TOLEDO, Ohio -- Twenty-year-old University of Toledo student Sierah Joughin went on a bike ride last week from which she would never return, and now police are investigating what could be two related attacks on women cyclists twenty years apart.
Authorities in the Toledo area discovered Joughin’s remains hidden in a field of cornstalks after police said she was attacked while riding her bicycle, and they believe 57-year-old James Worley is behind her death, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
If Worley was involved in Joughin’s death, it would mean he has a history of being accused of attacking women on bicycles. He was imprisoned for three years in connection with the July 1990 attack and abduction of another female cyclist about 20 miles from where police say Joughin was last known to be riding her bike.
According to police, that woman, Robin Gardner, fought off her attacker after he knocked her from her bike with his truck, pulled her inside the cab and handcuffed her, the AP reported.
Worley entered an Alford plea to abduction in that case, which means he didn’t admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him.
Now, he’s in police custody again, as investigators pour through his farmhouse and barns, where he operated a small-engine repair shop in an isolated location surrounded by soybean and cornfields, according to the AP.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said his crime investigation unit is now looking into whether there could be more victims, telling the AP taht Worley’s criminal history of a similar attack prompted the investigation into other possible victims.
“The nature of this case would cause any investigator to explore whether or not this has happened before,” DeWine told the AP. “We know it happened one other time.”
Gardner, who moved out of state shortly after the attack, said she was shocked but not surprised upon hearing the news.
“Of course, I think he’s done it before and after me,” she said, describing the effects of the attack: She said she has suffered panic attacks when she’s alone.
“I can’t walk in the woods alone, I can’t hike, camp, bird watch,” she said in an email to the AP. “I get very afraid if people aren’t around to help me if I’m in need.”
She added that hearing Joughin’s story has left her heartbroken.
“My heart aches so much for Sierah and her family,” she said. “I wish I could have done more to protect them, but it was out of my hands,” adding that she thinks Worley should have stayed in prison longer.
Worley and his court-appointed attorney both declined AP requests for comment.