Prosecutors: California tree trimmer identified as alleged serial killer who slashed victims’ throats

OROVILLE, Calif. — A tree trimmer in northern California has been charged in a series of deadly throat slashings that authorities say left three people dead.

Ryan Scott Blinston, 37, of Oroville, is charged with multiple counts of murder, as well as arson and attempted murder, according to a joint news release from prosecutors in Butte and Tehama counties. He was allegedly caught in the act of slitting a man’s throat shortly before dawn on June 14.

Blinston, who was already jailed on an attempted murder charge in the June 14 incident, has been accused of the murders of Loreen May Severs, 88, of Los Molinos; Sandra George, 82, of Oroville; and Vicky Cline, 57, of Oroville. He is also accused of trying to kill Severs’ husband, 91-year-old Homer Glenn Severs.

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Investigators allege that Blinston, who was part of a tree-trimming crew working at the Severs home on May 18, 2020, returned five days later and broke in. He is accused of slashing the throats of the elderly couple inside their Josephine Avenue home.

Loreen Severs died in the attack. Homer Severs, who was able to stumble next door to his nephew’s home for help, survived.

Homer Severs died in December of an unrelated illness, authorities said.

A neighbor, Erick Askim, told the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville after the stabbing that the couple had lived in their home since the 1960s.

“They were two of the nicest people I’ve known,” Askim said. “They took walks almost every day and were well-known for sharing the fruit off their trees with all their neighbors. You couldn’t ask for better neighbors, and I am in shock at what has happened to them.”

Twelve days after the gruesome attack, on June 4, Blinston and his colleagues serviced George’s home in Oroville, about 50 miles from Los Molinos.

“After the work was completed and the crew left, Blinston returned to George’s home and killed her,” the news release stated. “As with the Severs(es), her throat was slashed inside her home.”

Cline, a friend of Blinston’s, vanished two days after the fatal assault on George. She was last seen alive with him in downtown Oroville, investigators allege.

That night, an arson fire destroyed Cline’s car, though it wasn’t linked to the missing woman until June 10, when she was reported missing.

“Blood and DNA evidence on and in Blinston’s car was forensically matched back to Cline,” the joint news release said. “Her body was later discovered by a fisherman in the Feather River near Belden on June 21, 2020. Damage to her throat was consistent with the other murders.”

Blinston was quickly identified as a person of interest in both Cline’s disappearance and the blaze that engulfed her vehicle. According to Butte County Sheriff’s Office officials, a SWAT team descended early June 14 on an 80-acre, heavily wooded piece of property in Berry Creek, where Blinston was staying in an RV.

They used night-vision equipment to enter the woods, where they planned to find Blinston and arrest him at first light.

“After traveling approximately (a quarter-mile) onto the property, deputies heard the faint sounds of someone yelling for help, along with banging noises which became louder as deputies continued farther onto the parcel,” a Sheriff’s Office news release stated.

The deputies found the RV, where they saw Blinston with a hatchet, banging on the door of the motorhome. When they activated their flashlights and announced their presence, Blinston ran deeper into the woods with the hatchet, authorities said.

“Deputies not in pursuit of Blinston located a man in the RV who was bleeding profusely from a deep laceration on his neck,” the news release stated.

The man told the deputies tending to his wounds that he was asleep in the motorhome when Blinston attacked him and slit his throat. Despite the injuries, he was able to fight his attacker off and push him out of the vehicle.

The banging noises the deputies heard were Blinston trying to force his way back inside.

“Blinston attempted to run into the woods but was captured by the team,” prosecutors said. “The resident was tended to by the team’s medic and taken by helicopter to a local hospital.”

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Blinston was jailed on the arson and attempted murder charges while detectives from both agencies built their murder cases in the previous attacks.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the SWAT team likely saved the man’s life in the woods that morning. The area had no cellphone reception, and the land was so remote that no one was close enough to hear his cries for help.

Prosecutors in Butte and Tehama counties have agreed to try Blinston in Butte County Superior Court. By combining the cases, they will be able to seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

“Through the combined efforts of law enforcement agencies in both Tehama and Butte Counties, we will be able to seek justice for the victims and ensure no one else will be harmed,” their joint statement read.