Preliminary autopsy reports show that Tina Herrmann, her son, Kody Maynard, and her friend Stephanie Sprang were stabbed multiple times with a knife in the back and chest Nov. 10, Knox County Coroner Jennifer Ogle said.
"They were then placed inside large plastic garbage bags and later lowered into the hollow of a large tree," Ogle said in a statement. It's unclear exactly when they died or when their remains were put in the tree. There were no signs of sexual assault.
The remains of the family dog - a miniature pinscher named Tanner - were found in the tree with the bodies, said Joe Pejsa, a family friend.
The victims disappeared Nov. 10 along with Herrmann's daughter, 13-year-old Sarah Maynard, who was found bound and gagged several days later in the basement of an unemployed tree-cutter, Matthew Hoffman. Hoffman is accused of kidnapping the girl and keeping her in the basement of his home in Mount Vernon, about 10 miles west of Howard in central Ohio.
Authorities say Hoffman provided information that led investigators to the bodies in a wildlife preserve in rural Fredericktown, where Amish buggies are a familiar sight. The 60-foot-tall American beech tree was chopped down Friday out of respect for the victims' families. The tree was too large to be transported out of the area, wildlife officials say, so its pieces were left in a mound in the preserve.
Hoffman is the only suspect in the killings. His attorney has declined to comment.
Nobody knows how the killer managed to put the bodies in the tree, though wildlife officials say beech tree trunks are typically hollow. Hoffman's former co-workers at a tree-trimming business say he had his own climbing equipment.
The disappearances and subsequent discovery of the bodies have unfolded like a horror movie in Mount Vernon, where people banded together to form search parties in hopes of finding the victims.
Pejsa, the uncle of Herrmann's former live-in boyfriend, Greg Borders, said he was the first person allowed inside the home after investigators cleared the scene. He cleaned blood off the bathroom walls with bleach so that his nephew wouldn't have to see it.
"It was terrible," he said. "Everything led back to the bathroom."
Pejsa answered the door at Herrmann's home on Saturday, where he was moving out furniture with Borders, who did not want to be interviewed. A memorial of flowers and balloons was growing on the front lawn near a tree that Pejsa says Kody used as second base when he played kickball.
The bodies were found at the base of the tree, and authorities had to cut away part of the trunk to get them out, Pejsa said he was told by investigators.
Nobody knows why the four were targeted, and authorities have not speculated on a motive. But the sheriff has suggested that Hoffman, who spent six years in a Colorado prison for arson and other charges, had been watching them for some time.
In the months before they died, Pejsa said, Borders and Herrmann suspected somebody was watching them. Several months ago, they saw a man dressed in camouflage sitting on a tree stump across the street, staring at their home. He said Borders couldn't say for sure if the man on the stump was Hoffman, but he believes it was him.
"There would be knocks at the door and people would take off," he said.
Pejsa said the family has been moving some of the furniture out of the home and has hired a company to gut some of the rooms.
"Greg has no intention of coming back to this place," he said.
Herrmann's manager at Dairy Queen, Valerie Haythorn, told The Associated Press that when she drove by last week after Herrmann missed a day of work, the lights were on at Herrmann's home and her truck was in the driveway. Thinking all was well, Haythorn kept driving.
When Herrmann missed a second day, Haythorn drove back to the house - and this time she went inside.
"It was enough blood there that I knew there was a problem," she said. "Nobody cut their finger in that house."