BLANCHESTER, Ohio — A man with mental health problems kidnapped a neighbor who had reported receiving harassing phone calls from him and kept her trapped in a small pit in his backyard shed, where her cries for help alerted others and led to her rescue, police said.
Police in Blanchester, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Cincinnati, said the owner of the shed, Dennis Dunn, was arrested Wednesday morning and was jailed. They said Dunn has a history of mental health issues.
The woman’s mother initially reported her missing about 2 a.m. and called police about 4 a.m. to report cries from a shed behind Dunn’s house, police said. A responding officer arrived to find the woman in the shed, crouching in a pit about 2 feet wide by 2 feet long and about 3 1/2 feet deep (0.6 meters wide by 0.6 meters long and 1 meter deep) with wood over the top of it.
Police Chief Scott Reinbolt said heavy objects, including lawn equipment, had been placed on the wood, preventing the woman from getting out.
The woman appeared to be having a seizure and was taken to a hospital, where she was treated and released, police said.
“She didn’t appear to have any obvious signs of physical trauma,” Reinbolt said.
Police stayed outside Dunn’s darkened house while waiting for a search warrant and called a tactical team after neighbors said Dunn might have an assault rifle. But while officers were waiting, Dunn came to the front door “nonchalantly” about 8 a.m. and was arrested without incident, Reinbolt said.
“I don’t think he grasped the severity of the situation,” the chief said.
Police didn’t know how long the woman had been in the pit. They said she hadn’t been seen since about 11:30 Tuesday night.
The chief said the woman in October 2016 had reported receiving harassing phone calls and text messages from Dunn, who she and her family had known for some time. The woman declined to participate in any prosecution of Dunn at that time.
Dunn couldn’t be reached for comment while in custody Wednesday, and it couldn’t be determined whether he had an attorney who could comment on the accusations against him.
Dunn was charged earlier this month with misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and possession of marijuana, court records show. Police said he had repeatedly called them to his home because he heard voices or thought people were trying to get in. Officers checked the home each time but found no one around it.
Neighbors, on April 2, reported Dunn in the yard with a pistol in his hand, and he told police someone was trying to enter his home. He was taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation and later was released, Reinbolt said.
The chief said Dunn phoned police on April 4 to report someone pounding on his windows, but no one was found.
Court records show Dunn is scheduled for a hearing on the earlier misdemeanor charges in May.
A former neighbor, Sue Whitaker, said Dunn was “strange-acting.”
“He gave me the willies,” she said.
Lester Turner, who also lives in the city of about 4,500 residents, described it as a good community.
“Everybody knows everybody by name,” he said. “It’s that kind of small town.”