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

            Cold Case Project: 1987 triple homicide vexes Preble County investigators

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.

Fairborn coach under investigation calls process ‘appalling’

Published: Monday, February 20, 2017 @ 11:59 AM
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2017 @ 12:13 PM

A Fairborn church pastor and school basketball coach publicly expressed frustration Monday that a Children Services investigation into him is still ongoing after more than six weeks.

Aaron Chivington serves as lead pastor of Fairborn United Methodist Church, and is a part-time middle school basketball coach with Fairborn City Schools. On Facebook Monday, he claimed that he had been falsely accused, saying the Children Services process was “appalling.”

>> FIRST STORY: Fairborn coach, pastor placed on leave

Chivington said publicly when the investigation began that Children Services removed seven foster children from the home he still shares with his wife and their biological children. Last week, in a Facebook live Q&A, he discussed his anger over that move and the fact that the children have not been returned. He remains active in his church role.

Greene County Children Services officials did not return calls in early January when Chivington was placed on leave, and their offices were closed Monday.

Fairborn City Schools Superintendent Mark North said Friday that Chivington will remain on administrative leave until the investigation is completed.

“We have not received an update or a final report on the investigation from Children Services,” North said Friday.

North said the investigation was sparked by complaints from a parent, and the school district investigated in late December. North said based on the schools’ own probe, and initial word from Children Services, they allowed Chivington to keep coaching through the Jan. 4 game.

But North said Children Services then sent a second communication notifying the school district that they would investigate the complaint. At that point on Jan. 5, Chivington was placed on leave by the schools.

Woman writes fake doctor's note to get out of jail, police say

Published: Monday, February 20, 2017 @ 1:17 PM
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2017 @ 1:17 PM

            Woman writes fake doctor's note to get out of jail, police say

A North Carolina woman faces charges after officials said she wrote a fake doctor's note to get out of jail, according to authorities.

>> Read more trending stories

Marla Davis, 36, reported Saturday to the Gaston County jail for a weekend sentence, The Gaston Gazette reported.

The Lincolnton woman showed up with a note that she claimed was from her gynecologist. It said that she shouldn't go to jail that weekend, police said.

Authorities determined the note was forged and arrested Davis on a felony count of obstruction of justice.

She's being held on a $160,000 bond.

NEW DETAILS: Deputy was served protection order against ex-wife

Published: Monday, February 20, 2017 @ 9:48 AM

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office deputy on unpaid leave after allegedly assaulting his wife and step-daughter was once placed on paid leave for being served with a protection order against one of his ex-wives.

Douglas C. Gearhart is facing a second-degree felony charge and two misdemeanor domestic violence charges for a Feb. 14 incident in which his wife lost three teeth during an altercation in their Franklin Twp. home. Gearhart is scheduled for a preliminary Feb. 24 in Franklin Municipal Court.

RELATED:Deputy out of bond after being charged

In 2005, Gearhart was ordered to take a pyschological fitness test, according to his personnel records. He was suspended for more than a week.

“Several months ago, your supervisor recommended you refrain from making contact with your ex-wife,” said a letter from then-personnel director John M. Brands. “However, you did not comply with this recommendation.”

The letter said Gearhart was served with a protection order by the Franklin County Domestic Relations Court.

RELATED:Deputy’s wife loses three teeth

A police incident report said surveillance footage from inside Gearhart’s home showed him grabbing his wife, dragging her by the hair through the kitchen and slamming her head onto the edge of the kitchen island.

He also allegedly struck at least one of his step-daughters. After he was stopped by a Warrren County Sheriff’s Office deputy, Gearhart disparaged that office, saying all deputies did there was “drive around in a (expletive) cornfield.”

Gearhart once applied to work for the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, indicated he was accepted but wrote “stopped after interview” in the box marked reason for objection, according to personnel records obtained by Ohio open records law show.

RELATED:Corrections officer accused of selling phones in jail had money issues

Warren County Sheriff’s deputies and his wife’s daughters said Gearhart was intoxicated when he and his wife returned home from gambling and drinking at Miami Valley Gaming before the incident.

In his 2001 application, the 1992 Dixie High School graduate and Army veteran wrote that he would have a social drink with his wife or friends: “I probably have less than 7-10 drinks per year.”

Gearhart’s job performance reviews at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office were mostly positive and his enthusiasm was mentioned, but he was written up for some attendance issues.

Gearhart was commended in 2012 and 2013 for assisting in pat-downs at the jail and for professionalism and poise dealing with “a mentally ill inmate who was less than cooperative, naked and covered in his own body waste.”

In 2004, 2005 and 2009, Gearhart was written up for being late for work and/or using sick time four times in conjunction with days off four times. He also was issued a Letter of Reprimand for a pursuit in 2002 that did not fit the criteria for pursuits according to the office’s standards.

Man terrorizes neighbors, feeds Shih Tzu to pit bulls, police say

Published: Monday, February 20, 2017 @ 9:37 AM
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2017 @ 9:37 AM

            Man terrorizes neighbors, feeds Shih Tzu to pit bulls, police say

A New Mexico man is accused of terrorizing his neighbors earlier this month in a crime spree that included feeding a woman’s small dog to another neighbor’s pit bulls.

Marvin Clyde Riley, 30, of Albuquerque, is charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, two counts of aggravated burglary and extreme cruelty to animals, according to Bernalillo County Jail records.

>> Read more trending stories

The Albuquerque Journal reported that sheriff’s deputies were called Feb. 7 to Riley’s neighborhood, where a neighbor told them that Riley had broken into his home and hit him in the head with a blunt object. KRQE in Albuquerque, which spoke to residents who witnessed the alleged crimes, reported that the man was beaten in the face with a pair of pliers.

Riley is accused of leaving the man’s house and walking across the street, where another neighbor’s Shih Tzu, named Charlie Brown, was playing in her yard. He broke into the yard and grabbed the dog, according to police.

He then tossed the dog over a fence and into a third neighbor’s yard, where that homeowner’s pit bulls attacked and killed the smaller animal, KRQE reported.

The owners of the pit bulls tried to pull them off of the Shih Tzu, but it was too late. Charlie Brown’s owner, Bernadette Salazar, told the news station that the incident was over by the time she arrived at her neighbor’s home.

“My dog was laying right there in the plastic bag already,” Salazar said.

Investigators told KRQE that Riley laughed about feeding the dog to the pit bulls, telling deputies that “it’s just something he does.”

The allegations appalled people on social media. 

What is wrong with people!? This is absolutely horrific!!!!!

Posted by Heather Scarbrough on Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Riley is being held in lieu of $50,000 bond, jail records show. 


Marvin Riley Feb 20, 2017 - 10:47 AM