Newton Falls mass murderer killed family over drug theft

Rob Brazzon's Gun
This gun was used by Rob Brazzon during the deadliest mass shooting in recent Trumbull County history.

View a photo gallery of investigators’ photos from the quadruple murder-suicide here.

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The worst mass murderer in recent Trumbull County history believed his girlfriend of seven years was stealing from his large hoard of illegally obtained prescription drugs he used to fuel a longstanding addiction and ease pain caused by a variety of ailments, sparking a reaction that led to the killing of four people last summer, according to documents obtained by WKBN.COM.

The documents show Rob Brazzon Sr., the man who authorities believe killed his girlfriend and his ex-brother-in-law’s family then himself, suffered from a decade-long prescription pain pill addiction, failing health and deep-rooted family fights that likely led to what many believe is the worst mass murder in Trumbull County history.

Interviews show Brazzon, who those close to him said planned killing himself and as many people as he believe wronged him during the course of his troubled life, became less lucid as his pain medication doses increased.

Investigators found Brazzon, who amassed an arsenal of guns and explosives at his 604A Newton Drive home despite felony convictions for selling prescription painkillers in the 1990s, consumed painkillers, Valium and heroin the day of the shooting rampage.

No one, including law enforcement, ever gave a reason for what prompted the mass slaying, but some 400 pages of investigative records and more than five hours of taped interviews from Newton Falls police, the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and archived court records obtained by WKBN.COM shows Brazzon believed the girlfriend he beat then fatally shot July 6 was stealing his drugs.

Investigators, including former Newton Falls Police Chief John Kuivila, deflected questions about the slaying in the months following the murders and the city initially refused to release the records until WKBN.COM entered the Ohio Attorney General’s Public Records Mediation program. Acting Chief Sgt. Rick Lisum, the lead investigator in the case, also refused comment about the investigation.

Suicide notes— most of which are unintelligible— found by police at the graveyard where Brazzon committed suicide indicated he felt an urge to kill growing stronger by the day. He also indicated he wanted to avoid a lengthy battle with his failing health.

Brazzon, after beating Tracey Engler in the head and face with a blunt object and shooting her twice, went across the housing projects in Newton Falls to Rikki Cogley’s home to confront him about stealing his pills, when he said someone threatened to get a knife and call police, documents say.

Brazzon then shot Cogley, his wife and her 15-year-old son twice each while a 5-year-old boy and a 12-year-old autistic boy watched the shooting spree. Police at the time denied anyone else was inside the home during the shooting.  Documents obtained by WKBN.COM show both were inside the home at the time.

The 12-year-old later told his grandparents that Brazzon told the boy he was “so stupid he couldn’t talk,” so he didn’t shoot him, although the boy can talk, according to family members.

Trumbull County Coroner Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk said in an interview with WKBN.COM that Engler and Cogley were abusing prescription drugs that matched the drugs in Brazzon’s system and in his garage.

Those close to Brazzon told police they had little doubt Brazzon was responsible for the murders shortly after dozens of law enforcement officers descended on the housing projects in Newton Falls, turning the neighborhood into a maze of police tape and investigators’ activity.

Brazzon, they said, mentioned to most of them before that he planned to kill himself and hinted at killing Engler because he believed she stole his painkillers to get high and wanted to keep the couple’s 5-year-old daughter from growing up with her after he committed suicide.

He then went to his ex-brother-in-law’s home, whom he feuded with for years for a number of reasons, including a dispute over illegally obtained Oxycodone and morphine, which Cogley sometimes supplied Brazzon, according to documents and police interviews obtained by WKBN.COM.

In the ensuing hours, days and weeks, investigators tried to unravel a complicated web of family disputes and rumors circulating through the community.

One rumor that investigators found false was that Brazzon drove from the murders with another man inside the passenger seat of his white Dodge Stratus. Investigators obtained video from a security camera inside the housing projects that was unable to be enhanced by Parma police.

A former small-time drug dealer who told investigators he was talking with a family member about selling drugs again initially said he saw a second man inside Brazzon’s car, and provided a detailed description.

Hubbard Township Det. Mike Begeot, an investigator with the Trumbull County Homicide Task Force, said investigators found the man would be unable to make the sort of description he gave and determined his information false.

