Based on a lengthy investigation and a grand jury in Berks County, the 2002 homicide of Hope Babel has been solved. Ryan Stufflet, 28, of Hamburg, has been charged with criminal homicide, murder of the first degree, murder of the second degree, murder of the third degree and arson endangering persons on May 14.
According to the Police Criminal Complaint, a 911 call came in at 11:41 p.m. on September 6, 2002 for a fire at Babel’s residence. Trooper John Burns, Deputy Fire Marshall for Pennsylvania State Police, arrived onto the scene a little after 1:15 a.m. where Shoemakersville Fire Company was still on scene controlling the fire with the help of five other departments.
Trooper Burns completed a report and took photographs as part of his investigation. There were two fires in the residence, a small fire in the front bedroom which belonged to Babel’s son Isaiah and a larger fire in the back bedroom which was Babel’s. The victim was lying on the floor and the entire room was extensively damaged by fire. All sources of accidental fires were examined and ruled out meaning that the determination was made that this was a fire intentionally set by a human. Babel was 47 years old at the time of her death. She was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:29 a.m. on September 7, 2002.
According to the autopsy report, the cause of death was carbon monoxide due to smoke inhalation. Contributing conditions discovered were blunt force trauma to her head and a neck compression consistent with partial strangulation. The trauma and strangulation would have resulted in an alteration in her level of consciousness and her ability to escape the fire. It was determined that Babel was alive at the time of the fire and the manner of death was homicide.
Trooper Robert Hess took over the case in 2012 as part of his position with the Pennsylvania State Police in investigating cold case homicides. State Police took over the case from the now disbanded Shoemakersville Police Department in 2005.
Trooper Hess interviewed Stufflet at Berks County Prison regarding the death of Babel on September 13, 2012. Stufflet stated that he did not remember anything from that year due to memory problems after three car accidents. Trooper Hess secured phone calls which Stufflet was making from prison where there were no indications of any inability to recollect facts as he talked about incidents that fell into the periods of time he said he could not remember.
A number of similar incidents occurred with other officers and troopers where Stufflet claimed to have memory recall problems, but then later showed no memory problems.
Neighbors of Babel recall the night of the homicide seeing Babel, her son and Stufflet outside of the apartment building drinking alcohol. The neighbors recall later seeing flames coming from what appeared to be Babel’s residence and knocking on the door to check if anyone was home as they evacuated the building. Two neighbors kicked in the door, but were unable to see or make it into the apartment due to smoke and flames. A week after the fire, Stufflet tracked one of the neighbors and had an odd conversation where Stufflet stated, “If something happens with this, I’m going to .” It was later that the neighbor realized that Stufflet was referring to the homicide as that was the only thing the two had common knowledge about.
Tina Stufflet, 51, of Hamburg, was charged with perjury for lying about her son’s whereabouts on the night of the homicide and a number of people in her life stated that she told them she lied to the police because when she returned home that night around midnight her son was in bed. She originally told police that she was home when Ryan came home that night.
Witnesses recall seeing and hearing Stufflet’s car, with a very distinctive sound, at Babel’s home and driving around before and after the time the homicide occurred.
Other witnesses recall conversations with Stufflet where her said that if he ever committed a crime or killed someone that he would start a fire to burn the evidence and get away with the crime. A number of people commented on his fixation with older women, he was then 17, and the advances that he would often make on older women.
Isaiah Babel was 17 at the time of the homicide and was good friends with Stufflet at the time. He claims that on the night of the homicide, he walked down to a neighbor’s house and Stufflet walked with him about halfway before Stufflet said he had to leave and started walking back to Babel’s home. Isaiah never heard or saw Stufflet leave in his car. He was later woken up at his neighbor’s house when he heard sirens and proceeded to his house. When he heard that a body was found, he had to be physically restrained as he tried to reach his mother.
Stufflet testified that he does not remember any of the year 2002 including the night of the homicide due to tow major accidents he was involved in. He has never spoken with a doctor about his memory recall problems.
Based on the conflicting reports given by Stufflet at a number of different times and the testimonies over a number of witnesses the grand jury recommended Stufflet be charged with criminal homicide, murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, murder in the third degree and arson endangering persons.
Ryan and Tina Stufflet were taken into custody without incident by Troop L members of the Pennsylvania State Police on May 14 around 8:10 a.m. at their residence. They were arraigned later that day on the charges.
The charges were filed on May 13 before Judge Bagenstose.