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Willie James HODGES





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Robberies
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: 2001 - 2003
Date of arrest: September 2003
Date of birth: 1960
Victims profile: Patricia Belanger, 58 / Winnie Johnson, 66 / Laverne Jansen, 81
Method of murder: Hitting with a hammer - Shooting - Stabbing with knife
Location: Florida/Alabama/Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in Florida in 2009

Florida Supreme Court


opinion SC09-468

Serial Killer Sentenced

By Debbie Williams -

Thu, February 12, 2009

"Willie James Hodges you are adjudicated guilty and sentenced to death by lethal injection."

There was no reaction from Willie Hodges as Judge Terry Terrell sentenced him to die for the 2001 murder of Patricia Belanger.

"She was really looking forward to spending time with us on the day she was murdered. It was taken from her and we miss her very much." Belanger's daughter, Deborah Taylor and her son, Brooks Clements were in the courtroom when Hodges was sentenced. They've been there through it all, "It's been over seven years since she was murdered, over five years since he was arrested," says Clements. He calls today's sentencing a milestone. "We can try to move on don't know if we can ever say we've got closure or we'll ever get past it but I guess I'm satisfied with the outcome today."

This case may be over but this isn't the only murder charges Hodges faces. "This is an individual that is now facing murder charges in Cincinnati and Alabama." says Assistant State Attorney John Molchan. "Those cases were part of our investigation and part of the prosecution in this particular case."

The death sentence carries with it an automatic appeal. An appeal defense attorney Martin Lester says has a good chance of succeeding. "Every IQ test he has ever taken in his life was below 70. There was expert testimony that his IQ fell into the category of mildly retarded."

It will be up to the Florida Supreme Court to make that decision. For Belanger's family, the healing can begin. "Just as a family we want to kind of move forward and think about good memories rather than constantly looking forward to what's the next criminal proceeding that we have to go through," says Clements.

Hodges is wanted in the murder of an elderly woman in Gainesville, Alabama just a few weeks before Belanger was killed and he is also wanted in the 2003 murder of an Ohio woman.


Hodges sentenced to die

February 12, 2009

Willie James Hodges sat still and quiet in the courtroom Thursday as a judge declared that he should die by lethal injection.

Circuit Judge Terry Terrell sentenced Hodges, 48, of Epps, Ala., to death for the murder of Patricia Belanger, 58, of Pensacola.

“May God have mercy on your soul,” Terrell said as Thursday’s hearing ended.

Found in her Mayfair home on Dec. 19, 2001, Belanger was beaten with a hammer and her neck was pierced with a steak knife. Hodges was convicted of the Belanger murder in March 2008.

Hodges is facing charges in two other murders.

He is also charged with shooting Winnie Johnson, 66, of Sumter County, Ala., while burglarizing her home in 2001. He’s also accused of raping and stabbing Laverne Jansen, 81, of Cincinnati in 2003.

A victim’s advocate with the State Attorney’s Office placed her hand on the shoulder of Belanger’s daughter, Deborah Taylor, as Terrell made his ruling. The family members declined to comment after the hearing.

The Florida Supreme Court automatically reviews death penalty cases, and appeals can take many years.

Defense attorney Marty Lester said he expects the appeal to focus on whether Hodges meets the legal standard for mental retardation, which would mean he could not be executed.

Terrell decided that was not the case, saying that Hodges carried on normal activities despite his IQ in the mid-to-upper 60s.

Prosecutor John Molchan noted that Hodges had romantic relationships, held steady jobs and possessed an eloquent writing ability.

Terrell also said Hodges displayed ingenuity when he jammed a chair in the front door of Belanger’s home so no one could gain access. And, the judge said, Hodges dropped several photographs of his cousin at Belanger’s home in an apparent attempt to shift blame.

The crime remained unsolved until 2003 when an investigator recognized one of the people in the photographs found at the Belanger home. The man in the picture, Vonkish Golden, is Hodges’ cousin.

When investigators questioned Golden, they learned that Hodges often stayed with his family. Both men were related to Richard Ptomy, Belanger’s neighbor.

Authorities matched a fingerprint found at the crime scene to that of Hodges.


Suspect in Elderly Women Murder

September 25, 2004

Cincinnati Police say a serial killer is to blame for a murder that shocked a west side neighborhood. 44-year-old Willie Hodges, already jailed on murder charges in Florida and Alabama, has now been charged with the killing of 81-year-old Laverne Jansen.

Jansen was killed in March 2003. It appeared that someone had followed Jansen home and beaten her to death in her Covedale apartment. Hodges was named as a suspect some months ago; now police say they have enough evidence for charges. He is currently in jail in Pensacola, FL. The other killings he is suspected of also involved older women.


Murder charge fits a pattern

September 24, 2004

Cincinnati Police Chief is convinced that Willie Hodges (44) is a serial killer. Hodges, charged Thursday with stabbing to death 81-year-old Laverne Jansen in her home last year is also accused of killing women in Alabama and Florida.

