Ferrara pleads not guilty

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A former reputed Youngstown mobster in prison for a double murder in the Columbus area pleaded not guilty Tuesday to killing a General Motors security guard, his wife and their 4-year-old daughter 39 years ago in Canfield.

James P. Ferrara, 64, a former GM union representative and reputed mobster, pleaded not guilty to three counts of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery.

He will be held without bond until the case is completed.

Death penalty specifications were not added because the death penalty was not an option for prosecutors in 1974, when Ben Marsh, Marilyn Marsh and Heather Marsh were murdered.

Investigators say Ferrara fatally shot Ben Marsh several times, then 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.

Investigators recently asked for fingerprints found by the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation at the time to be re-processed. Those fingerprints came back as a match for Ferrara in 2009.

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.

A former investigator on that case, current Perry Township Police Chief Bob Oppenheimer, said during his investigation he found Ferrara was connected with the Youngstown mob.

He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for the Columbus-area murder and has been denied parole several times, including after a Jan. 14 parole hearing. His next parole hearing is scheduled for November 2015.

Archives show a GM supervisor found Ben Marsh, his wife Marilyn and 4-year-old Heather brutally murdered on Dec. 13, 1974 at their S. Turner Road home. Their 1-year-old son, Christopher, was found alive and covered in blood. Both Ferrara and Marsh worked at GM, according to sources.

Ben Marsh was shot four times, Marilyn was beaten and shot once from behind and Heather was found beaten to death with a blunt instrument, according to WKBN and WYTV archives.

Ben Marsh was a security guard at GM and Ferrara was a GM union officials, according to sources. On Dec. 13, 1974, Marsh was scheduled to fill in for a co-worker for a later shift. When he failed to show up for that shift and his regular scheduled shift in the morning, his supervisor went to his home, found the garage broken into and the trio dead, according to archives.

Archives say Marilyn Marsh had called Ben Marsh that morning to talk about weekend plans to go to New Castle, Pa. Marilyn Marsh and their two children were dressed in “outer garments” after coming into the home after a dentist appointment. Ben Marsh was wearing only underwear when he was found, archives said.

Investigators at the time offered $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the murderer. Another $1,000 reward was offered for those who had information about the murder weapon, which investigators said was a .38-caliber revolver.

Archives said the killer fired one gunshot into the air, then four into Ben Marsh, who stumbled into a bedroom and died.

The killer, archives said, then fired a shot at Marilyn Marsh, and used his gun to beat her and the 4-year-old.

Investigators at the time found a signed paycheck and small coin collection that was undisturbed. They also found a filter-tipped cigarette lit at the wrong end with a finger print. None of the Marsh’s smoked, archives said.

Police said they believed the killer’s getaway driver fled without the shooter, so he stole Marilyn Marsh’s car from the driveway. Investigators found the car arrived at about 6:15 p.m. the day of the murder in a Kmart parking lot in Austintown seven miles from the Marsh’s home.

Investigators offered immunity to the getaway driver after the murders, but no one came forward. Gains said his office is the only one that can offer immunity to anyone who has come forward with information.

A witness gave a description of a man they saw driving the car, and a sketch artist made a rendering of what that person looked like.

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