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Halloween is sometimes a holiday for pranks. So, it made that sense that on Sunday, October 31, 2010, when 16-year-old Devon Griffin made a horrifying discovery at his home in Oak Harbor, Ohio, he initially thought he’d been victim of a joke, CBS News reported.
But what he witnessed was tragically real. Devon found the bodies of his murdered mother and stepfather, Susan and William “Bill” Liske, in their bedroom.
His older brother, Derek, 23, was discovered dead by police in his upstairs bedroom, with a blunt force trauma wound to his head.
“This was the most disturbing murder scene I’d seen over the course of my career,” Mark Mulligan, prosecutor, Ottawa County, told “Homicide for the Holidays,” airing Friday, October 7 and October 14 at 9/8c on Oxygen. “I can still see it to this day.”
Detectives started the investigation by piecing together information about events preceding the Halloween discovery of the bodies. Bill and his 24-year-old son, William, who was known as BJ, had spent the day before hunting. Then, during the evening, the fun-loving Liskes had a celebratory get-together with a neighbor that broke up around midnight.
On Halloween morning, Susan’s sister-in-law Laurie Morse grew concerned when Derek didn’t show up to do some work for her husband. Calls to Derek and Susan went unanswered, so she reached out to Devon. He had spent the night at his father’s house and had a church concert on Sunday morning.
When Devon got home, he had played video games before he eventually came face-to-face with his slain parents. A terrified and hysterical Devon then contacted his aunt Laurie, who called 911.
“It looked like Bill had been shot four or five times,” officials said. “Sue was shot three times with a defensive wound to her hand.”
Blood spatter covered the walls.
“This was a real live horror story taking place on Halloween,” WTOL 11 reporter Dick Berry told producers.
Investigators had a theory as to why two different murder weapons — a blunt object and a gun — were used. They believed Derek was killed first. The deadly blows by what they suspected was a hammer wouldn’t awaken Bill and Susan.
No shell casings were found at the scene; the killer took the time to pick them up to cover his tracks. There were no signs of forced entry or a robbery.
A neighbor told investigators that she’d heard banging, which may have been gunshots, around 6:30 a.m. on Sunday.
Investigators carefully searched the Liske home and property. On a dock near a pond on the sprawling spread, they found a muddy footprint. Police believed that the killer may have walked to the end of the dock and tossed the murder weapons into the water. The pond was drained, but no weapons were found.
Who would slaughter three family members? Someone who knew the Liskes? A stranger? Cult members stirred up by Halloween?
Police began their questioning with Devon. He said he had come home after being at his dad’s, ran in, got his choir gear, and headed to the concert. He returned home and eventually found the bodies. He was ultimately cleared as a suspect.
Devon said BJ was in the driveway at his house when he arrived there before the church concert. He told BJ, who appeared to be loading something into his dad’s white truck, he’d be back shortly.
Police concentrated their efforts on locating BJ, whose relationship with his stepmom, Susan, was alarmingly strained. Witnesses told officials that there was long-simmering tension between the two ever since she married his father. Over time, the arguments turned physical.
“BJ and Susan had had some altercations,” according to detectives. “She was accosted by him on several occasions … They did not get along whatsoever.”
BJ was described as a troubled person who was dealing with “some obvious mental illness,” according to “Homicide for the Holidays.” He had a history of turning combative and violent, and drinking alcohol could exacerbate these behaviors. Things had gotten so out-of-hand that BJ wasn’t allowed to live in his father’s house.
Police tracked down BJ at a family hunting cabin in Carroll County. The cabin and surrounding property were searched for possible murder weapons.
“We knew we're looking for at least one blunt force object. We believed at that time it was a hammer,” said Deputy Mike Balash, of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office. “And then we're looking for a small caliber gun.”
Critical evidence, including blood and a .22 caliber rifle, were found in the white truck. Investigators searching the Liske home soon found a bloody hammer in a closet
BJ Liske was charged with murder. Evidence confirmed that DNA from BJ’s father, stepmother, and stepbrother were on his clothing. In a jailhouse phone conversation with BJ, his mother asked him about the crime.
“She said, ‘BJ, how could you? And he goes, ‘I wasn’t in my right mind.' Then all of a sudden he goes, ‘Mom, I can't talk about this any more,'" said Det. George Byington, of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office.
After that last phone call with his mother, BJ changed his plea to guilty. BJ Liske received three life sentences without parole.
In 2015, he died by suicide while behind bars, the Port Clinton News Herald reported.
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