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Months later, family still baffled by unsolved homicide of 87-year-old New Franklin woman

Donna Melhorn's niece
Posted at 5:45 PM, Jan 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-02 21:41:19-05

NEW FRANKLIN, Ohio — Family members are desperately looking for answers and police are now offering a large reward in connection with the baffling homicide of an 87-year-old New Franklin woman.

Last September, the body of Donna Melhorn was found partially under a bed inside her residence on Manchester Road. Police said her hands were tied behind her back. Her cause of death is listed as "unspecified homicidal violence." Her remains were badly decomposed and investigators said she may have been dead for a few months.

Donna Melhorn's home
The former home of Donna Melhorn, where she found killed back in September 2019.

Melhorn's niece, Sheila Hugus, requested a welfare check after the family noticed a mailbox was knocked over and lights inside the home that normally weren't on were illuminated.

"Everybody just wants answers. Who did this, and why Donna?" Hugus said. "I would just like to know why somebody would do this. She was harmless. She was very old and very frail."

According to Hugus, the back door of the home where Melhorn lived by herself for decades appeared to be busted in. Hugus believes an intruder struggled with her 4' 10", 112-pound aunt in a bedroom before killing her.

However, police don't have any suspects. It's also unclear if anything was stolen from the home.

On Thursday, Summit County Crimestoppers offered a reward up to $5,000 for information leading to the killer.

"We don't have any good answers. We don't have any good information," Hugus said.

Hugus said her aunt was reclusive and did not have much contact with family members. She didn't drive and took a bus if she needed to run errands. Hugus added Melhorn was very smart and was employed at several universities during her younger years. Her work included being a research assistant.

Relatives struggled to find any recent pictures of Melhorn, only locating black and white photos from when she was a student at Manchester High School in the 1940s.

Julie Spokus, another niece from Baltimore, said she was shocked by the death and has no idea who killed the independent woman "minding her own business in her home."

"I don't think anybody ever expects any of their family members to ever be murdered," Spokus said. "If they did it once, they'll do it again. I truly, honestly believe that."

New Franklin police took several items from the home, including clothing, jewelry, rubber gloves and twine. Detective Michael Hitchings said the department has been shipping the items in bunches to Ohio BCI agents to be tested for possible DNA evidence.

In the meantime, Hugus is holding onto her aunt's ashes in a black box marked "Donna" as she continues to hold out hope for justice.

"I would just like somebody to get on the ball. Do Something. Find an answer. Find out who did this," she said.

Anyone with information on the case is urged to call Summit County Crimestoppers at 330-434-COPS.