June 1, 1989: Oba Chandler Murders Family on Vacation


WHAT HAPPENED?


When I first started this website, this was one of the first stories I wrote down on my list to cover. I watched a Dateline or something about this with my mom, and when I saw that his victims were from Van Wert, Ohio, I was interested. Not because it is particularly close to home, but on my commute from home to college, I passed the exit. It was insane to me that people from an area close enough to be on signs during my drive could be murdered in such a way.


Anyway, Oba Chandler was convicted of, and executed for, the murder of Joan Rogers and her 2 children while they were on vacation to Tampa Bay, Florida, on June 1, 1989. The victims were found with their hands and feet bound, and autopsies showed they were still alive when they were thrown in the water.


Chandler was ultimately identified by his handwriting, which had been placed on a billboard.


Chandler testified on his own defense, saying he had met the women to give them directions, but had never seen them again. He maintained his innocence until his execution. And, in one of the most pathetic Wikipedia sentences ever, "During his 17 years of incarceration until his execution, he was notable for not having a single visitor."


Though he was only tried and convicted for the murders of the Rogers family, DNA evidence linked him to another murder victim after he had died, and it is believed is responsible for more murders.

PRE-KILLER LIFE


Oba Chandler was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, the 4th of 5 children to his parents Oba Chandler Sr. and Margaret Johnson. His father committed suicide by hanging himself in the family's home when Chandler was 10, and he allegedly jumped into his father's open grave when the coffin was being filled with dirt.


Chandler fathered 13 children by 12 different women (there is 1 lucky woman who got to bear 2 of this loser's babies!). 2 of his sons and 2 of his daughters were put up for adoption.


Before Chandler started knocking up women at the speed of light, he was into committing crimes, which didn't stop. When he was just 14, he began stealing cars, and was arrested 20 different times before he turned 18. Once an adult, he continued on his crime-filled life, including possession of counterfeit money, loitering, burglary, kidnapping and armed robbery. He was also accused, but not formally charged, with masturbating while peering through a woman's window.


In one of his most major pre-murder crimes, he and an accomplice broke into a couple's home and held them at gunpoint while robbing them. He made his accomplice tie up the man and he took the woman into the bedroom. He made her strip before tying her up and rubbing the barrel of his gun across her stomach.


This is textbook escalation, as they would say in literally any crime show. From petty crimes to peeping Tom to actual armed robbery and kidnapping... He was one wrong move away from murder.

THE ROGERS MURDERS


On May 26, 1989, Joan "Jo" Rogers, a 36 year old mother of her 2 daughters, 17-year-old Michelle and 14-year-old Christe, left their Ohio dairy farm for a vacation in Florida. It was their first time ever leaving Ohio.


The vacation was quick, and investigators believe that they were trying to return home on June 1, but got lost trying to find the freeway to start the trek from Orlando back home. As such, they decided to stay an extra day in Tampa.


Lost, still, looking for their hotel, it is believed they encountered Chandler, who gave them directions. He also offered to take them on a sunset cruise of Tampa Bay.


Investigators have pieced together the timeline. They left Orlando at around 9 AM and checked into their hotel, a Days Inn, in Tampa at about 12:30. A roll of film was found in the Rogers' hotel room, and the last photo taken was of the sunset from the hotel balcony, confirming that everyone was still alive, and in their hotel, as sunset began.


They went to the hotel's restaurant at 7:30 PM, where they were last seen alive. It is believed that, next, they boarded Chandler's boat, between 8:30 and 9 PM. By 3 AM the following morning, all 3 of them were dead. It is believed that Chandler used the fact that he, too, was from Ohio to connect with them.


I remember watching this, and even reading about it now, and could not believe anyone would just board a boat with a stranger. But first, this was a different time. I wasn't alive in 1989, but I have been told that people were a lot more trusting in the 80s. Doors unlocked at all times, letting your kids walk miles to school... So boarding a sunset cruise with a seemingly harmless man doesn't seem that out there. Plus, they had never left the state of Ohio before. Even if they did have some concerns, perhaps they talked themselves into it because they were trying to have fun on their last night of vacation. I can't really compare what I think I'd do as a paranoid true crime fanatic born in the mid-90s who has gone on various vacations to a family in the late 80s who had never left Ohio.


