Murder of Charlene Puffenbarger by Willard McCarley examined on Murder In The Heartland

Willard McCarley mugshot
Willard McCarley was convicted of murdering Charlene Puffenbarger. Pic credit: Ohio Department of Corrections

Murder In The Heartland is examining the case of Charlene Puffenbarger, who was murdered by her child’s father, Willard McCarley, in Twinsburg Township, Ohio.

On the morning of Jan. 20, 1992, a neighbor went to Puffenbarger’s apartment to drop her children off, but when she knocked on the door, no one answered.

When she heard the 26-year-old’s toddler sons—aged two and three—inside, she announced herself. That’s when one of them unlocked the door and let her in.

The neighbor found Puffenbarger’s body on the couch with a blanket over her face and immediately called 911.

When paramedics arrived on the scene, they noticed Puffenbarger had blood on her head and a black leather belt wrapped twice around her neck.

Defensive wounds and scalp lacerations indicated that she had been beaten and strangled.

An autopsy revealed that Puffenbarger died from cardiorespiratory arrest due to asphyxiation.

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The victim’s son identified McCarley as the killer.

DNA evidence linked Willard McCarley to the murder of Charlene Puffenbarger

An investigation revealed that in November 1991, Puffenbarger filed a paternity suit against McCarley.

She was seeking child support for their youngest son.

McCarley was already paying child support for a child he shared with an ex-girlfriend, and he didn’t want to pay for another child.

If she didn’t drop the suit, McCarley reportedly threatened to kill her.

In July 2002, the Summit County Sheriff’s Department began using advanced DNA technology to help identify Puffenbarger’s killer, whom they believed to be McCarley.

When his DNA matched the DNA evidence found on the belt used to kill Puffenbarger, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

On May 13, 2004, deputy U.S. marshals arrested McCarley at a resort near Scottsdale, Arizona, where he was on vacation.

McCarley was extradited to Ohio and booked into the county jail. He was charged with one count of aggravated murder.

Two trials ended with a guilty verdict but were later overturned

In February 2006 and January 2007, McCarley went to trial and was found guilty of murdering his son’s mother. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

His conviction was overturned after he filed an appeal for each trial.

On April 4, 2017, McCarley attended his third trial. A jury found him guilty for the third time, and a judge sentenced him to life in prison.

Murder In The Heartland airs Wednesdays at 9pm on Investigation Discovery.

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