March 7th, 2009. Cincinnati, OH. Earlier in the day, a young 13-year-old girl, Esme Kenney, had been jogging around the Winton Hills Reservoir. This had been her first time unaccompanied and was expected to be back home shortly. After a few hours and no word from Esme, her family called police and a search was soon underway. Esme had seemingly disappeared. As day turned to night, police eventually encountered a man sitting against a tree. The man would turn out to be 40-year-old Anthony Kirkland, who had recently had a warrant issued for his arrest.
Anthony had many brushes with the law and gave no indication he was in a hurry to change his ways. His most serious offense to date was the brutal murder of his then girlfriend, Leola Douglas on May 20th, 1987. She had refused his sexual advances and that sent him into a frenzy. He began choking and beating Leola before deciding to douse her in lighter fluid and setting her ablaze. She was still alive when she was set on fire. Leola would be found on the steps in front of Anthony’s home. He’d be convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served just 16 years in prison before his release in September of 2003.
Since his release Anthony continued to show little disregard for authority and those around him. In January of 2005 Kirkland was accused of raping a neighbor at knifepoint but was eventually acquitted of the charges later that year. In 2007, Kirkland continued to his streak of criminal behavior when he threatened to kill his infant son during a standoff with SWAT. He would be apprehended and sentenced to just 115 days in jail. Soon after his release a court order is granted ensuring that Kirkland stays away from the Bledsoe family. It is not known why the order of protection was sought but given Kirkland’s violent history, it seems understandable. Less than 2 weeks after the order of protection, Kirkland is arrested again for soliciting his girlfriends 13-year-old daughter for sex. He is sentenced to a year in prison and forced to register as a sex offender.
Kirkland is released again in October of 2008 and enters a halfway home called the Pogue Rehabilitation Center. On February 27th, 2009, police arrive at the halfway home in response to a fight that had broken out between Kirkland and another resident of the halfway home. Kirkland was not arrested because the resident would not press charges but Kirkland was forced out of the home. Since he was on parole, his parole officer should have been notified immediately, but was not due to it being the weekend.
Possibly due to the lack of communication and without oversight, Kirkland was able to roam the streets without anyone knowing where he was. On March 1st, Kirkland would be accused of breaking into a home and attacking yet another victim. He used a pair of scissors to stab Frederick Hughes multiple times before fleeing. Thankfully Hughes would survive the attack as a warrant for Kirkland’s apprehension was issued. The next day, his parole officer finally became aware that Kirkland was unaccounted for and actively started searching for the man.
Days had gone by since Kirkland had checked in with law enforcement and on March 4th, another warrant was issued. By law, Kirkland had to let authorities know his residency and he had not since he was removed from the halfway home. On March 5th, Kirkland is seen by his child’s mother, Roberta Baldwin, and reports that he threatened her with a knife. He would eventually make his way to Winton Hills Reservoir, where authorities were finally able to place him in custody for the various crimes he had committed days earlier.
Considering the recent, violent crime spree that Kirkland had perpetrated, police were understandably curious about Kirkland’s involvement with the Esme’s disappearance. Once in police custody, Kirkland was found to be in possession of Esme’s watch and iPod.
Kirkland remained tight lipped for hours before finally giving in and admitting to the murder of young Esme Kenney, but to the shock of authorities, Kirkland also admitted to the murders of an additional 3 other female victims; Casonya Crawford(14), Mary Jo Newton(45), and Kimya Rolison(25). The murders had taken place over the past 3 years and Kirkland was ready to give a full confession. In each case he had either burned or attempted to burn the bodies.
The second known murder victim of Anthony Kirkland was Casonya Crawford on May 4th, 2006. Casonya had just left her grandmother’s house when she bumped into Kirkland. He struck up a conversation and the conversation quickly turned inappropriate when he offered her money for sex. She refused his $20 and his response was to then offer her $60, which she refused again. After the second refusal, KIrkland flew into a rage. He grabbed the young girl but she fought back by kneeing him. He overpowered the girl and begin choking her until she went limp, he would go on to burn the body. A week later, on May 11th, her body would be discovered in Avondale, a neighborhood in Cincinnati.
Kirkland’s third known victim was Mary Jo Newton on June 14th, 2006, just a few weeks after Casonya. Mary Jo and Kirkland struck up a conversation and she agreed to get into his van with him. The two would wind up at Eden Park, where Kirkland began to get violent. Mary Jo tried to end the problem by simply leaving the van but Kirkland chased her and dragged her back to the van. Once back inside he began to choke her. At this point Kirkland claims that Mary Jo said something along the lines of, “the way things is, death wouldn't be a bad thing”. Who knows if she actually said it since there is only one source to the quote. He could have just as easily made the comment up. Once Mary Jo was dead, KIrkland brought the body to Avondale and burned the body once more. 2 days later her body would be found near a vacant building.
The fourth victim was Kimya Rolison on December 22nd, 2006. Kimya was a mother and was trying to get her life back on track by entering rehab. She had only been in the area for a few months when the contact with her family stopped. At this point, Kirkland was being considered as a suspect for the other murders that had occurred. He had been brought in for questioning but was ultimately released, presumably due to a lack of evidence.
Just like his previous victim, he struck up a conversation with Kimya until she agreed to get into his van. Kirkland claimed he had recently been robbed so he had been angry before picking up the victim. Shortly after getting into the car, Kirkland pulled out a knife and stabbed the young mother in the neck. Kirkland would take her body into the woods and burn it, just like the other victims. It would take months before any sign of Kimya would be discovered. A dog found a femur of the woman and was identified as Kimya.
His last known victim would be Esme Kenney. Kirkland claimed that the young girl had bumped into him while she was jogging. She tried apologizing but this still sent Kirkland again into an irrational rage and he began to punch and stomp the innocent 13-year-old. He would go on to rape then strangle the child with his bare hands. He would attempt to burn her body as he did all of his other victims.
After Kirkland’s horrific confessions he was held on a bond just over 5 million dollars. In March of 2010 Kirkland would be found guilty of all four murders and was sentenced to death as well as a life sentence. He has petitioned for leniency and is trying to have his death sentence overturned but after a resentencing hearing, a judge still sided with the original ruling and upheld Kirkland’s death sentence. In a letter to the judge, Esme’s family expressed the following: “I believe that Anthony Kirkland should be put to death because he is an evil, remorseless, sadistic murderer. No living person is safe.” Anthony Kirkland is currently awaiting his death sentence at Chillicothe Correctional Institution on death row.