A warrant was issued for Hodges on charges of aggravated murder and rape, alleging Hodges killed Laverne Jansen in March 2003. Hodges is being held in the Escambia County Jail in Pensacola, Fla., where he was arrested in September 2003, on unrelated burglary charges.

In Escambia County, Hodges was charged with capital murder, accused of beating Patricia Belanger (58) to death with a hammer on Dec. 19, 2001, in her Pensacola home. He is awaiting trial.

After hearing about the Florida case, authorities in Sumter, Ala., charged Hodges Sept. 8 with capital murder for the Nov. 26, 2001, homicide of Winnie Johnson, 66. Johnson was shot to death during a daytime burglary of her home.

Cincinnati police think Hodges followed Jansen home in March 2003 and stabbed, bit and raped her in the daytime attack. There were bite marks on at least two victims.

Hodges spent a little over a year in an Ohio prison after he was convicted of robbery in Hamilton County in 1999. Hodges followed an older woman home from a bank and then stole her purse, according to Cincinnati police.

Cincinnati police say they suspect him in dozens of purse-snatchings, robberies and beatings of women on the West Side from 1998 through 2003.


Suspected serial killer located in Florida

September 22, 2004

Nearly three years after her murder, officials have arrested the man they believe is responsible for Winnie Johnson's death.

Johnson was shot to death Nov. 26, 2001 in her home in Gainesville. On Sept. 8, the Sumter County Sheriff's Office issued a warrant for the arrest of Willie Hodges of Epes on charges of capital murder.

Hodges is being held in the Escambia County Jail in Pensacola, Fla., on charges of the murder of a Florida woman.

Griggers said Florida investigators learned of Hodges' Sumpter County ties and called the Sumpter County Sheriff's Department..."Once they realized he had ties to Sumpter County, they made an inquiry," Griggers said. "They started talking about the case, and they realized there were a lot of similarities in the two cases."

That inquiry somehow turned up another interested party as the Cincinnati, Ohio, police wanted Hodges for questioning in yet another murder case they were investigating.

"He's a serial murderer," Griggers said. "There is a good chance he has committed other murders that we don't know about."

Though the warrant has been issued, Griggers said nothing is going to be done about Hodges until the case in Pensacola is determined.

"Our plan right now is to wait," he said. "I've discussed the case with Sheriff (Johnny) Hatter and we've decided to hold the warrant and put a hold on Hodges. The case in Florida could go to court as early as spring 2005. We'll wait to see the outcome of that trial, and if we're not pleased with the outcome, then we will go on and arrest him and start our proceedings."

The problem with trying to make the arrest and start the case now, Griggers said, is that for every hearing including bond hearings, preliminary hearings, motions and more, Hodges would have to be transported from Pensacola to Sumpter County and back.

"Any hearing would require his presence and we would have to take him back and forth, I would like to spare the residents that expense," Griggers said.

Should Hodges be found guilty in Florida, the local area would be saved even more expense. Because Hodges is being tried for capital murder there, if convicted, the possible sentence is either life in prison or the death penalty. Either way a trial here would be pointless.

"There is a reasonable likelihood he will get the death penalty there," Griggers said.

Though the arrest comes three years after the murder, Griggers said that is not because of lack of work on investigators' parts.

"I have to commend Sherriff Hatter and investigator Howard Rhodes from the Sumter County Sheriff's Department and Darren Blake of the ABI because they just didn't give up," Griggers said. "Their tenaciousness just wouldn't let this murder go unsolved."

The investigation increased in intensity after the Florida arrest.

"Since Hodge's arrest in Florida, Sumter County Sheriff's Office investigators and ABI agents have been collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses," a Sumter County Sheriff's press release stated. "Sumter County and state investigators have followed leads through three states and numerous jurisdictions."

Most of that search has centered around a quest to find the murder weapon, the release stated.

"For more than two and a half years investigators have searched for the murder weapon in the Johnson case, a .270-caliber high-powered rifle. Area bodies of water have been searched by scuba divers. An old well near Hodges residence was excavated and searched," the release stated. "Sumter County deputies conducted an exhaustive search which finally ended in success on Sept. 2. The Sumter County Sheriff's Office received information about the whereabouts of the murder weapon and was able to recover the rifle from a north Alabama man who bought the rifle from a resident of Boligee."

According to the release, the gun can be traced to Willie Hodges through witness statements and documentary evidence.

Other witnesses have come forward and provided additional information as well, and officials feel they have a good chance of convicting should the case come to Sumter County.


Patricia Belanger, age 58, beaten to death with a hammer and stabbed in the neck in her own home on December 19, 2001


LaVern Jansen, age 81, rapped and stabbed to death in 2003.


Willie James Hodges



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