Though it is unknown exactly what happened on that boat, it is clear that they got on it, but did not get off alive. And the way they died was brutal. The bodies were all found floating in Tampa Bay on June 4. The first body was found by a sailboat with several people on board, and the second was seen floating off of the pier in St. Petersburg. The third body was found while the Coast Guard was out recovering the 2nd.


All of the bodies were face down, bound with rope around the neck, and naked from the waist down.


Here's where it gets even more horrible: All 3 victims had water in their lungs. They were not killed on the boat and thrown overboard. They were bound on the boat, and a cement block was tied around their necks, and they were thrown in the water, one by one, to drown. Michelle, the 17 year old daughter, was found with one of her hands freed from the ropes, indicating that she had fought to free herself, but it wasn't enough.


Because they were all found half naked, authorities believe that the underlying crime was sexual assault. After, likely, assaulting daughters in front of their mother, and a mother in front of her daughters, they were thrown overboard, the concrete blocks likely used to the bodies wouldn't be found. But when they bloated as a result of decomposition, they floated to the surface a few days later.


INVESTIGATION


The family was not positively identified until a week after the bodies were found. By then, their terrified husband and father, Hal Rogers, had reported them missing. On June 8, the Days Inn housekeeper said that the family's room had not been disturbed and the beds had not been slept in, and they contacted the police. Fingerprints from the room were used to identify the bodies.


Marine researchers believed that, based on currents and water patterns, that the women had been thrown from a boat, and not a bridge or dry land. They estimated it occurred 2-5 days before the discovery of the bodies. The family car was found at the boat dock by the causeway where Chandler's boat was waiting for them.


The case remained unsolved for more than 3 years. The police received so many tips that it was difficult to thoroughly investigate each of them. One tip, the one that helped break the case, came from a police bulletin that described a similar rape of a 12-year-old tourist that occurred 2 weeks before the Rogers were killed.


But what ultimately sealed the deal was his handwriting. He had left handwritten directions for the family, which was found in their car, with a description of his boat and the location of his boat (which was where the car was found). His handwriting was posted on billboards in the Tampa Bay area. A neighbor recognized the handwriting, and turned in a work order Chandler had written to the police for a comparison. The 2 samples match conclusively.


A few other roads lead to Chandler, including another neighbor who said he matched the composite sketch, and a print on the brochure that matched him. Additionally, Chandler sold his boat and left town with his family shortly after the billboards appeared.


Initially, police believed that Chandler had an accomplice in the murders, but was negated once he was arrested. They believed that Chandler had committed the murders on his own.


Additionally, members of the Rogers family were considered suspects. First was Hal's brother, Jean's brother-in-law, John... even though he had been serving a prison sentence for rape at the time of the murders. Police found that John had been abusing Michelle, but charges were dropped when she refused to testify. Some believed that that is why he wanted to kill the family, and he had recently visited Tampa so he could have planned them. However, it was determined that he did not have any known accomplices, did not have the money to hire a contract killer, and didn't even know that his sister-in-law and nieces were going on vacation, he was cleared.


Hal, the grieving father and husband, was also considered a suspect. He had posted bail for his brother, knowing that he had sexually abused his daughter. He said he did so because he always promised family he would bail them out and would not go back on the promise. He had a suspicious withdrawal of $7,000 around the time of the disappearance, but was able to account for it. Investigators also proved that he had absolutely not left Ohio during the time they were on vacation.


Though John, the uncle rapist, and Hal, the widower who lost his children but also bailed out his rapist brother who assaulted his daughter, did not commit the murders, it was that situation that lead the girls to Florida. Michelle's rape and town gossip was too much for them to handle, and so they went on a trip to try to distance themselves a bit from the incident.

OBA CHANDLER'S TRIAL


Chandler claimed that he had met the family and gave them directions, but never saw them again until the newspaper coverage of their murder. He also acknowledged that he was out on Tampa Bay that night, corroborated by 3 ship-to-shore phone calls he made that night, but he claimed he was fishing alone. He also claimed that he had called the Coast Guard and Florida Marine Patrol because his engine would not start, but no one came and he fixed it himself.