“There’s no way in hell he’d be able to see that,” Begeot said. “We went back out there in the heat a couple days later and found there’s no way he could make those observations.”

Rob Brazzon: Doomsday Theorist

Brazzon was described by those around him as a loner who believed the apocalypse was coming soon. He was in pain constantly, had a criminal history that dated back to 1978 for carrying a concealed weapon, was abusive towards his girlfriend and took the lead role in caring for his 90-year-old father who lived nearby.

He amassed 14 guns, including rifles, shotguns and handguns, at the garage he shared with his brother, Bruce, who told police the guns were his and not Rob Brazzon’s during an interview and who took possession of the guns after they were seized following Rob Brazzon’s drug trafficking conviction in 1999. Rob Brazzon also had 34 homemade explosives inside the garage.

Rob Brazzon, they said, nearly always carried two guns in holsters with 30 round clips everywhere he went, along with large wads of cash, sometimes more than $1,000 at a time. He showed off guns he told people he bought and went to gun shows, though never attempted to make on-the-books gun purchases, one friend told police.

Brazzon, who worked at Phillips Heating for years, was described as an adept gunman who enjoyed target shooting.

He was a loner, with only one friend, his brother, ex-wife and girlfriend that he regularly talked with, according to interviews.

He was convicted in 1984 of domestic violence, and in 1987 of sexual battery and gross sexual imposition, records show.

Brazzon’s first known interaction with prescription drugs came following a car crash July 17, 1997 on W. Market St. in Warren. Reports said a man, Eric Ervin, turned left in front of Brazzon’s car, totaling it. Brazzon eventually won a $37,490 lawsuit against Ervin.

Brazzon struck his head against the top border of the windshield, his knees struck the dashboard and his right hand and thumb twisted on the steering wheel. He fractured a bicuspid and his thumb and suffered from headaches, spinal pain, numbness in his left arm, throbbing pain his knees and lower back pain.

He went on disability leave from Phillips Heating in December that year, records show. His doctors, according to records, prescribed Vicodin repeatedly.

In 1999, he was the target of a year-long BCI investigation that found Brazzon was selling Vicodin from his home. Police found 47 guns, 100,000 rounds of ammunition, homemade bombs, 7,400 pills and $27,000 cash inside his home. He was charged with 27 counts, but eventually pleaded to two counts and was sentenced to probation.

His brother Bruce, and his son, Rob Brazzon Jr., of Lordstown, in filings after the conviction told the judge Rob Brazzon Sr. kept the guns at his home but that they actually belonged to them. Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge John Stuard eventually ordered $14,732, and all the guns and ammunition be returned to the two.

Rob Brazzon Sr. mostly tended to his garden, cared for his aging father and dealt with a variety of health problems, according to interviews. He also was raising a 5-year-old daughter, whom he had with Engler. He also had a daughter, who is in her 20s, with his ex-wife, Tina Brazzon.

His health problems included beating throat cancer and having a quintuple bypass surgery about five years ago. Because of his years at Phillips Heating, he also developed severe back pain, according to family members.

But an autopsy report showed other ailments may have gone undetected. Germanuik found Brazzon suffered from an enlarged heart, coronary artery disease, emphysema, gall bladder stones and evidence of Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune deficiency disorder where the thyroid gland destroys its own healthy cells.

“My brother was four years younger than me but he looked 90 the way he walked,” Bruce Brazzon told police. “He was always worried he wasn’t going to have enough medicines and stuff. He’d listen to these prophecies about the end of the world coming.”

Bruce Brazzon said his brother took so much pain medication that he would often start falling asleep mid-conversation, burning himself with a lit cigarette. He sometimes was numb to the burn because of the medication.

After Brazzon fatally shot himself in the chest at the Newton Township Cemetery after briefly talking with a police officer, Germaniuk found several prescriptions in his system, including painkillers Oxycodone, Valium and heroin.

The gentleman who committed suicide, he did have previous heart attacks, he had bypass surgery, he does have a history of back pain, he has emphysema, he’s obese, it’s July, it’s hot, he’s not able to get around anymore, he’s on drugs,” Germanuik said. “It’s never the weight of the world that pushes one over the edge. Usually it’s the snap of a shoelace in the morning that pushes everything tumbling down.”

