died quickly.
“He died within two to four hours,” of leaving his friend’s home, Kakascik said.
This story is part of a series of cold cases that WKBN is examining.
Werth said Hill has only one known arrest, in 1986 in Los Angeles for lewd conduct. Hill’s DNA was submitted to a national database and has not been linked to any other crimes thus far, Werth said.
Police interviewed several people over the years and used search warrants to get DNA, eliminating people one by one, Werth said.