Cold Case Project: 1987 triple homicide vexes Preble County investigators

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 @ 4:13 PM
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 @ 4:13 PM

When the three bodies were found, the killer already had a 3-day head start – and the killer has stayed ahead of law enforcement for 25 years.

“I would just love to know what happened,” said Becca Newcomb, whose sister Melinda was one of the three people killed at the isolated cabin at 2188 Consolidated Road, just southwest of Eaton. “I’m really not about vengeance. But I would like some justice.”

On Nov. 2, 1987, a man found the bodies of David C. Smelser, 31, Donald L. Marker, 28, and Melinda S. Newcomb, 24, there. All three had been shot, presumably on Oct. 30.

A friend, Doug Crowell, had gone there to check on Smelser, who lived at the cabin. Marker had been staying there with him. Smelser worked for Crowell’s family, which owned a plumbing business.

October 30, 1987 was a Friday. Crowell told the Dayton Daily News in 1988 that the following day, Smelser was to meet him at 7:30 a.m. to pull stumps. Smelser didn’t show up. He also didn’t show up for work Monday, so Crowell went to the cabin.

“It struck me funny that Melinda Newcomb’s car was in the drive because Melinda didn’t even know Dave,” Crowell said in 1988.

Crowell had also been looking for Newcomb that weekend. Newcomb rented an apartment that was owned by Crowell’s family and her rent was due.

The cabin, which was built in the early 19th century and has since been torn down, sat more than 200 yards from the road. When Crowell arrived, he saw Smelser’s truck was there too. Crowell found Smelser’s pit bull still chained up, even though Smelser usually turned him loose when he was home. The sun hadn’t set, but the back porch and yard lights were on. A country music radio station played inside the house, but everything else was quiet.

But when Crowell looked inside the kitchen window, what he saw sent him running back to his truck. He drove down to the home of the nearest neighbor, who had to help him make the call to the sheriff’s office.

Smelser’s body lay face up on the living room floor. He’d been shot once, in the head.

Marker and Newcomb were in the kitchen, a few feet inside the door.

Becca Newcomb said that the coroner’s report shows Melinda had been shot twice in the head.

                                         

Based on the scene, investigators surmised that Smelser was the target, and that the other two may have arrived before the killer was able to leave the house. There were no signs of a struggle.

The case has vexed investigators ever since. Preble County asked Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents to look at the evidence back in the 1990s, but “we ended up at the same place we are now,” Sheriff Mike Simpson said.

There is a “good person of interest,” but there has never been enough evidence to prosecute that person, Simpson said.

Smelser worked as a plumber’s helper at Crowell Plumbing, but his goal was to be a farmer. Relatives described him as a modern version of Davy Crockett. He rented the farmhouse for $30 a month, planted a garden and hunted rabbit, squirrel and deer with his longbow.

Marker had lived in Colorado before returning to Preble County around April 1987. He left a wife and three children out west. His mother, who lived in Eaton, told the Dayton Daily News that Marker fled Colorado to avoid appearing in court on a drunk driving charge. Marker got a job in a poultry processing plant, and lived in a trailer parked inside Smelser’s barn until it got cold and Smelser let him stay in the cabin.

The night of the slayings, Marker and Newcomb had been drinking at The Stable, a bar in Eaton. Marker, whose driver’s license had been revoked, needed a ride home. Newcomb agreed to give him one.

Melinda Newcomb, who worked at a group home for mentally challenged adults, was known to play darts regularly at The Stable. Friends and family still don’t know if Marker and Newcomb had met before that night, Becca Newcomb said.

A heavy-set woman who had recently lost more than 60 pounds, Melinda Newcomb was finding her way in life, her sister said. She described a witty woman who used her humor to mask her insecurities, which made her “always seeking approval,” Becca Newcomb said.

Among her personal effects, the family found applications for Sinclair Community College.

“My greatest hope for her was that she would have gone to school and found her niche in helping people,” said Becca, who is a retired Northmont teacher. “She had so much love and caring to give.”

The Newcombs’ mother died in 2003. Their father is 84. A third sister lives in Indiana. Melinda Newcomb’s family had no relationship to Preble County, as Newcomb moved to Eaton for her job. But Becca Newcomb said she remains amazed that in a small rural community, no one has come forward with information leading to an arrest in the slayings.

“If this was your brother, your sister, your child, your nephew, your niece, wouldn’t you want to know?” she asked. “It won’t heal us. Nothing will make us whole, but part of us will rest lighter.”

Simpson said that’s what his investigators need, and that they also believe that people other than the killer have information about what happened that night.

“This is still an open case for us and will be until it is solved,” Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson said. “Somebody knows. We need that information brought forward.”

Anyone with information about the Oct. 30, 1987 slayings of David Smelser, Donald Marker and Melinda Newcomb should call the Preble County Sheriff’s Office at 937-456-6262.

Middle school teacher resigns amid student sexual battery allegation

Published: Friday, May 26, 2017 @ 11:50 AM
Updated: Friday, May 26, 2017 @ 5:22 PM

A veteran Miamisburg Middle School teacher resigned amid an allegation of sexual battery involving a student, according to the district.

The resignation of the unidentified woman came Wednesday, district Superintendent David Vail said, a day before Miami Twp. police began investigating a sexual offense at school on Miamisburg Springboro Pike, records show.

MORE: Sex charges dismissed against teacher

Vail declined to confirm the name of the teacher, but said she had taught in the district for nine years. The superintendent said he first became aware of the allegations Tuesday morning, just prior to the start of the last day of school for students.

