For more than 30 years as a long-haul trucker, Samuel Legg had the freedom to roam the nation’s roads.
His work sometimes took him along Route 50, known as “the loneliest road in America” for its two-lane traverse through mountain and desert under the blue sky of the West.
More often, Legg would spend weeks at a time behind the wheel on Interstate 80, hauling loads from his native Ohio toward California on one of the country’s busiest highways.
It was on I-80, in Austintown, Ohio, that another driver’s wife found the partially nude body of a woman on the outskirts of the Universal Truck Mall & Flea Market rest stop, on April 9, 1992.
Authorities could not identify the woman but determined she was killed elsewhere and hidden near the truck stop two days before she was found.
“The victim was clothed in a well-worn, short-sleeved blue shirt, men's brief-style underwear (size small), and a white tube sock with three dark blue stripes at the top,” according to a release about the unsolved homicide.
The coroner's office determined the woman suffered blunt force injuries to her head, face, and chest, but her official cause of death was asphyxiation.
The grim discovery was flagged for the Interstate Homicide Task Force, formed to investigate the deaths of eight other women, most of them prostitutes, near truck stops between 1985 and 1992.
The Austintown “Jane Doe” was added to the list and the case remained, despite the efforts of the 13-agency task force, ice-cold.
That changed in 2013 when two sisters submitted a DNA sample to the National Missing Persons System to see if they could find their long-lost mother.
Almost immediately, 43-year-old Sharon Kedzierski was identified as the woman found in Austintown two decades earlier.
Five years later, investigators caught a second break when another DNA test led them to Legg, the man who is now charged with Kedzierski’s death—and who is suspected of killing at least three other women at truck stops in Ohio and Illinois.
“I think it’s fair to say we may have a serial killer on our hands,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told The Daily Beast last week. “He’s been linked with multiple unrelated homicides in multiple locations, which is what a serial killer is.”
Sharon Kedzierski was a stay-at-home mom who did some work as a bookkeeper. She lived in Florida and then Texas with her family.
“My mom wasn't trash,” her daughter, Katherine Kuring, said recently. “She was not on the fringe of society. She was a middle class mom of two.”
A few years after a divorce, Kedzierski simply vanished. The last time she was seen, she was on a friend’s doorstep in Miami Lakes, Florida, carrying nothing but a purse.
“My understanding was that she was just kind of living with different people,” Lake Oswego, Oregon, Police Lt. Darryl Wrisley, who caught the case because one of the daughters lives in Oregon, said in 2013.
Don Corbett, a retired Austintown detective who worked on the Kedzierski case, said there were similarities between her murder and the slayings of other women found naked or partially clothed around that time.
“All the DNA samples, the semen, the blood, the hair, everything was maintained in hopes of one day we could identify these women,” he said. “Cases around that time were also given that much care, so it’s only a matter of time before those too are matched through DNA.”
It was the decision by Kedzierski’s daughters to provide their DNA that finally put a name to the woman at the Austintown truck stop. It was an entirely different DNA sample that led police to her alleged killer.
In the last few years, police departments all over the country have been using genealogists to help them crack cold cases. They take DNA from crime scenes and look for partial matches in government or ancestry databases—then follow the clues through a family tree.
In Legg’s case, it was DNA from a close relative that brought police to his doorstep in Arizona, where he retired from the trucking business. The investigators weren’t looking for Kedzierski’s killer; they were hunting for the man who had raped a teenage girl in 1997.
The victim, who lived in Lexington, Ohio, told police she was attacked at a truck stop on Interstate 71 after “hitch[ing] a ride with a truck driver after visiting her boyfriend in Cleveland,” Medina County Prosecutor Forrest Thompson said.
Legg, then 29, was deemed a possible suspect by Medina County police but was never prosecuted for lack of evidence.
Last year, however, Ohio Bureau of Criminal investigation agents used a new computer program to compare the DNA sample left at the scene against a database that holds records for over 800,000 Ohio offenders.
