By Tamara Pettit
Three suspicious deaths in Hancock County from 1963 remain unsolved
The link between Lawrence Wise and a bizarre murder case in Canton, Ohio is even harder to establish. There has to be a link, however, or why would Lawrence have put the date April 23, 1963 and the Ohio license plate as one of three deaths. The license plate of the vehicle was key in this case…Robert Domer’s car was the vehicle he incinerated a victim in to fake his own death. His plan, however, went awry thanks to x-ray plates that matched his victim, Howard Riddle’s plates after an x-rays were taken when the itinerant fruit peddler had a heart attack.
Newspaper accounts from the Akron newspapers of the sensational case reveal that Robert Domer was a respected leader in his community, serving as a member of the Board of Education and head of the regional planning commission. He sat on the boards of four banks and was named Canton’s Man of the year. But, the 6’5”, 320 lb. businessman and attorney had a life that was unraveling. Years of fraud and theft were coming to a head and the Continental Mortgage Company of which he had served as president for a year had closed.
So the “scion of a highly-respected Canton family,” went missing for 27 days and left a recorded message for his wife and teenaged daughters that they would never see him again, but he had left them enough money to live on after they paid off the debts. He hoped to collect $152,000.00 in life insurance and $136,000.00 in accident insurance.
So enter Howard Riddle. When Bob Domer picked up a heavy drinking, itinerant fruit peddler Howard Riddle he had to have murder on his mind. Witnesses reported seeing Domer with Riddle, eating in a restaurant and drinking in a bar. Domer’s story said he took Riddle to a motel room when Riddle passed out drunk. Domer said he left the room and when he returned Riddle was dead. Seizing on the opportunity, Domer put his identity on Riddle; placed him in the driver’s seat of Domer’s vehicle; doused the vehicle with gasoline; set it on fire; and sent it down into a field. The charred body was beyond identification until investigators learned of the unlikely pair of Domer and Riddle being seen together and looked at the x-ray comparisons between the charred corpse and Riddle’s x-rays taken when he had had a heart attack in January.
Domer was charged with abduction for the purpose of murder; pre-meditated murder; and numerous counts of forgery, fraud, etc,
Domer was unanimously found guilty by a jury and was awaiting execution on death row in the Ohio State prison in 1965 when my Dad and a Sheriff’s Deputy would travel there to interview him. Domer claimed to have never heard of Lawrence Wise nor to identify Lawrence Wise from pictures Dad showed him.
In the file, however, I find a letter from Bob Domer’s mother to Mrs. Archie Adams, Lawrence Wise’s landlady, who had received the Christmas Card with the three dates. Dated March 27, 1964, it reads, “Dear Mrs. Adams – This is written in regard to your telephone call this week. I have learned some information to give you. Bob has seen the pictures with a man who came to see you and it was taken to show Bob and he never saw the man nor ever heard of him. So guess he was may have read about the incident in the papers and being confused as you said he was framed the story. Surely, if Larry (Lawrence Wise) did see Bob it would have come up in the trial. You will get your pictures back. And many thanks for all your concern. I do appreciate it and if you care to write our governor you may do so. Bob is a wonderful son. Thanks, Pearl Domer.
Next week: An unexpected turn in the Domer murder conviction and a look at the third death