YOUNGSTOWN — The man who took the lives of three Shelby County teenagers and his Bible study teacher in 1999 and a fellow inmate two years ago is now dead.
Lawrence Michael “Mike” Hensley, an inmate at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, apparently committed suicide Sunday morning, June 21.
“I can confirm that Lawrence Michael Hensley died Sunday at the prison,” said Jo Ellen Smith, of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Corrections communications department. “It is being investigated as a suicide.
“Because this is an ongoing investigation, that’s all the details I can provide you,” she said.
According to the intital report of the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OHP), “an inmate was found deceased and hanging in his cell at the Ohio State Penitentiary. A suicide note was found in the cell. The body was removed from the facility by the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office.”
Hensley’s body was found in his cell Sunday morning at 5:27 a.m. His body was taken to the Mahoning County coroner for an autopsy.
Both the prison and the OHP will be conducting separate investigations into the alleged suicide.
Sidney Police Chief Will Balling, who, as a lieutenant, assisted in investigating the 1999 crime, told the Sidney Daily News Tuesday that he had not been officially notified of the death, but had heard that Hensley had died.
“That was a difficult time for Sidney as a whole,” said Balling. “Everyone was involved from the families of the victims to the families of Mike Hensley. It was a bad time for the community. I was proud of how we bonded together and worked our way through it.”
Hensley’s killing spree begin on July 8, 1999, when he shot and killed three teenagers — Sherry Kimbler, 16, of Sidney, Tosah Barrett, 16, of Port Jefferson, and Amy Mikesell, 14, of Sidney — at his residence on Queen Street in Sidney.
Veronica Eagy, then 22, who either lived in Rushylvania or Russells Point at the time of the murders, was shot but escaped from the house through a basement window. When police arrived on the scene at the Queen Street residence, Eagy told them there were victims in the house.
The initial response team found the bodies of Kimbler and Barrett in the bedroom area of the residence. Barrett had died of gunshot wounds. Kimbler had died of stab wounds.
During the search, officers found a quantity of firebombs — Molotov cocktails — in the garage. The U.S. Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, was called for assistance with the bombs.
Several hours later, another search of the residence was made, and Mikesell’s body was found in the basement. She had died of a knife wound.
Then Shelby County Coroner Phillip Edwards and then County Prosecutor James Stevenson were also at the scene.
After the shooting, Hensley and his wife, Julie, drove to the home of Brett Wildermuth, who was a Bible study teacher at a church the couple had attended. Hensley shot and killed Wildermuth.
A deputy was dispatched to the Wildermuth residence, where he found Wildermuth’s body inside the living room.
Mark Schemmel was the Shelby County Sheriff at the time of the murders. Steve Wearly was Sidney’s chief of police. The Sheriff’s Office and Sidney Police Department worked together to bring Hensley to justice.
A nationwide search began for Hensley, who had fled the Wildermuth residence. The manhunt ended on July 13 when Hensley returned to Sidney.
The first indication that Hensley had returned to Shelby County came when a 911 call was received that Hensley was at a residence on Meranda Road and wanted in. When the residents wouldn’t let him in, he fired shots into the house. No one was injured there, but soon after, the Sheriff’s Office received a call that a man had been shot while he was driving on Interstate 75.
Officers from the Sidney Police Department were sent to the entrances of the city when an officer spotted Hensley’s vehicle. Hensley was driving erratically on Fourth Avenue by the Auto-Vue Drive-In. The officer intended to stop Hensley, but he refused to stop and a pursuit was underway.
Hensley drove to Speedway on Michigan Street, where he left the vehicle and went inside, and a hostage situation ensued. He took three hostages. Two hours later, Hensley surrendered to law enforcement. Aggravated murder charges were filed against Hensley.
He was charged with four counts of aggravated murder, three counts of attempted aggravated murder and three counts of kidnapping in Shelby County Common Pleas Court. In March 2000, Hensley was convicted on the charges. He avoided the death penalty through a plea agreement and was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
In 2013, Hensley was sentenced to a fifth life sentence when he was convicted of murdering Brad Hamlin, a fellow inmate at the Toledo Correctional Institute. After the conviction, Hensley was transferred to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown.
In consideration of the families affected by the murders, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on his death.