GALLIA COUNTY — Following nearly a month on the run and an extensive manhunt in the southern portion of Gallia County, a man wanted for questioning in the beating death of his father in Meigs County was discovered and taken into custody by deputies with the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office. James E. Gardner, age 40, was arrested around 11 a.m. Friday near Blessing Road.
According to Gallia County Sheriff Joe Browning, an area resident called Gallia County 9-1-1 after discovering a man in camouflage clothing holed up in the resident’s travel trailer at approximately 8 a.m. The resident said after he told the man to leave his property, the suspect apologized and walked toward the nearby tree line.
Initially four deputies with the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office responded to the call, but officers with the Ohio State Highway Patrol soon joined in the effort to find the man. According to Gallia County Chief Deputy Dick Grau, the resident was shown photos of Gardner, and he quickly affirmed that his earlier encounter was indeed with the wanted man. Law enforcement set up a perimeter in the vicinity and began searching the woods.
Grau said approximately two and a half hours later, law enforcement discovered a yellow ATV near an old green trailer that was apparently being used primarily as a hunting shelter. The ATV had been reported stolen last week. Officers ordered Gardner out of the trailer, and upon a second request, the suspect emerged saying, “Don’t shoot me.”
Gardner was then taken into custody with no further incident. He is currently being held in the Washington County Jail on charges of Grand Theft Auto stemming from the apparent theft of his father’s pick-up truck in Meigs County on Nov. 11. The truck, with a red ATV in the bed, was missing from the property when the elder Gardner’s body was found. Witnesses claimed to have seen the younger Gardner driving the truck across the Silver Memorial Bridge just hours following the apparent homicide. Those vehicles, in addition to a motorcycle and the yellow ATV, were recovered in southern Gallia County over the course of the past 10 days.
Meigs County Sheriff Robert Beegle said additional charges could come as early as next week following a debriefing with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification (BCI&I). Grau said the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office is also investigating a number of property crimes and burglaries in the general vicinities where Gardner had allegedly been hiding. Subsequent charges from Gallia County may also be filed in this case.
Gardner had been named as a person of interest in the suspicious death of the elder James W. Gardner, age 67. The unofficial cause of death has been listed as blunt force trauma, according to Beegle. This case remains under investigation.