Couple extradited from Richmond to Ohio for questioning in baby's death

jwarren@herald-leader.comJune 3, 2013 

A 26-year-old woman and her boyfriend agreed to extradition in a Madison County court Monday and were transported to Ohio for questioning about the body of a baby boy found in some woods on Friday.

Hillsboro, Ohio, Police Chief Nick Thompson said Monday afternoon that Whitney E. Johnson had arrived, and that her boyfriend Nathan Ritze, 25, was expected shortly. Both were to be questioned, then taken to jail, Thompson said

Highland County, Ohio, Coroner Jeff Beery said late Monday that he thinks the body found by searchers just outside the Hillsboro city limits on Friday is that of one-year-old Garin Niehaus, Johnson's son.

DNA and other testing could confirm the identification, Beery said.

No cause of death has been determined, but Johnson told investigators that the child had pneumonia, according to the Associated Press.

The body appeared to have had been buried for a matter of months, Beery said in a telephone interview. A preliminary investigation didn't show any obvious physical trauma to the body, Beery told the Associated Press.

Garin Niehaus is a child of Johnson and Ian Niehaus, according to Ohio authorities. The child had been in Johnson's custody, but authorities said other family members told them Garin had been unaccounted for since about December.

Johnson and Ritze currently are charged with abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence, both felonies. Thompson said, however, additional charges could be filed if the investigation turns up more evidence, Thompson said.

Ritze and Johnson were arrested Thursday by Richmond police, acting on a phone call from Hillsboro police. Two other children found at their Richmond residence were placed in state custody. Ian Niehaus told the Hillsboro newspaper that he had a five-year-old daughter with Johnson in addition to Garin, and that he had helped Johnson raise a 7-year-old boy.

It wasn't immediately clear how long Ritze and Johnson had been living in Richmond.

Johnson, Ritze and Ian Niehaus are all from the Hillsboro area, according to Thompson. Hillsboro is a town of about 6,600 located between Cincinnati and Dayton.

Thompson said in a phone interview that his office initially received a call in December from family members concerned about Garin Niehaus.

"At that time ... we had no reason to believe that it was anything other than what family members were concerned about," he said. "It was referred to Children's Services, and we received nothing back that would give us just cause to be believe a criminal act was committed. So that's where it stayed."

On Thursday, however, Hillsboro police received a another phone call reporting the suspicious death of a one-year-old child, according to the Hillsboro Times-Gazette newspaper. Based on that call, Hillsboro authorities contacted Richmond police, who went to an apartment where Ritze and Johnson were living.

"Mr. Ritze bolted out the back, and was later arrested attempting to come back to the apartment," Thompson said.

Johnson was arrested at her workplace, according to police.

On Friday, Ohio authorities launched a search in a wooded area off Diven Road near Hillsboro. The child's body was found later that afternoon.

Ian Niehaus went to the search scene on Friday. Niehaus said he had been notified by a phone call and thought authorities might be looking for his son, according to the Times-Gazette.

"I never thought it would be like this," he told the Times-Gazette in an interview. "I just wish I'd had more time with him."

Thompson said that Johnson and Ritze would be taken to the Highland County Justice Center Monday night. They will have a hearing in Hillsboro Municipal Court on Wednesday, he said.

Jim Warren (859 231-3255.

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