R.J. developed a passion for carpentry during the short time he was employed in Seaforth, but no amount of woodworking could equal the love he had for his children. It's believed a change in visitations 'forced' the young father to part ways with the job he had grown fond of, an investigation by the London Police revealed he would be murdered only days later.
R.J. Ratz, was 31-years-old at the time and living in the Clinton Ont. area with his father. Not having a valid driving license, the constant distance between his two children Sophie and Robert who are now seven and six-years-old respectively, started to drain him, physically and financially. As the two children resided in London Ont., the hour car ride twice a week took everything out of him, he knew moving closer was what made the most sense.
"In order to get a ride, he was hitchhiking or bumming a ride, which was costing him a fortune,” said Dan Blake, owner of Blake Building & Renovations Inc., the person who initially hired Ratz as a labourer.
"There were times when he didn't eat because he was sending money to his kids.”
Being one of the nine employed, all in which Blake considers to be family rather than workers, he knew immediately Ratz's children were “his world.” So when Ratz approached his boss in tears and said, “I have to leave, I have to move to London.” Blake told the Expositor in his garage that it was no secret “it was for his kids.” The crew of carpenters respected Ratz's decision, knowing he did not have a vehicle available, they gave him a lift. That would be his last time in Huron County. The roughly 80 km trek was what led up to his death as a result of a blunt force head trauma. Police found the father of two dead stuffed in a large blue recycle bin in the small apartment that was supposed to be shared by he and his killer, Jason Cleveland.
"It was a huge shock and the guys that helped him move there, initially felt some responsibility, like my god, we moved him there, stated Blake, 41. “I honestly, from my heart believe, if he hadn't moved to London, he would still be here. He would have been a licensed carpenter.”
Tracy Cooper, 43, is the half-sister of Ratz, she lived in the apartment building where Cleveland left her bludgeoned brother as well as stashed Kevin David Walkey, 50, in a couch.
"We lived in the apartment where all this happened. I think that's what drew R.J. to hook up with this guy because his family was in the building,” she said.
Cooper said he was set to move into the apartment on February 21-22, she remembers this specific date because that was the day she left for a vacation in Cuba. The getaway ended and Cooper didn't hear anything from her brother. It was not uncommon to have spurts when they didn't talk. Sean, Cooper's son was rather close to Ratz, she said he received a text saying he “went to Ottawa with friends.”
“We found out later that was actually Jason Cleveland texting my son, so nobody would look for him,” stated Cooper in a recent interview.
Ken Steeves, constable for the London Police is quite familiar with the case. He said even though Cleveland may possibly be considered a serial killer, due to the fact that he killed another person a decade before, this is not out of the ordinary, particularly the way he did it.
"There is a case where a body was found dismembered and found in a hockey bag,” he said in a phone interview.
"It's certainly a rare situation but unfortunately not unheard of.”
Last month, Cleveland was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years after pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in connection to the two men. That makes three males to lose their lives to the hands of Cleveland, which fits the profile of a serial killer.
"I'm not happy with the outcome. I don't think he deserves the right to ever get out of jail. Especially everything he has done in total, the first one and the additional two,” Cooper said.
“I am happy he is locked up for a very long time and he can't hurt anyone else.”
His boss in Seaforth said he would rather not comment on what his feelings are towards Ratz's killer. It's been three years since he left the shop and instead of thinking negatively about the bizarre happening, the organization reminisces from time to time.
"Every once in a while R.J. comes up and we have a good laugh,” he said.
"He had a smile and a laugh that could warm up a room and I was proud to have known him.”