The Christmas Killings: Dayton’s worst crime spree

Published: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 5:30 PM

The Christmas Killings: Dayton’s worst crime spree

In December, 1992, downtown Dayton was filled with holiday decorations and activities. There was the Christmas tree lighting on Courthouse Square and across the street, the Dayton Arcade had reopened temporarily with pop-up shops and eateries for the holiday season. As people shopped and celebrated, they would have never imaged what was about to happen.

A band of teenagers were looking for trouble. Laura Taylor, Marvallous Keene, Heather Matthews and Demarcus Smith called themselves "The Downtown Posse." They were estranged from their families and looking for trouble. 

>> MAP AND TIMELINE: The notorious ‘Christmas killings’ of 1992

"Let's get some drama in our lives," Taylor, a 16-year-old runaway, said to the group. 

On Christmas Eve, they began the worst crime spree in Dayton history. The first victim was Joseph Wilkerson. The girls lured their way into his Prescott Avenue home promising sex, and the 34-year old General Motors worker was shot and killed. The posse then partied in Wilkerson's house over the next three days. They ate his food and drove his cars while he lay dead in a bedroom. 

>> PHOTOS: Infamous killing spree shook the community 25 years ago

That same night, they shot Danita Gullette, 18, who was using a pay phone outside a neighborhood market in West Dayton. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. Police said Gullette was robbed of her gym shoes, jacket and book bag. 

"All she said was, 'Don't shoot me' and they shot her anyway," said Rhonda Gullette, the victim's sister. "She gave them everything that she had. I just wish that they would have spared my sister." 

Danita Gullette, 18, was killed while she stood at a pay phone on Neal Avenue in 1992. Her murder was part of a spree over the Christmas holiday weekend in Dayton that left 6 dead and injured two. COURTESY OF GULLETTE FAMILY

On Christmas day, the body of 19-year-old Richard Maddox was discovered in a car. He had been shot in the head. Detectives later found out that Maddox was the former boyfriend of Laura Taylor. Jeffrey Wright was also shot that day outside a home on Yuma Place. Despite, 4 bullets, he survived. 

The posse went into the Short Stop Mini Mart on December 26, and shot Sarah Abraham who was working in a family business that holiday weekend. The 38-year-old mother died 5 days later in the hospital. A store customer who was shot, Jones Pettus, survived . 

At first, Dayton homicide detectives did not know that these crimes were all connected. 

"Really the first thing that made the connection for us was the ammunition," said retired Dayton Homicide Detective Doyle Burke. "Then you start to worry and you figure out that we've got a person or persons that are probably not going to stop." 

Burke said they had no idea who they were looking for. 

"The fact that it was truly stranger on stranger crime, which is the most difficult homicide to solve…there was not even a motive," Burke said. 

Later on December 26, former Dayton Police Sgt. John Huber, spotted a stolen car on Kumler Avenue. At the time, he did not know that he was stopping Dayton's spree killers. 

"They all cooperated and put their hands up. I was later to find out from the detectives that Laura Taylor told Marvallous Keene to shoot me and he wouldn't.," said Huber. 

After the four members of the posse were behind bars, Taylor got a visit from a local minister who was concerned that she was only sixteen and accused of such terrible crimes. During their visit, Taylor told him about two more victims. Police found the bodies of Wendy Cottrill, 16 and Marvin Washington, 19, in a city-owned gravel pit on Richley Avenue. Taylor said they were shot because the group thought that they would snitch to the police. 

Keene confessed and was sentenced to death. After 17 years of appeals, he was executed in 2009. The other three got life prison sentences. During a prison interview in 2000, Heather Matthews explained why she got into in the crime spree. 

"I wanted to be like them. I wanted to do what they was doing," Matthews said. 

Detective Burke said that once the killing started, he believes they were all willing participants. 

"They enjoyed it. They lived it. It made them somebody," Burke said. 

Rhonda Gullette admits that even after 25 years, the holidays are very difficult. 

"I grieve for my family but I continue to grieve for the other victim's families and also the people who are incarcerated," said Gullette. "Anybody's life can either go to the left or the right, so I do, I think about them very often." 

Gullette said the murder of her sister had a huge impact on her life. The crime led to the break-up of her engagement, the loss of a child and her mother. 

"Six years later my mother passed away prematurely," said Gullette. "My mother passed away at 51-year's old and she passed away because of grief. My mother absolutely died of a broken heart." 

Gullette is now an advocate for victim's rights and is working on her master's degree. She said she gets through the holidays by serving her church and feeding the homeless. 

