The mystery of what happened to two Carroll County women missing since April 6 appears to have ended in tragedy in West Virginia.
Danielle Tyler, 18, of Taneytown and Heather Grogg, 33, of Westminster were murdered, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday in Berkeley County.
The complaint charges April Lynn Braner, 37, of Falling Waters, West Virginia, with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. A sheriff’s office detective alleges Braner knowingly allowed her home to be used as the site where Tyler and Grogg were killed, and provided one of the murder weapons, a plastic bag.
Braner is being held without bond in Berkeley County. In West Virginia, a conviction on the murder carries a sentence of life in prison. She elected to hire an attorney to represent her, according to the complaint. It was not clear Tuesday whether she had hired an attorney.
The charges against Braner and the deaths of both Tyler and Grogg are connected with an altercation that began in Westminster on March 17, and allegedly ended in another killing in West Virginia. That evening, Jonathan Riddle of Taneytown visited Grogg at the Westminster home of David Sanford and Emily Day, where Grogg babysat the couple’s children.
Also present at Sanford and Day’s home, police say, were John Black III of Taneytown, Monroe Merrell of Westminster and Tyler, who, according to her family members, had recently become involved with Merrell.
After a fight broke out between Riddle and Merrell, Sanford allegedly stabbed Riddle while Merell held him, according to charging documents in that case. Riddle was bound and transported to Jefferson County, West Virginia, where he was stabbed again until he was dead, and his body was lit on fire and left on the ground, police say.
Black, Merrell and Sanford have been charged with murder and kidnapping in Jefferson County. Merrell was arraigned there Friday after being extradited from Virginia Beach. Black and Sanford are being held in West Virginia jails. Day was arrested in Westminster, extradited to West Virginia, and faces charges of accessory before and after the fact involving murder.
The new complaint against Braner alleges she conspired with Merrell, Day, Sanford and a fourth individual named Jeff Smith to murder Tyler and Grogg.
According to the new Berkeley County complaint, Merrell, Day, and Sanford drove Grogg and Tyler to Braner’s home on April 6, telling the two women they would be safe there from the ongoing criminal investigation into Riddle’s murder. Merrell had been staying there the prior week, according to the complaint.
But the complaint alleges that Merrell brought Grogg and Tyler to the home specifically to have them killed and that Braner knew of the plan and assisted.
Across the street from Braner’s home is a “party trailer,” an old trailer with a pool table and a bathroom, according to the complaint. Sanford used a plastic bag Braner gave him to try to asphyxiate Tyler in the trailer, the complaint alleges. It goes on to allege Braner checked Tyler and found her still alive, so Sanford used the bag again to suffocate Tyler until she was dead.
Merrell, meanwhile lured Grogg away from the “party trailer” while Tyler was being murdered, and distracted her so Smith could shoot her twice, killing her, the complaint alleges.
Maryland State Police arrested Jeffrey C. Smith Jr. in Carroll County on Monday on a charge of being a fugitive of justice, according to a court document, and Smith was wanted in Jefferson County, West Virginia, on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy. Smith is listed in online court records with a Westminster address.
Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty confirmed in an email that the same Jeffrey Smith who was arrested in Carroll is the same individual who is addressed in the complaint against Braner. Smith was returned to West Virginia on Wednesday, Dougherty said.
The warrant for Smith was approved by the Berkeley County prosecutor and was issued by the Berkeley County magistrate, Dougherty said. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was bringing him back to West Virginia, Dougherty said, though Smith had yet to be committed as of 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no charges had been filed in West Virginia against Day, Merrell or Sanford in Berkeley County relating to Tyler or Grogg. It could not be determined Tuesday whether Day, Merrell and Sanford have attorneys in West Virginia.
The criminal complaint against Braner does not include details about the remains of Tyler or Grogg.
For Tyler’s grandmother Sherry Tyler, who had been spreading the word about Danielle’s disappearance with a fervent hope she would turn up safe and sound, it was the worst possible news.
“Forty-two days,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Forty-two days of praying she would be found and come home.”
Sherry Tyler said the FBI informed her Monday of the women’s murders — the federal agency had identified Riddle’s body after his death — and she said that, based on her conversation, she expected more people to be arrested.
“There were so many people involved,” Sherry said. “They’re cruel. They’re evil. They’re evil people.”
A spokesperson for the Pittsburgh office of the FBI, which has jurisdiction over West Virginia, said she could not confirm nor deny any active investigation into the killings, and referred a reporter to the criminal complaint in Berkeley County for details.
Grogg’s sister, who had previously spoken about her sister’s disappearance, declined to comment for this story.
Sherry, her voice breaking with emotion, spoke longingly of the granddaughter she has lost.
“It was just so senseless. Danielle was getting ready to graduate. She was getting ready to get her license,” she said. “She wanted to be a videographer, she wanted to do photography. And they took it all away.”