Pain Addiction Dependency Increases

Brazzon told those around him he blamed some of his back pain on too many epidurals ordered by his doctor. Some told police they worried Brazzon may have went to murder the doctors he blamed for his pain after the murders were discovered and Brazzon was unaccounted for.

Investigators found Brazzon amassed a large amount of prescription medication in his garage, including morphine, Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Fentanyl patches, Andro gel, Viagra, Zany bars, Vicodin, Norco and Lidoderm patches. Thousands of pills were found in the garage. The Drug Enforcement Agency asked Newton Falls if they could have the pills, then seized them, according to records.

Some of the drugs, including the Fentanyl patches, were similar drugs used by Engler and Rikki Cogley. Engler was found dead wearing three Fentanly patches, which Germanuik said signifies abuse of the strong narcotic painkiller.

Family and friends noticed Brazzon changed as he took more and more prescription pills.

“Rob seemed like he was starting to crack up a little bit,” Tina Brazzon, his ex-wife, told police. “He had something in his back to help because it was crumbling. They put that in his back and I could see he wasn’t acting right. He was being mean.”

Germaniuk said chronic painkiller and drug abuse often causes mood alterations.

Brazzon, friends said, was abusive towards Engler and, towards the end, deeply distrusted her. A friend told police he started locking pills in his safe because Engler stole medicine from him. In one incident, Brazzon told his brother he caught Engler stealing pain medicine from capsules.

Brazzon started feeling chest pain, dismantled the pills and tasted the powder. He told his brother it tasted like powdered sugar. He refilled the prescription and when he tasted the new pills, they tasted bitter, leading him to believe Engler refilled the pills with sugar.

“I’m sitting there thinking: Is this crazy?” Bruce Brazzon told police. “Is she trying to kill him or is she just getting high?”

Two days before the shootings, Rob Brazzon took a grocery bag with six pill bottles inside to Tina Brazzon’s home and asked if she could keep them at her house for a while. He picked them up the next day, Tina Brazzon told police.

A note left on the safe Brazzon believed Engler was stealing his pills from read: “Door goes through to other of side of building considered 1 unit. Father always home this is considered aggravated burglary when someone is home 15 to 20 years if he has heart attack or such + dies you wud get life sentence instead of 5-7 or 15-20 years you decide how long you want locked up is it worth it think hard it won’t be county time.” He signed the note, “your new husband.”

Engler and Rob Brazzon had also recently argued about Brazzon’s belief that Engler may have slept with Rikki Cogley for drugs, Tina Brazzon told police. Friends and surviving family said they highly doubted that was the case because the two rarely socialized.

Rikki Cogley and Brazzon had a contentious relationship. Brazzon often became angered at Cogley for the way he treated Tina Brazzon, who is Cogley’s sister. Friends and a man who told police he used to supply Cogley with illegal prescription drugs said Cogley used to supply Brazzon with Oxycodone, Morphine and Aderol pills.

A friend told police Brazzon wanted to cut Cogley out as his supplier and get the drugs directly from the person delivering drugs to Cogley.

The two fought about a month before murder. Anytime Brazzon walked into a room thereafter, Cogley would leave, Tina Brazzon told investigators. Tina Brazzon also told investigators the two had deep-rooted problems dating back to the couple’s divorce.

She said Rob Brazzon cheated on her, ending their marriage. Cogley then stole any girlfriends Brazzon had as revenge for cheating on his sister, Tina Brazzon told investigators.

“He hated Rikki for years,” Tina Brazzon said.

Brazzon’s brother recalled one time when Cogley angered his brother.

“The only time I heard him pissed off about Rikki was him saying he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be around with his young kid,” Bruce Brazzon said. “And Rikki said he’d take care of his woman and his kid. That pissed Rob off real good.”

July 6

Despite Brazzon indicating his intent to kill himself and others, no one had any warning he intended to carry out the plan on July 6.

His brother and a friend both saw him working on his garden early in the morning. He then drove over to Tina’s house.  They had taken their families to Willow Lake for July 4. Rob asked Tina to watch his daughter overnight because he was going to take Engler to a doctor’s appointment that morning.

