When Ohio’s top prosecutor announced the arrest of a sex worker accused of drugging and killing four customers, he failed to consider the victims and instead shamed them, the family of one victim said.
"Don’t buy sex in Ohio — it ruins lives and could cost you yours,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said last month in a news release detailing the indictment of serial killing suspect Rebecca Auborn, who was also charged with trying to kill a fifth customer.
Christyn Crockett, 41, a church administrator in the Columbus area and daughter of victim Wayne Akin, called Yost’s comments “devastating.”
"He’s not wrong,” Crockett said in her first interview about her father, a former postal worker who struggled with drug addiction yet provided a “powerful foundation” for his family. “But for the victims’ sake, it’s just so insensitive.”
Crockett’s husband, Ittai Crockett, said that Auborn’s alleged victims may have been breaking the law but that they were still people who “have family, that have grandkids; they have people that care about them.”
"It was just, like, victim-shaming,” he said.
In an interview, Yost said that Akin’s family and the other families are survivors of crime and that he recognized their trauma.
"However, that being said, and my sincere sympathy is extended to them, respectfully they were not my audience,” Yost said. “My audience was the many, many men who buy sex every day, who are complicit in human trafficking and who are acting dangerously.”
"There’s no sensitive way to talk about evil things,” he added. “You do no one any service or favor by failing to plainly talk about evil.”
In the joint statement, authorities accused Auborn of drugging five men and robbing them from December to June. She is accused of dosing them with fentanyl, according to an indictment obtained by NBC News.
Auborn, 33, has pleaded not guilty to more than two dozen counts of murder, aggravated robbery, involuntary manslaughter and other crimes, court records show. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
Her mother-in-law declined to comment, and her husband did not respond to a request for comment.
A total transformation
Akin was pronounced dead at his North Columbus apartment at 12:44 p.m. April 17 — his 64th birthday — according to a coroner’s report.
Crockett said that when she was growing up, she understood her father to be a kindhearted family man and gifted tinkerer — someone who spent hours in the basement building computers and had managed to move his family out of a rough part of Columbus.
"We had escaped that lifestyle because of my father,” she said. “He was always intent on making sure that we had a good life with stable parents and a solid upbringing.”
Then, in the early 2000s, toward the end of his tenure at a Postal Service distribution center, Akin developed chronic fatigue syndrome and was barely able to do anything physical, Crockett said. After he turned to cocaine, Crockett said, he disappeared entirely.
"He just transformed into somebody I didn’t know,” she said. “The kindness never left, the smile, the jokes. It’s just — when someone’s under the influence, they’re just not themselves.”
Crockett’s parents divorced, and as her own family began to grow — she and her husband have three children — she became estranged from her father, she said. For more than a decade, Crockett saw him only occasionally at family events, she said.
In 2018, when Crockett returned to Columbus after nearly a decade away, she and her father began to mend their relationship, she said. He would call on birthdays — for his grandkids, for his daughter, for his son-in-law — and Crockett would dial his number if he popped into her mind, she said.
Then came Dec. 12. Crockett had written a children’s play for her church and invited her family. She asked both her parents to attend, she said. When her father appeared, Crockett said, she could tell how much effort he’d put in: He was drug-free, his hair had grown out, and he was in a nice gray suit.
"He came in, and my mom was there,” Crockett said. “And they were laughing and talking and sharing about how all the kids are grown up and how all their hard work paid off. It was just so wonderful to see that kind of reconciliation happen.”
A sudden death
Crockett had a plan on April 17: She would call her father at 11:59 p.m. — one minute before the end of his 64th birthday — as a way to get back at him. He hadn’t called on her birthday two days before.
"I’m going to let him have it,” Crockett recalled thinking at the time. "But I’m also going to tell him happy birthday.”
Instead, while traveling on a pastor’s retreat to Tennessee that day, she learned from her husband that her father was dead. Crockett returned to Ohio immediately. Initially, she believed her father had died from natural causes, but after she obtained the key for his apartment, she came to think otherwise.
His wallet and phone were missing, she said, and she found a pair of women’s underwear and shorts on his apartment floor. Crockett reported her suspicions to local authorities, she said, but a person who answered the Columbus Police Division’s non-emergency line described Akin’s death as nonsuspicious and told her to report the items as missing. (She said she didn’t, believing there was little point.)
A police spokesman declined to comment on Crockett’s account or on other questions about Akin’s case.
In May, Crockett said, she began corresponding with a woman who contacted her family on social media. The woman said she knew Auborn and Akin and had information about her father’s death, Crockett said.
Crockett declined to provide further details about the conversation, saying she didn’t want to jeopardize the criminal case against Auborn, but at the time, she said, she tried to provide information to Columbus police.
"They said unfortunately we would have to wait on toxicology and then once that came back, then they could pursue something,” she recalled an officer saying during a visit to the department’s main office.
Crockett didn’t understand how the toxicology results would reveal whether her father was the victim of a homicide, she said, “but I just went with it.”
The woman told Crockett something else that stayed with her — and left her struggling to understand what her father’s relationship with Auborn had been.
In a May 6 Facebook message that Crockett shared with NBC News, the woman appeared to say that Akin hadn’t been interested in buying sex.
"There’s not [too] many people like your dad,” wrote the woman, whose name Crockett redacted in the screenshot to protect her privacy. He “has you come over you get to relax take a shower he feeds you and spends a lot of money so your happy and all he wants is someone to chill with and talk to.”
Yost said that he wasn’t familiar with the account and that he isn’t the trial prosecutor trying the case.
"I wouldn’t answer your question if I was that person, because we’re going to try our case in court,” he added.
A larger investigation
Crockett said that it wasn’t until July or August — weeks after the death of another of Auborn’s alleged victims on June 17 — when she heard from a Columbus police detective. The officer said Akin’s case was now part of an active investigation, Crockett said.
That initial call was brief, she said. But, according to her husband, during a follow-up call, the detective apologized for the department’s initial lack of urgency in approaching Akin’s case as a suspicious death.
"I had to tell him thank you, because he made my wife cry,” he said. "He was very empathetic.”
Crockett said she wasn’t upset with the department. She pointed to the surge in fentanyl deaths and said it wasn’t “out of the realm of possibility for them to believe that this was just, like, a ‘junkie situation.’”
Crockett said she was relieved to learn about Auborn’s arrest — and to finally see her suspicions confirmed.
"Really, everything good and sweet from me comes from my father,” she said. “How do you grow up that way and then keep that your entire life just to have the man who formed you this way die so tragically?”
"It was difficult,” she added. “But it was a relief to know that he didn’t just do this to himself."