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The reputed Youngstown mobster indicted Thursday for killing three people, including a 4-year-old girl, 39 years ago in Canfield is serving prison time for murdering two people he was trying to steal a large amount of cocaine from nine years later in a Columbus suburb.
James Ferrara, 64, was indicted Thursday by a Mahoning County grand jury on aggravated murder charges for the fatal shooting and beating of Ben, Marilyn and 4-year-old Heather Marsh on Dec. 14, 1974 inside their S. Turner Road home. Ferrara was 25 at the time of the murder.
Investigators allege Ferrara fatally shot Ben Marsh, 32, shot Marilyn Marsh from behind and beat her and beat Heather Marsh to death with his empty gun. Investigators found 1-year-old Christopher Marsh covered in blood and crawling on the family’s floor.
Both Marsh and Ferrara were employees at the General Motors plant in Lordstown, according to sources.
Court records, interviews and police archives obtained by WKBN.COM show Ferrara was convicted for fatally shooting and beating two Columbus-area drug dealers to death with a gun during what was supposed to be a massive cocaine theft.
Ferrara is currently being held in the Marion Correctional Institution on 1984 convictions for aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated drug trafficking. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison and has been denied parole several times, including after a Jan. 14 parole hearing. His next parole hearing is scheduled for November 2015.
A woman claiming to be his “substitute mother” asked a Franklin County Common Pleas Judge on May 31 to allow Ferrara to be released based on his failing health.
He pleaded guilty Jan. 6, 1984 to aggravated murder with death penalty specifications. A three-judge panel in Franklin County Common Pleas Court negated the death penalty specifications because everyone involved, including the two murdered men, were involved in “criminal activity.”
They said mitigating factors also included that Ferrara was emotionally and mentally unstable and impulsively killed the two.
A fifth reason given by the judges: “The defendant’s lack of any history or any prior criminal convictions or conduct,” according to a transcript of the court hearing.
Parole board hearing records obtained by WKBN.COM show Ferrara had “serious prison rule infractions.” He also obtained several college degrees, been active in veteran’s outreach programs and devoted time to tutoring other inmates.
Current Perry Township Police Chief Bob Oppenheimer, who was a lead investigator at the time in the Columbus-area murder, said in a phone interview with WKBN.COM that Ferrara was a brutal reputed Youngstown mobster.
“He was linked the Youngstown mob,” Oppenheimer said. “He was connected to the mob. He was mean. The two other guys were afraid of him. I do remember that.”
He said during his investigation he found Ferrara was discharged from the Marine Corps. because he badly burned himself burning toilets during a tour of duty during the Vietnam War. The job he was given in the Marines was reserved for poor soldiers as a sort of punishment, said Oppenheimer, also a former Marine.
Records say Ferrara and two other men— Joseph A. Weeks, then 36, and Mark Jennings, then 26— at about 11:30 a.m. on March 6, 1983 went to 441A E. North Street, Worthington, about 12 miles north of Columbus. Records show the trio went to the home to steal a large amount of cocaine from two men, Fred Lemmens and Ed Hanna, who were inside the condo and partners in a cocaine-dealing scheme.
Lemmens, Oppenheimer said, was a school teacher in the Ghanna area at the time and was inside at the time. Oppenheimer said Jennings and Hanna were cousins, and that they conspired to steal from Lemmens.
A witness at the time told police the trio knocked on the door and said “collecting” and “1136.” One man held a gun in his hand, reports say. Hanna opened the door. The look on his face, according to the witness, was of “utter horror.”
The witness said the door closed, but later heard three or four gunshots. She saw the three men get into a 1978 silver Monte Carlo and drive away. She said a man, who later turned out to be Ferrara, exited the home carrying a briefcase.
Lemmens noticed a wink between Jennings and Hanna and began screaming he was being set up.
Oppenheimer said Ferrara snapped and pistol-whipped Lemmens. He then shot Lemmens and Hanna to avoid witnesses to Lemmens’ murder, Oppenheimer said.
Officers found Hanna and Lemmens dead face down in the apartment’s kitchen. Hanna’s head was on a step and had been shot in the back of the head, reports say. Lemmens was face down with a phone cord wrapped around his hands. Investigators at the time noted he had been beaten in the head with a blunt object and shot.
Officers spotted the Monte Carlo Ferrara, then 34, was riding in on Interstate 71, while Ferrara watched the officers from the backseat, reports said. The car pulled into a truck stop in Mansfield.
The trio was arrested. Officers found a Smith and Wesson .38-caliber gun wedged between Jennings’ seat and the door.
Ferrara, officers noted, had blood covering his arms and hands and was sitting on a brown coat. Under the arm of the coat, investigators found a bloody .38-caliber Colt Cobra revolver. Six rounds of ammunition were found in a stocking cap nearby, reports say. They also he had a large pocketknife. WKBN and WYTV archives say the Ben and Marilyn Marsh were killed with a .38-caliber revolver.
Weeks had a blackjack in his possession reports said.
Ferrara told a parole board hearing in 2009 that he had no knowledge that he was on his way to commit murder.
“I told (a parole board member) that I regretted what had happened very much, and that I think about it every day,” according to Ferrara’s written parole board hearing notes, later saying. “There was no reason for anyone to get hurt.”
Ferrara said in the notes he when he walked in the door, Weeks barked out orders to go after Lemmons, putting Ferrara in a state of “complete surprise.” He said the trio previously decided they were supposed to put Hanna and Lemmons in a closet and leave and that Weeks knew where everything was inside the apartment.
Ferrara also said he agreed to join in the drug theft as a favor to Weeks.
Oppenheimer said after 43 years in law enforcement, the murder still sticks out because of its brutality and bloody murder scene. He also said he remembered how calm and stoic Ferrara was during questioning.
“That one stands out because of the brutality of it, the senselessness of it,” Oppenheimer said. “The living room, there was just blood everywhere.”