Original article not available
Akron Beacon Journal
Story by Jim Carney, Beacon Journal staff writer
Editor’s note: This story originally ran Sunday, August 6, 2000
The fog is finally lifting from the lives of Bill and Jane Dunham. This year, for the first time since 1994, they did some spring cleaning. Not Chad’s bedroom, of course.
They’re not ready for that. Perhaps they never will be.
“There really is a hell and we live in the suburbs of it now,” says Bill Dunham, a retired truck driver.
The Coventry Township couple both use that word – hell – to describe that place of pain where they have dwelt since their only child was murdered.
The killing of Chad Dunham in the fall of 1994 was the beginning of a bizarre series of events that ended with three people dead and another person serving a life term in prison. It was the beginning of a road to nowhere for those who knew and loved them.
“There are no grandchildren, no daughter-in-law, no family events,” Jane Dunham says. “It is just one big, long desert.”
Like concentric circles that spread across a pond from a tossed rock, the chain of events involving four people – three men and one woman – swiftly rippled outward in the early days of autumn six years ago.
Twenty-two-year-old Chad Dunham, whose nickname was Woody, was Theresa Railing’s new boyfriend. He was a security guard, a weight lifter and a 1991 graduate of Coventry High. She was 11 years older, and though she had dropped out of Cleveland Heights High School as a teen-ager, she’d received her GED two years earlier and was working as a secretary.
On the night of Sept. 24, 1994, Russell Pruitt came to her East Akron apartment. Pruitt, 44, lived in Cleveland and worked as marketing manager for Electrosound Inc., of Parma. He had been her boyfriend for seven years before they broke up.
When Pruitt rang the bell at Railing’s apartment, Dunham went down to the lobby, hoping to make peace with the former boyfriend. Instead, he was shot three times and died on the asphalt parking lot. Railing witnessed the execution from her window above.
In an interview after Dunham’s death, Railing told the Beacon Journal that Pruitt had been taking anti-depressant drugs, but she had not thought that he was dangerous.”
“‘He was hurt and depressed,’ she said. ‘As far as any past history, there was never any indications.'”
“Paul Martanovic, the human resources manager for Electrosound where Pruitt worked, says the murder of Dunham caught everyone off guard.”
“‘He (Pruitt) was everything you like in a person,’ Martanovic says of the man he knew for 20 years. “Rusty was a professional. The guy was great. We miss him. He was very astute, well-dressed and well-respected.”
Pruitt took off and police began a search. A friend of Railing’s, Frank R. Arnold Jr., offered to protect her while Pruitt was on the loose.
But on the night of Sept. 30, the day of Dunham’s funeral, Arnold, 43, beat Railing to death with a pipe inside her apartment. He dragged her body to a bathtub and then he, too, went on the run.
Five days later, Arnold surrendered to police and confessed to the killing.
Then on Nov. 21, 1994, Pruitt shot and killed himself after being stopped by police on West 95th Street in Cleveland.
And finally, on Jan. 3, 1995, Arnold pleaded guilty to the murder of Railing and was sentenced to life in prison.
Four lives that touched. Four lives that disintegrated.
A DREAM OF DEATH
Theresa Railing’s mother, Sandra Coster, now lives her life for her daughter.
“I really feel the people we are close to stay tuned to us,” she says. “They are off doing their own thing. They have a knowledge of what is happening to us.
“I believe she participates in my happiness. I don’t think it would make her very happy thinking we were being miserable.”
Coster says Railing, a practitioner of paganism, was featured in a 1993 Akron Beacon Journal story on pagans and witches. In that story, Railing was identified as Phoebe.
“Death is unknown, and everybody dies,” Phoebe said in the story. “I guess, like everything else, its value is as a learning experience.”
Now a resident of Florence, Colo., Coster recalls her daughter telling about a dream she had just a few days before Chad Dunham was murdered. In the dream, Theresa was walking along a waterfront, where she saw an exhibit of exotic birds. There was a white owl in the exhibit, and Theresa held the owl. But when she looked down, all that was left of the bird was three feathers.
“The owl in a lot of pagan cultures is a sign of death,” Coster says.
Railing’s father, Philip Costantino, feels the loss of his daughter daily.
“I think of my daughter every day and miss her every day,” says the 57-year-old Costantino, who lives in North Royalton and works as an architect.
“I knew Rusty (Pruitt) fairly well. He was on medication and when my daughter attempted to break off the relationship, he stopped taking it and snapped.”
Costantino vows to do all he can to make sure that Frank Arnold is never released from prison. “I think he is a dangerous person, and it would be foolish to turn him loose.”
He is bitter that his family was not informed when Arnold was in court to plead guilty and be sentenced. He learned of the sentence from a co-worker who had heard about it on the radio.
“It was over and done with,” Costantino says.
Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge James R. Williams, who handed down the sentence, explains that Arnold was originally scheduled to make a court appearance Jan. 9, but the prosecutor’s office requested that he come in early on Jan. 3 to plead guilty. Williams says there was no opportunity then to bring in the family.
In 1996 Ohio law was changed to require that victim’s families be notified of court appearances.
“‘The whole thing was bad from start to finish,” Costantino says.
‘I DON’T KNOW WHY’
Sitting in a small interview room at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, Frank Arnold Jr. says he doesn’t know why he killed Theresa Railing. He is a frail man, who looks 20 years older than his 49 years. He won’t forgive himself for the murder and doesn’t know if God will ever forgive him.
Arnold says he wanted Railing to be his girlfriend, but she told him she only wanted to be friends. On the night of Chad Dunham’s funeral, she told him that “younger men are the best way to go.”
“It kind of took me by surprise,” he says.
That night, Arnold says, he drank quite a bit of alcohol and smoked marijuana.
“I was going to stay there until Rusty showed up,” he says. “I brought along a piece of pipe. I didn’t have a gun. I had no way of defending myself.”
Railing went to bed and Arnold slept on the couch. “I got up . . . it seemed as if it was a dream,” he recalls. “Sometime before it started getting light out, I got up and I went in there and I killed her.”
Softly weeping then, he continues his story:
“I don’t know why. After I did it, it was like waking up from a cloud or something, but by then it was too late.”
Arnold recently had a dream in which Railing was standing by his bed. “She said, ‘Cleanse your soul. The truth shall set you free,’ ” he says.