“He acted real calm,” Tina Brazzon said. “He just came in real quick, petted the dog, sits down. Said I have to go. Tell (her) that I love her. Then he goes.”

Police believe Brazzon murdered Engler first. The autopsy shows he beat her. She had black eyes, a swollen right eye and a cut on her forehead from a blunt object, according to reports and police photos. The swelling indicated to investigators she was alive when she suffered those injuries. Brazzon then shot her at close range in the back of the head, cheek and hand.

Engler, reports said, had amphetamines, heroin, oxycodone, Fentanyl and Valium in her system when she died. Germaniuk said Engler’s use of both stimulants and depressants is called “speed-balling.”

She was wearing three Fentanyl patches at the time. Those interviewed by police indicated Engler had a myriad of health issues and the autopsy report shows she had a gall stone.

She was found by Brazzon’s daughter and Tina Brazzon hours after police began investigating the murders at the Cogley’s home.

Brazzon then went to the Cogley’s home. Investigators are unsure of the order of what happened next. But Everett Greathouse was closest to the door Brazzon came in and started firing from.

Police found him slumped over on the couch, his face buried into the back of the couch. His feet were still on the ground. Investigators reported he was shot through his left forearm, indicating he tried to block the bullet Brazzon fired. It ripped through his arm and into face. Brazzon shot him again in the back of the head at close range.

Greathouse was found on the couch next to two cell phones, one of which was connected with 911 dispatchers that picked up sounds of yelling, 10 gunshots and crying. Another bullet missed Greathouse and went through the trailer’s walls, lodging in the ground outside the home.

Kathy Cogley was sitting on the couch not far away on the adjacent wall. She had just sat down with a pack of crackers, ate one, had yet to open a can of soda and had just lit a cigarette she never smoked.

She was shot at close range in the right side of the neck and head. Kathy Cogley had no alcohol or drugs in her system, autopsy reports show.

Rikki Cogley was the furthest into the home. He was found shot in a hallway several steps from where Kathy Cogley was sitting. He was shot in the chest and head. Rikki Cogley had fluoxetine, metabolites, norfluoxetine, oxycodone and amphetamines in his urine. Germanuik said Cogley had taken those drugs well before he was murdered since they had already passed through his system.

Brazzon released the clip, dropped the gun and left in his white Dodge Stratus police would spend the next several hours searching for.

Despite Brazzon’s poor health, those that knew him said he was an adept shooter with the capability of carrying out the shootings.

“I can tell you my brother was a very good shot, with a pistol or anything,” Bruce Brazzon told investigators. “If he walked into a room with four or five people and wanted to shoot them, he could. He had the ability.”

‘They stole it’

A police officer responding to the home saw Brazzon driving away from the projects. Reports said he chased after him, but eventually lost sight around Route 534 southbound in Newton Township, reports said.

Newton Falls Sgt. Stephen Storm spotted a white car hours later in the back of Newton Township Cemetery and stopped in. He reported he originally thought the man standing outside the car was holding a camera. Brazzon, however, was holding a revolver.

Brazzon immediately pointed the gun at his own chest. Storm reported he pointed his gun at Brazzon and asked him what happened.

Brazzon told police he was in pain, had health issues and that Engler “stole his meds.” He told Storm he really needs his medication and was upset “they stole it.”

Storm tried to get Brazzon to put his gun down. Brazzon told Storm he knew Storm was too far away to shoot the gun from his hand and that he’d be able to fire off a hollow-point bullet at himself if Storm pulled the trigger.

Brazzon told Storm after the murders he took a ride in the countryside. He told Storm he went to confront “them” for stealing his medicine. He said “they” threatened to call police and someone mentioned they were getting a knife when the shooting took place.

Officers started crossing a bridge from the other side of the cemetery. Brazzon, reports said, squatted down behind his car and fired one shot into his chest. Officers flipped him over, handcuffed him and arrested him.

Investigators found another gun in his car along with suicide notes. Some accused Engler of stealing drugs, others let family members know a funeral was paid for already at Borsoky Funeral Home. Some said he had an urge to kill and others said he was unable to control his pain.

Another, written on a flyer for Narcotics Anonymous in Howland and Warren says, “Do Not Try to Save.”

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