Monday, April 8, 2024

The Dollar Tree Murder

Random Machete Attack Stuns Law-Abiding Citizens in Middle America

By Robert A. Waters

Twenty-two-year-old Keris Riebel (pictured above) died on the cold floor of a Dollar Tree store in Upper Sandusky, Ohio on New Year's Day, 2023. She'd been slashed numerous times with a machete. As far as investigators could tell, she had no relationship with her killer.

Below is a partial transcript of the 9-1-1 call that came in at 4:25 P.M. As happens often in a state of panic, the caller seems confused, or maybe even in denial.

Dispatcher: 9-1-1. What is the address of your emergency?

Unidentified female caller: The Dollar Tree in Upper Sandusky.

Dispatcher (to responding officers): They're saying there is a guy there with an axe.

Dispatcher (to caller): Did he hurt the cashier?

Caller: She fell straight to the ground. He hit her in the back of the neck. I didn't know if it was for real or not because he walked in and said something to her and hit her and she fell to the ground and he ran out. But he didn't like try to come after us. It didn't look like a real machete.

Dispatcher: Is the guy still there or did he leave?

Caller: He walked out and is wearing all black...

The Dollar Tree where the murder occurred sat on the corner of River's Edge Lane and East Wyandot Avenue. In 2023, Upper Sandusky had a population of about 7,000 souls.

According to police, Bethel Bekele, 27, (pictured below) entered the store and "struck Riebel numerous times with the machete." She fell to the floor and Bekele continued to strike her. Within minutes, police arrived and found the young cashier dead.

Police arrested Bekele within an hour of the attack. Detectives said he quickly confessed to the crime. In addition, the murder was captured on surveillance video cameras.

What was the motive for the attack? Cops don't know. The crime seemed to be about as random as you'll get. It was likely not robbery, since no money or goods were taken. Investigators said the killer had no known criminal record. Maybe he just wanted to kill somebody. Anybody.

For many years, Dollar Tree sold all items in the store for a dollar. It was the go-to place for many working class citizens. Customers could shop for silverware, greeting cards, dinnerware and dish sets, pottery, groceries, washcloths and towels, party supplies, as well as thousands of other goods. Alas, in today's economic climate, the store has been forced to raise prices to $1.25.

Keris Riebel was well-known and well-liked in her community. According to her obituary, "Keris was a 2019 graduate of Wynford High School who actively participated in cheerleading. Her classmates remember seeing her walk through the halls with a huge smile and a Bible in her hand. Keris attended Cedarville University and later transferred to Franklin University where she received a BA in [Human Resources] Business Management." She was a member of the Antioch Christian Church.

Keris met her husband, Jordan Riebel, while working at Rural King, a retail hardware store. They had been married for only two months when Keris was murdered.

Bekele was indicted on six felony charges, including aggravated murder, and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Court documents state that he was placed in the Twin Valley Behavioral Health Care Hospital. A judge issued the following statement: "The court finds the defendant is competent to stand trial insofar as his ability to understand the nature and objectives of the proceedings against him; however, the court finds the defendant is incompetent to stand trial at this time due to his inability to assist in his own defense." 

Whatever that means.

The killer will be evaluated every six months to determine whether he has improved enough to stand trial.

The victim had a full life in front of her. She set goals and worked hard to achieve those goals--only to be savagely murdered by a random killer. 

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