“Legg has a brother who had been convicted of a completely unrelated crime, so his DNA was already in the database,” Yost said.
Through extensive family tree search, Ohio police eventually landed on Legg and issued a warrant for his DNA, Yost said. He was extradited to Ohio and ordered held on $1 million bail.
“No other human being on earth except Mr. Legg could have been the contributor of the DNA,” a spokesperson for the Medina County Sheriff’s Office said.
Soon after, Mahoning County police announced Legg’s second indictment: for the murder of Sharon Kedzierski.
“I'm assuming that there are other jurisdictions now actually looking to determine if he may be a suspect in any of their cases because of the fact that he was a truck driver and he was mobile,” Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said in announcing the charge.
The Ohio Attorney General office said Legg’s DNA is also linked to three other homicides, although no details of those crimes have been released because he hasn’t yet been charged in connection with them.
“It doesn't even look like he was hiding from this, if he's truly affiliated with all of these different crimes, including my mom's,” Kuring told a local news station. “It just seems like he doesn't process it as it being a problem and that's so disturbing.”
Legg has pleaded not guilty to both the 1997 rape and Kedzierski’s murder. His attorney, David Shelton, has declined to comment.
Before Legg can be tried, the courts have to sort out the issue of his mental state. Medina County Judge Joyce Kimbler has ordered a competency evaluation for Legg, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was living in a Arizona group home at the time of his arrest.
According to records obtained by the Chandler Police Department in Arizona, the former truck driver has a mental illness and has been picked up a few times for wandering the streets and leaving the group home.
“Samuel is on medication for Schizophrenia. He hears voices that tell him he is needed in court in Tucson,” said a February 2017 police report, adding the group home employees claim that “Samuel has solicited rides from truck drivers previously to get to Tucson and has been found miles from the group home in the past.”
Legg’s arrest reignited interest in another case—the 1990 disappearance of his stepdaughter, Angela Hicks.
“Some information has surfaced that we feel is important enough to reopen our investigation,” Elyria, Ohio, Police Capt. Chris Costantino said. “Detectives are working on it as we speak.”
A month after she went missing on a summer day, 14-year-old Angela was found in the woods just off a road in Elyria, by Mormon missionaries.
Her body, which was severely decomposed and partially mummified, was in a patch of brush near a barn in a fetal position; her shirt and underwear were found nearby.
Legg, who was 21 and a new stepfather at the time, was one of the last people to see the teenager alive, and was immediately questioned.
Angela and Legg had a tumultuous relationship. Six months before her death, they got into an argument and Legg slapped her, according to a 1990 article in the Chronicle-Telegram.
“She said she’d go crazy and kill him and didn’t care if she went into an insane asylum for it,” her mother, Nancy Legg, told the newspaper.
But after a polygraph test, Legg wasn’t charged. There wasn’t enough evidence; even the coroner’s office ruled the cause of death “undetermined,” according to authorities.
Fast-forward nearly three decades and police suspect that Angela’s death is a key piece of the story of Legg’s other alleged victims. “What happened in 1990 appears to maybe led this progression of other investigations related to Legg,” Costantino said.
Nicole Myers, Angela’s childhood best friend, never gave up on solving the mystery of her death. The mother of two has started Facebook groups devoted to the case and routinely checks in with detectives.
“I’ve went on, I’ve had kids, I’ve gotten married, I have a wonderful family, life and stuff like that—but there is that part that's just been on hold,” Myers told a local news station. “It will give me peace, I can go to Angie and tell her ‘I did it, I did everything. I told you I would see it through, I wouldn't give up and I didn't.’”
Two weeks ago, when Legg was arraigned in Ohio, Myers was in the courtroom. She said that just seeing Legg in a prison jumpsuit was a measure of justice for her friend.
“He looked a lot different than a 21-year-old guy that I remember him being,” Meyers said. “He looked like he has had a rough life and has lost a lot of sleep. It’s sad but it’s happy. I don’t even know how to feel about that because it’s not right.
“It’s been a long time.”