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

On October 30, 1987, three people were murdered in a home in Eaton on Consolidated Road. The case is still unsolved. Watch this video for details.

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.

911 call: Mom accused in sons' oven deaths says, 'I don't want to get locked up'

Published: Wednesday, October 18, 2017 @ 1:54 AM

Georgia Mother Kills Two Youngest Sons By Placing Them In The Oven

In newly released 911 audio, the Atlanta mother accused of killing two young boys tells a dispatcher she isn’t to blame in their deaths and is frightened she could go to jail.

>> Father of slain toddlers says mother shared live video of crime scene

Lamora Williams faces two counts of murder in connection with the deaths of her 1- and 2-year-old boys. The mother of four allegedly killed them “by placing them in an oven and turning it on,” according to an arrest warrant. 

>> Warrant alleges mother put 2 toddlers in oven, turned it on

“Ma’am, I have a question,” Williams begins after the 911 call was answered about 11:30 p.m. Friday.

More than two minutes and 20 seconds pass before she tells the dispatcher where she is located.

>> Mother accused of killing toddler sons has history of mental illness, family says

She repeats several times that she was at work and had left her three sons with a cousin, who left them all alone at the Oakland City West End apartment on Howell Place.

“This is so serious; I’m so scared,” Williams, 24, tells the dispatcher. “I don’t want to get locked up because I was at work.”

>> 2 children found dead in Atlanta apartment; mother charged

The dispatcher tries to calm Williams and promises to send help, but Williams repeats herself.

“This is not my fault; I just came home from work,” she says.

As soon as the address is revealed, the dispatcher calls police and fire.

Williams thanks them and the line goes dead.

>> On AJC.com: Funeral home donates services for boys allegedly killed in oven

When officials arrived, Ja’Karter and Ke’Younte were dead. 

Police say they do not believe the children's mother left them with a caregiver, as she had said.

The mother of four allegedly killed them “by placing them in an oven and turning it on,” according to an arrest warrant. 

>> Read more trending news

Williams was charged and booked into the Fulton County jail, where she remains without bond.

The boys’ father also called 911.

“I just received a call from my child’s mother that my … two of my … two dead babies; my sons are dead in an apartment,” Jameel Penn tells 911. 

“She video called me and I seen it,” Penn says. “I really think they are dead.”

Warrant alleges mother put 2 toddlers in oven, turned it on

Published: Monday, October 16, 2017 @ 6:52 PM

Georgia Mother Kills Two Youngest Sons By Placing Them In The Oven

A 24-year-old mother of four is accused of killing her two youngest sons “by placing them in an oven and turning it on,” according to an arrest warrant obtained Monday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

An official autopsy is pending.

Fulton County jail officials said Lamora Williams waived her first appearance in court Monday on felony murder charges.

>> Read more trending news

The arrest warrant alleges Williams put her sons in the oven sometime between midnight Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday.

Williams called her sons’ father, Jameel Penn, on Friday night and showed him by video chat that something was wrong in her Atlanta apartment home.

Penn said he immediately called the police.

2 Children Found Dead in Apartment; Mother Charged

When officials arrived at the Oakland City West End Apartment complex, the boys, 2-year-old Ke’Younte Penn and 1-year-old Ja’Karter Williams, were dead.

Related: 2 children found dead in Atlanta apartment; mother charged

Friends and family members of Williams told the AJC she suffered from undiagnosed mental health problems that were exacerbated by her father’s death when she was 19 and by having four children younger than 7. They said she was also a single mother who had some help from Penn, but not enough considering her mental health.

Williams’ longtime friend Neesa Smith said Williams quit a job about a month ago because she couldn’t find a babysitter for the kids. 

“Nobody could tell what she was going through,” Smith said.

Williams’ sister, Tabitha Hollingsworth, said Williams is at risk and should be put on suicide watch in the Fulton County Jail, where she remains without bond.

Mother accused of killing toddler sons has history of mental illness, family says

Published: Monday, October 16, 2017 @ 2:17 AM

2 Children Found Dead in Apartment; Mother Charged

More details are emerging about an Atlanta woman accused of killing her two sons.

>> Watch the news report here

Lamora Williams, 24, has been charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of her two children, ages 1 and 2. Their brother, a 3-year-old, survived.

The father of the boys, Jameel Penn, told WSB-TV's Chris Jose that Williams showed the gruesome scene to him on a video call.

>> 2 children found dead in Atlanta apartment; mother charged

"It was like a real horror movie. It was Friday the 13th," he said. "When I saw my kid, how I saw my kid, that's when I knew what was going on."

On Friday night, Williams told police that she left the kids with a relative around noon and returned home late in the evening to find the children dead. Police say that's not true.

Jose learned Penn was one of two people Williams called that night.

A picture that WSB-TV obtained shows an oven taken from the apartment. Police say the two boys, Ja'karter and Ke'yaunte, had obvious injuries, including burns.

Police said their brother saw his mother kill the boys.

Penn first met with Jose at a vigil with friends and family Saturday night. He told Jose that the last time he saw his two toddlers was last month.

>> Read more trending news

"Ja’karter, Keyante, my world, my everything. I’m lost," he said.

Neighbors expressed their grief and disbelief at the vigil. They told Jose that the apartment "smelled like death" – a smell investigators say indicates the bodies may have been inside for a few days.

"How does a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old get in the stove?" said Neesha Smith.

Williams' mother, Breanda, told Jose that her daughter has struggled with mental health issues her whole life. 

"I just came from the jail," she said. "I also let them know to put her on suicide watch because she’s gonna kill herself."

Lamora's sister, Tabitha Hollingsworth, believes that the deaths could have been prevented. 

"This was something we saw that could possibly happen. She's had issues from a baby. Issues my mom tried to address with the state of Georgia," Hollingsworth said.

Williams is expected to make her first appearance in court Monday.

Woman accused of slapping boyfriend with pack of bacon

Published: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 @ 12:39 PM

Police Called After Woman Allegedly Slaps Boyfriend with Package of Bacon

A North Carolina woman is accused of slapping her boyfriend in the face with an uncooked pack of bacon during an argument over the weekend, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

A 38-year-old man told police that he was arguing with his 33-year-old girlfriend on Sunday when she hit him with the bacon, WRAL reported, citing a police report. The attack happened at their shared apartment in Goldsboro, according to WTVD.

It was not clear what led to the argument.

Goldsboro police told WRAL that the victim declined to press charges.