A sheriff's deputy directs traffic near woods in central Ohio where three bodies were found inside a tree on Thursday. They included the mother and brother of Sarah Maynard, a teen who was found bound and gagged but alive on Sunday in Mount Vernon, Ohio. ((Jay LaPrete/Associated Press))

An Ohio man charged with abducting a girl has pointed the way to the bodies of her brother, mother and another woman, which were stuffed into garbage bags and hidden in a hollow tree.

Matthew Hoffman, an unemployed tree-trimmer from Mount Vernon, gave investigators information through his lawyers that led them to the bodies in woods in central Ohio on Thursday, authorities said.

The discovery came four days after 13-year-old Sarah Maynard was found bound and gagged but alive in the basement of Hoffman's home in Mount Vernon.

Sarah, her mother, Tina Herrmann, her 11-year-old brother, Kody Maynard, and family friend Stephanie Sprang disappeared more than a week earlier from a blood-spattered home in Howard, just east of Mount Vernon.

Authorities said all three were killed there, though they did not say how.

Knox County Sheriff David Barber said part of the hollow tree had to be cut away to remove the remains.

Hoffman, an ex-convict who spent six years in a Colorado prison for arson and other crimes, remained jailed on charges of kidnapping Sarah and is the only suspect in the killings, Barber said.

The 30-year-old has appeared in court but has not entered a plea. Knox County public defender Bruce Malek, who is representing Hoffman, said Thursday that he could not comment.

The four were reported missing after Herrmann failed to show up for work at a local Dairy Queen on Nov. 10.

A day later, a deputy found what authorities called an unusual amount of blood inside her home, and her pickup truck was found near the campus of Kenyon College. Hoffman was questioned the same day. Barber said police found him sitting in his car near a bike trail near where the pickup was found.

Commandos rescued Sarah on weekend

A police commando team found Sarah over the weekend in the basement of Hoffman's home in Mount Vernon, about 65 kilometres northeast of Columbus. Investigators would not discuss details of her ordeal but have said she is doing well, considering the circumstances.

"We're inspired by Sarah's bravery," Barber said. He said Sarah was home at the time of the killings but added, "What she saw, I can't speak to that."

The remains were found in a wildlife preserve in Fredericktown, about a 25-kilometre drive from Hoffman's home and about a 30-kilometre drive from the Herrmann home.

Barber declined to speculate on a motive. It was unclear how well Hoffman knew the four, but the sheriff suggested that the defendant had been watching them.

He lived about 15 kilometres from Herrmann's home, a split-level house surrounded by a big yard, trees and two country roads, but his mother and stepfather own a home less than a kilometre away.

Hoffman's former girlfriend claimed he choked her, pushed her against a wall and pinned her neck with his forearm during an argument at his house on Oct. 24, according to a police report. The woman told investigators she thought he was going to kill her, but did not want to press charges.

Hoffman's Colorado convictions stemmed from a townhouse fire set to cover up a burglary. He returned to Ohio after he was released in 2007.