John Huber, retired from the Dayton Police Department, is the Public Safety Director at Sinclair Community College. Doyle Burke is Chief Investigator for the Warren County Coroner and has written a book about the homicide cases that he has investigated, including this one. 

A book called, "The Christmas Killings," was written by retired Dayton Police Officer Steve Grismer, Detective Dennis Murphy and Dr. Judith Monseur. Both books will be published early next year.

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Trial date set for Middletown man accused in fatal club shooting

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 10:59 AM
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 10:59 AM

            Malcolm Franklin, charged with aggravated murder and felonious assault for allegedly killing Julian Johnson in May outside D&J Nite Spot in Middletown, appeared for a hearing Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 in Butler County Common Pleas Court with attorney Frank Schiavone, III. Schiavone has filed several motions to exclude evidence at trial. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Malcolm Franklin, charged with aggravated murder and felonious assault for allegedly killing Julian Johnson in May outside D&J Nite Spot in Middletown, appeared for a hearing Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 in Butler County Common Pleas Court with attorney Frank Schiavone, III. Schiavone has filed several motions to exclude evidence at trial. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

A trial date has been set for a man charged with the fatal shooting outside a Middletown bar in May.

Malcolm Franklin, 27, formerly of Louisiana, is charged with murder as well as three counts of felonious assault for gun violence May 30, 2017 at D&J Nite spot.

MORE: Police, father of Middletown bar shooting victim fear retaliation

Franklin was in Butler County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday with his attorney Frank Schiavone IV, where Judge Charles Pater set a trial date of Aug. 20.

Franklin allegedly shot Julian Marquis Johnson, 23, outside the Elliott Drive bar during the early morning hours. Three others were injured by gunfire, according to Middletown police.

MORE: Attorney want evidence from fatal Middletown shooting thrown out

Middletown police Detective Jon Rawlins testified during a preliminary hearing in Middletown Municipal Court that Franklin confessed to killing Johnson.

Defense attorneys filed motions to suppress statements Franklin made to police without an attorney present and the stop of his client after the shooting because there was no probable cause. After a hearing last month, that motion was denied by Pater.

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John Crawford shooting: Beavercreek wants separate trial from Walmart

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 10:57 AM
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 10:57 AM

            Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams is shown in Walmart on Aug. 5, 2014, the day he shot and killed John Crawford III. Crawford was holding a BB/pellet rifle he took off a store shelf.
Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams is shown in Walmart on Aug. 5, 2014, the day he shot and killed John Crawford III. Crawford was holding a BB/pellet rifle he took off a store shelf.

The wrongful death civil rights lawsuit brought by John Crawford III’s parents against Beavercreek and Walmart has been scheduled for a February 2019 trial date, according to federal court records.

But the case could be split into two trials, if a federal judge grants a motion from the city of Beavercreek to separate the defendants.

RELATED: Deposition: Williams shot Crawford because he ‘was about to’ point a weapon

Dayton’s U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice scheduled the trial for Feb. 4, 2019 — a day shy of 4½ years after Crawford, 22, of Fairfield, was shot and killed by Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams in Walmart.

Beavercreek police responded after lone 911 caller Ronald Ritchie said he saw a black man carrying a rifle and waving it at people, including children. Police said Crawford, who was on his cell phone, didn’t respond to requests by Williams and Sgt. David Darkow to drop the item — a realistic-looking BB/pellet rifle he picked up from an open box in the store.

RELATED: Beavercreek officer who shot John Crawford III back on ‘full duty’

Crawford’s attorneys said Crawford had less than a second to hear and respond to anything officers said. Williams was cleared by a Greene County special grand jury in September 2014, and a federal investigation ended in 2017 without criminal charges.

Beavercreek attorneys filed a motion to split the case. They argued that the Beavercreek defendants are facing civil rights allegations such as excessive force, the police department’s supervision, training and control of its officers in circumstances requiring the use of force.

RELATED: Feds won’t charge Beavercreek officer in Walmart shooting

The Beavercreek attorneys said the Walmart defendants face state law claims involving issues of negligence and premises liability concerning the packaging, storage, shelving and safeguarding of pellet rifles.

“Due to the vastly different sets of facts supporting the claims against these sets of Defendants,” Beavercreek attorneys wrote, “severance of the claims and separate trials are appropriate.”

Rice has not ruled on the motion.

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Feds: Postal worker on disability got $94,000, was in 35 motorcycle races

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 8:42 AM

Dayton-area postal worker on disability rode in 35 motorcycle races

A former Dayton-area U.S. Postal Service worker is alleged to have participated in 35 motorcycle races during an 18-month period in which he was disabled or on light duty, according to federal court documents.

