By DENISE GEBERS • Progress Staff Writer
This Friday, Aug. 8, Paulding County will hit the small screen in a big way. A recently solved cold murder case from 1981 will be featured on the TNT program “Cold Justice,” airing at 9 p.m.
Jason Landers, Paulding County sheriff, credits the arrest of Steven G. Noffsinger, 58, of Defiance to the hard work of two of his deputies and the cold case investigators from the program with closing this case.
“Deputy Rob Garcia and Lt. Brion Hanenkratt have put a lot of man hours into this cold case over the past several months, along with cold case investigators that were brought in to assist our office,” said the sheriff. “I commend them for their dedication to see this through. I am pleased to know the healing process can start for Alma’s family.”
The accused, who is an ex-husband of the victim, Alma Noffsinger, was arrested Aug. 1 in Defiance following a special grand jury session July 31 in Paulding. He is charged with aggravated murder with specification, an unclassified felony.
Members of the Defiance Police Department were assisted by Paulding County Sheriff’s deputies at Noffsinger’s home for the arrest. He offered them no resistance.
Noffsinger is currently being held in Putnam County Jail awaiting arraignment in Paulding County Common Pleas Court, tentatively set for Aug. 7 .
Alma Noffsinger was found beaten to death in her Oakwood home on Dec. 17, 1981.
“Cold Justice” Season Two, Episode 17 is titled “Second Thoughts” and discusses her case and its recent investigation.
Her case received the attention of the “Cold Justice” producers, Wolf Productions, last year after they persistently approached Sheriff Landers about assisting with cold cases from Paulding County. He said they offered to bring resources in to assist with investigations.
THREE CASES PROPOSED
Sheriff Landers gave them synopses of three unsolved homicides: the Nancy Eagleson case from 1960, the Alma Noffsinger case from 1981 and the death of Theresa Smith-Shay from 2007.
• Eagleson, 14, was abducted Nov. 13, 1960 while walking home from a movie with her younger sister. Her body was found by hunters in a woods along Road 176 near Junction a few hours later. She had been assaulted and shot.
• Noffsinger was found in her home Dec. 17, 1981, dead from blunt force trauma causing a basal skull fracture. The 29-year-old mother of three had been struck several times in the head.
• Smith-Shay was found June 16, 2007, near the intersection of Roads 87 and 180 in Crane Township. She had been shot. Law enforcement believed the 38-year-old Richmond, Ind. resident was killed where she was found.
Representatives from the production company requested more information on each of the three submissions. Later, the focus was set on the Noffsinger case.
Landers interjected that about this same time, a sister of Alma’s was visiting from Florida and asked if the new sheriff might reconsider the case.
A meeting was set with one of the show’s producers, who flew in from California to meet with local law enforcement. The sheriff’s office would retain complete control of the investigation, while having access to the “Cold Justice” prosecutor and experienced crime scene investigator.
The production crew was in the area from June 13-22, more than 30 people in all. During that time, the sheriff, Garcia and Hanenkratt spent at least 10 hours a day, Mondays through Saturdays, with the production crew interviewing over 30 people connected with the cold case. These were conducted in the sheriff’s office, at people’s homes, here in Ohio and in other states.
“As we worked the investigation, they filmed from the back side,” said the sheriff. “The film crew followed us and we were miked up for the show.”
Sheriff Landers said the selection process by the producers first started in those states that allow this type of work; some have laws that prevent it. Next, all 88 Ohio county sheriffs were contacted to determine interest or need.
Solvability of the proposed unsolved cases was considered as well.
“All but two people connected with this case are still alive. That was a real benefit,” said Sheriff Landers.
CLOSURE AND JUSTICE
He noted the show’s first season in 2013 included a segment from Sandusky County. Before the crew came to Paulding County this summer, they spent time in Guernsey County. They headed to Indiana after completing filming here.
Landers expressed satisfaction with the experience, noting the production company is a very professional organization.
“The people we worked with are there to help bring closure and justice. We developed an expert relationship I expect to last for a long, long time,” concluded Sheriff Landers. “It was really, truly a blessing to have these resources for us to use.”
“Cold Justice” follows Kelly Siegler and Yolanda McClary to “underfunded small-town” law enforcement agencies where they assist with reassessing cold murder cases. The TNT reality crime series premiered last September and was just renewed for a third season.
It is produced for TNT by Wolf Reality and Magical Elves, with Dick Wolf (writer-producer, “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”), Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz and Tom Thayer serving as executive producers.
As of mid-July, the series had helped local agencies secure 15 arrests, four confessions, eight indictments, two guilty pleas and a 22-year prison sentence for murder.
Siegler is a former county prosecutor from Texas with a 68-0 conviction record at murder trials. She has also been bureau chief of the Special Crimes Bureau. McClary has 26 years of experience with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, 16 of which were in the crime lab. She is the inspiration for Marg Helgenberger’s character in “C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation.”