However, it was a bad lie to make because those thinks are traceable, and there was no record of any distress calls from Chandler to either of those entities. A boat mechanic also testified that they way Chandler "fixed" his boat would not have worked.


Witness testimony also helped nail the coffin shut on Chandler. Judy Blair testified that 2 weeks before the murders, on May 15, 1989, Chandler invited her onto his boat for a Tampa Bay cruise, and he raped her before returning her to shore. Though Chandler was not charged with this crime, it established a pattern of attack.


Judy said that he had given a false name when she met him, along with her friend Barbara Mottram, who refused to get on his boat. Earlier in the investigation, their description of him made the composite sketch that was posted on the billboards with the handwriting samples.


Additionally, a former employee of Chandler's testified that Chandler was bragging about dating 3 women on the bay on the night of the murders. Chandler's daughter, Kristal May Sue, also testified that he had talked about killing 3 women and was afraid to return to Tampa. The Days Inn maid, Michelle Rogers' boyfriend and Hal Rogers also testified during the trial, as well.


Chandler was found guilty of the crimes and was sentenced to death on November 4, 1994. He pursued all appeal avenues, but to no avail. He did admit to the rape of Judy Blair, but claimed the sex was consensual until she changed her mind during the act. (Still rape if you don't stop, my man.) However, because he was already on death row and there was no reason to subject Judy to the emotional trauma of a high-profile rape trial, he was never officially prosecuted for it.


Chandler apparently had a wife, who divorced him shortly after his conviction. He was no longer allowed to see his children, or even see photographs of her.


Also, if you didn't get this from the brutal assaults and murders of a mother and her 2 kids, Oba Chandler was an absolute creep. He scared some of the jurors just by the way he acted. He would often stare at them with a terrifying grin on his face. "He would make your skin crawl", one of them said. Additionally, profiling experts believed that he likely had killed before, as a first-time murderer likely wouldn't kill 3 people at once.


Chandler's execution was scheduled for November 15, 2011. He told his lawyer that, if there were legal avenues to keep him alive, to do those, but would not file any "frivolous appeals" to stay the execution. There were a few appeals and trials in the days leading up to the execution, but ultimately, his death sentence was upheld.


Chandler was executed at 4:08 PM on November 15, 2011. Though he declined to make a last statement, he left a written statement that said they were killing an innocent man. One of his many daughters, Valerie Troxell, believed he was innocent, believing he either did not do it entirely, or someone else was the mastermind. She didn't believe he could kill 3 women, and said his print on the note just proved he gave them directions, not that he killed them. She had written a letter to the Governor asking for his sentence be changed to life in prison, as well.


One of Chandler's (many) sons also believed in his innocence, saying the media persecuted him long before he went to trial, and believed he did not get a fair trial because of it. For all of these children supporting him, he sure had 0 visitors during his 17 lonely years on death row.


(All 13 of his children did not support him, however. His daughter Suzette said he was a monster and got what he deserved.)


In February of 2014, a few years after Chandler's execution, investigators found DNA evidence linking him to Ivelisse Berrios-Beguerisse, who was raped and strangled in Coral Springs, Florida in 1990. Chandler was living 2 miles away from her work place, and abandoned his fully furnished apartment 2 days after the died.


It is believed that the 20-year-old newlywed went to the mall for work and when she came out to her car, her tires were slashed. Chandler likely watched her for a few days and then slashed her tires so he could arrive as a helpful stranger, offering to help. Then, he killed her and dumped her body under a residential mailbox in a local neighborhood, and then skipped down. Her body was naked and she had ligature marks on her wrists and legs.


Florida investigators are looking for other cold cases in the areas Chandler lived to see if any other murders can be attributed to him.


This case is one that has stuck with me for years. My sisters and I have gone on many vacations with just our mom, and I can't imagine if someone saw us as targets for a crime. The terror they all must have felt as they realized they were going to die is something I can't think about for longer than a second without feeling ill. This sweet family just needed a getaway from everything happening in their lives and instead, they were killed in a horrific, brutal manner.


Oba Chandler was a terrible person who committed unthinkable crimes 31 years ago today, and the world is a better place because he is gone.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oba_Chandler

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