Jerry French was indicted last week in Dayton’s U.S. District Court on counts of making false, fictitious and fraudulent statements to medical personnel and the postal service which led to Office of Workers’ Compensation Benefits of $93,971.42.

French is at least the eighth area postal worker to be alleged of federal crimes in the past few years.

RELATED: 7 other times regional postal workers have been in trouble with the law

Former West Carrollton postal worker Laticha Schroyer had pleaded guilty in a case where she was seen vacationing while injured, but she recently asked to withdraw her plea by bill of information.

No defense attorney is listed for French in federal court documents, and no dates have been scheduled in the case.

An indictment filed March 15 detailed how French allegedly injured his knee while falling on ice when he was delivering mail on Feb. 2, 2011.

French filled out a claim for disability pay and was off from work for a year until returning to one hour of limited duty per day, the indictment said.

The Department of Labor accepted French’s injury as a sprained knee in April 2011, according to court documents.

The indictment said French allegedly told two doctors that he could not perform most work duties, that his pain level was 8 out of 10 and that he was in pain 24/7.

WATCH: Video shows postal worker stuffing mail down sweatpants

A doctor amended his report to say an MRI indicated a meniscus tear and the Department of Labor approved an arthroscopic surgery, the indictment said.

The indictment said that in October 2011, another doctor performed the surgery and later submitted a report showing there was no meniscus tear and that the knee was normal.

On Dec. 1, 2011, French completed a medical history form at Kettering Medical Center in which he stated he had extreme difficulty doing tasks such as usual work, housework, hobbies, recreational and sporting activities, the indictment said.

RELATED: Postal worker pleads guilty to delaying, destroying mail

French said, according to the document, that he had “moderate difficulty” doing activities including putting on socks, doling light activities, getting in and out of vehicles and sitting for one hour.

The indictment said in March 2012, a doctor reported French’s pain representations were out of proportion to the pathology.

In July 2012, French told a third doctor that he could no longer ride motorcycles because of his knee injury, according to the indictment.

RELATED: Local postal worker pleads guilty to embezzling nearly $15,000

The document said in September 2013, a Department of Labor form he submitted limited him to zero hours for lifting weight, walking, climbing, kneeling, bending, stooping and operating machinery.

In October 2013, French was interviewed by special agents from the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General, the document said.

During that interview, French said he was physically unable to work, go up and down stairs, kneel, ride or race his motorcycles, pass a National Hot Rod Association physical, fill his nitrous oxide tank, drive a manual car or put pressure on his left leg.

The indictment said that from May 13, 2011, to Oct. 23, 2013, agents of the Inspector General observed French “participating in approximately thirty-five motorcycle races and one car race at various racetracks in Ohio and Indiana.”

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The document also said agents saw French loading trailers, carrying equipment and moving metal tanks.

The indictment doesn’t explain why it was filed several years after the events and federal prosecutors didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

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Driver convicted in 55-mile police chase up Interstate 75 sentenced

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 6:37 PM

            David Nehmer, 27, of Paw Paw, Michigan was sentenced to 30 months in prison. CONTRIBUTED
David Nehmer, 27, of Paw Paw, Michigan was sentenced to 30 months in prison. CONTRIBUTED

A Michigan man who led state troopers on a 55-mile chase from Piqua to Allen County in November was sentenced Monday in Miami County Common Pleas Court to 30 months in prison.

David Nehmer, 27, of Paw Paw, Michigan, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer and six months in jail for driving while under the influence. The sentences will be served concurrently in the penitentiary. Nehmer’s driver’s license was also suspended for five years.

TRENDING: Officers descend on Dayton neighborhood following multi-city chase

Nehmer was arrested in the early morning hours on Interstate 75 near Bluffton. The pursuit began in Piqua after troopers received a report of a vehicle driving on its rims.

The pursuit of Nehmer — wanted on warrants out of Michigan — included speeds of more than 120 mph, troopers said.

Janna Parker, an assistant county prosecutor, said Nehmer was on parole in Michigan at the time of the chase that included what she called “insanely fast speeds” on tire rims. She said Nehmer put not only himself but multiple police officers and countless motorists at risk.

Judge Christopher Gee sentenced Nehmer, calling the pursuit “a horrific and very dangerous chase.” Gee said Nehmer was fortunate no one, including him, was injured.

“This kind of behavior cannot be condoned in any way,” Gee said.

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