I used to go out for hamburgers with Jeff Krotine even though I suspected he may have hired someone to murder his wife
. He died a couple weeks ago, at the age of 66.
Anyhow, this was back in 2004, my first year at Scene. Jeff had just been acquitted for the murder of his wife, Ramona. On March 20, 2003, someone shot her in the head, execution-style and stuffed her body into the trunk of her Camry, then parked it at the Brookpark Road RTA station. Jeff had actually gone through three trials, the first two juries could not reach a verdict. Even though he beat the rap, he sure looked guilty. In the days following Ramona’s murder, Jeff had disposed of a four-by-six foot piece of carpeting from their bedroom and painted the floorboards underneath and when detectives started asking around, they discovered that he’d been having an affair with a woman from his insurance office.
Jeff and I had burgers at the Edgewater Yacht Club at first but eventually we just did the Denny’s off I-71 by his office. He was hard-up for money after the triple trials and he suspected he wasn’t exactly welcome at the yacht club even though he paid his dues. At these lunches, Jeff dominated the conversation — he wanted to control the direction of the interviews and he was always very careful with his answers. The case would pick up national attention, even being featured on an episode of 48 Hours.
Probably the most insightful nugget I pried out of Jeff was how, when he transported barrels of Agent Orange in Danang, there was an accident and some of it had splashed on him. He thought he may have swallowed some and wondered if that could be the cause of his anger.
One day I met with Jeff at the Denny’s and there was another man with him who I recognized right away. It was a guy named Sam Mazzola whom I had encountered in Akron one night when I walked into a night club and found a man wrestling a bear. Mazzola was the bear’s owner and he toured Akron for a while, holding these wrestling tournaments. PETA hated the guy. Mazzola was there because he was one of the last people to see Ramona alive. They had both worked at the I-X center. Ramona sold fudge. Mazzola charged people to get their pictures taken with his bear.
Anyway, Mazzola wanted to tell me this bullshit story about how the Brook Park police intimidated him. He had tried to tell detectives that one of his employees had killed Ramona. He said Brook Park detectives threatened to charge him with the murder if he didn’t shut up about it.
In 2010, one of Mazzola’s bears mauled a man to death. Mazzola is dead now too, having been found handcuffed and chained to his bed, wearing a leather mask, in 2011. He had suffocated to death with an object down his throat.
The one thing the Cuyahoga County prosecutors were never able to explain — the main reason they were unable to get a conviction — was how Jeff was able to get home if he drove his wife’s car out to the RTA lot after killing her. He certainly didn’t walk back. They interviewed all the cab drivers who had worked that night. None of them picked him up. So if Jeff did it, he had an accomplice or hired someone to do it, which is a theory many involved in the case had explored.
His obituary, published online after his death this July 25, makes no mention of the murder charges. He is called a “dear father” and “adoring brother.” A visitor to the funeral home’s guestbook writes, “Jeff has been an integral part of the Cheshire Cheese Club. His energy, friendliness, and leadership will be missed.”
The next post was written by his daughter, Jennifer. “You stopped being my father back in 2004. May you rest in your own peace.”
James Renner is a former staff writer for Scene and author of the novel, The Man from Primrose Lane.