“Once we became aware ... the central office and human resources became involved,” Vail said.

He said “our investigation did not allege any sexual conduct.” But Vail said that the issue involved “some action that warranted further investigation,” and a decision was reached “that it was in her best interest to resign.”

MORE: Centerville teacher resigns amid allegations with student

That occurred Wednesday, the last day for teachers, Vail said.

A sexual battery complaint report filed Thursday, and “we are cooperating fully with authorities,” Vail said.

“Because of the nature of the investigation, there’s a lot I’m not at liberty to discuss at this time,” he said.

This news organization has requested a copy of the former teacher’s personnel file and resignation letter.

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Police on Friday acknowledged the allegations, but declined to comment further. A police record the department released Friday indicates the initial report of the allegations came in about 7:20 a.m. Tuesday.

It lists “sexual offense” as the nature of the call and “sexual battery” as the description of the offense. Additional police reports were requested by this news organization. Authorities declined to release those documents, citing the ongoing investigation.

Cincinnati police: Runaway may be headed to Dayton

Published: Friday, May 26, 2017 @ 10:09 PM

Kelssie Campbell (Cincinnati Police Department)

Cincinnati police put out an alert today that a runaway juvenile could be headed to the Dayton area.

Police said Kelssie Campbell, 17, left the Girls Stay Center youth home and has yet to return. 

Campbell, described as standing 5 feet, 5 inches with black eyes and hair, has a history of running away, police said. 

She is believed to be headed to Dayton, where she's from. Police have no word on her means of travel, but she was last seen wearing a purple dress and gray shoes. 

Anyone with information is urged to call police.

GOT A TIP? Call the 24-hour news line at 937-259-2237 or newsdesk@coxinc.com

WATCH: Florida man goes airborne after being shot with Taser

Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 @ 4:24 PM

A Florida man’s unceremonious meeting with the ground after being shot with a stun gun was caught on camera.  

Carlos Sierra, a 26-year-old homeless man, was on the run from Surfside police in Miami-Dade County after authorities said he stole a bicycle from a condominium's parking garage, WFOR reported.

>> Read more trending news

When officers arrived to find Sierra with the bike in his hands, he dropped to the ground and allowed the officers to handcuff him and get him back on his feet.  

Sierra tried to run away, while still in handcuffs, before being stopped by a jolt from a stun gun, WFOR reported. The shock sent the man flailing into the air, which led to a forceful, and likely painful, landing in the middle of the road.   

Sierra, who is sporting bloody facial wounds in his mugshot, was charged with burglary, resisting arrest and criminal mischief.

Kirkersville Murders: 4 probation officers suspended for killer’s early release

Published: Thursday, May 18, 2017 @ 8:36 PM

UPDATE @ 6:10 p.m. (May 26)

Four probation officers have been suspended for their roles in the early release of the man who killed his ex-girlfriend, her co-worker and the Kirkersville police chief last month.

Thomas Hartless, 43, was released April 12 by the Licking County Probation Department. Following a Licking County Municipal Court investigation four officers were suspended for failure to complete various tasks, this news organization’s media partner 10TV.com (WBNS) in Columbus reported.

EARLIER REPORT (May 18)

The man responsible for the shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend, her co-worker and the Kirkersville police chief at a nursing home should not have been released early from jail.

The Licking County Probation Department director in Newark released a report today regarding its handling of Thomas Hartless’ case, our news partner 10TV.com (WBNS) in Columbus reported.

Licking County Municipal Court released Hartless, 43, on April 12 after he served 20 days of a 90-day sentence. He pleaded guilty March 23 to misdemeanor domestic violence charges involving three attacks on Medrano — in December, January and March, 10TV.com and the Newark Advocate reported. That decision was made in error, and bypassed established protocol.

"It has been uncommon for our court over the past seven years for early releases to be done on those offenders who have had violent backgrounds," Kevin Saad, director of the Licking County Court Municipal Probation Department wrote. 

RELATED: Kirkersville murders: Judge who granted killer’s early release admits ‘mistakes’

The investigative report highlights multiple issues with the handling of the Hartless case, which ultimately led to the May 12 shooting deaths of Medrano, a nurse, nurse's aide Cindy Krantzand Police Chief Eric DiSario at the Pine Kirk Care Center in Kirkersville. Hartless then turned the gun on himself.

RELATED: Kirkersville murders: Coroner releases new information in fatal shootings

Saad also noted that the additional domestic violence charges in January and March were violations of his pretrial probation supervision for the December 2016 offence, but that no actions were taken, the Advocate reported. A probation officer added a condition that Hartless not possess weapons, but no one visited his home to make sure he didn't have them, according to the newspaper. 

10tv.com reported that among 13 issues of concern outlined by Saad were: 

  • The recommendation to release Hartless was reviewed by the senior probation officer but he wasn't supposed to approve it 
  • The weight of an early release fell only on the recommendation of the interviewing probation officer 
  • The intensive support probation officer failed to take into account Hartless' record of violence 

The probation department is working to make changes to prevent further violence after a domestic violence offender is released from custody, 10tv.com and the Advocate reported. Those changes include:

  • A lethality risk assessment on a victims if the offender is eligible for early release
  • No contact orders to no violent contact orders in every domestic violence case 
  • Order domestic violence offenders to complete a domestic violence treatment program and be ordered to not possess weapons
  • Home checks within seven days of release to search for weapons
  • Mandatory GPS monitoring for offenders in appropriate circumstances
  • Continued training for probation officers on risk assessments
  • Mandatory home visits have a violence complaint has been levied against an offender on supervision.

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