CLOSINGS AND DELAYS:

BSF Dayton Day Women, Bellbrook Community Church, Care-A-Lot Preschool-Botkins, Dayton Public Schools, Developmental Disabilities Clark Co., Easter Seals Ad. Daycare Shiloh H., Easter Seals Adult Day Services-Beavercreek, Easter Seals Adult Day Services-Springfield, Easter Seals Adult Day at Sunrise, Eaton Community Schools, Faith Preschool, Ginghamsburg Pschool & Child Care, Greater Love Christian Church, Kid's Institute Inc., Piqua Baptist Church, RT Industries, Rehab Center & Neuro Devel, S.H.I. Integrative Med. Massage Sc., Second Harvest Food Bank, Shelby Hills E.C.C, St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Urbana University,

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.

NEW INFO: Bond set for husband accused of killing wife in Miami County

Published: Friday, January 12, 2018 @ 3:28 PM
Updated: Monday, January 15, 2018 @ 8:47 AM

Miami Co. man charged with murder after wife found dead inside car

UPDATE @ 9:22 a.m. (Jan. 16):

Bond was set at $1.5 million for Randy Freels, 57, who is accused in the shooting death and crash involving his wife Samantha Freels, 52.

Randy Freels appeared for his initial arraignment via video in Miami County Municipal Court Tuesday.

UPDATE @ 8:40 a.m. (Jan. 15):

A man is charged with murder and other charges after deputies said he was involved in the shooting death and crash involving his wife Friday afternoon. 

Randy A. Freels, 57, was booked into the Miami County Jail after special response teams from the Miami County Sheriff’s Office, Troy police and Piqua police took him into custody around 10:30 p.m. at his home on South Rangeline Road in Union Twp. 

>> Man found in Piqua home; police investigating circumstances as suspicious

Samantha Freels, 52, of Union Twp., was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the chest in in a vehicle that was crashed in a creek in the area of Ohio 55 and Elleman Road around 3 p.m. Friday. 

Deputies believe Samantha Freels was shot to death in her vehicle very close to where she crashed, officials said. Deputies also said a blue Dodge pickup registered to Randy Freels went off the road near the crash scene.

“While processing what we now believed was a crime scene we received information that…Randy A. Freels…had made comments that afternoon to a third party that he expected to be in some type of shoot-out with law enforcement,” Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak said in a prepared statement. 

Duchak said the special response teams responded to the Freels’ residence on South Rangeline, where Randy Freels was taken into custody without incident. 

“We believe Mr. Freels to be a suspect and do not have any evidence to indicate there were others involved. As this is an active homicide investigation we are conferring daily with Miami County Prosecutor Tony Kendell and his staff,” Duchak said. 

LOCAL NEWS: Miamisburg man identified in fatal crash in West Carrollton

Randy Feels remained in the Miami County Jail Monday morning on charges of murder, leaving the scene of a crash and inducing panic, jail records showed. He’s expected to appear in court Tuesday. 

Search warrants were used to search both vehicles and the Freels’ home on South Rangeline.

Samantha Freels was employed as a digital sales specialist for Cox Media Group Ohio, the parent company of WHIO-TV and Dayton Daily News. 

SAMANTHA FREELS

“Samantha (Sam) was a talented, dedicated, and beloved member of our advertising team. We are incredibly saddened by this tragedy and our hearts and prayers go out to her family”, said Rob Rohr, Ohio Market Vice President and General Manager of Cox. 

Funeral services for Samantha Freels will be held Wednesday at Hale-Sarver Funeral Home, 284 N. Miami St., in West Milton at 10:30 a.m. The family also will receive friends from 4 to 8 p.m. at the funeral home Tuesday.

Anyone who may have been in the area of Ohio 55 and Elleman Friday between 3 and 3:30 p.m. and may have seen or heard anything is asked to contact the Miami County Sheriff’s Office at 937-440-9911.

UPDATE @ 3:45 p.m.

Randy Albert Freels, 57, is charged with murder in the death of his wife, the Miami County Sheriff’s Office said.

The body of 52-year-old Samantha Freels was found inside a car Friday afternoon that crashed into a creek on Ohio 55. Freels died of a gunshot wound to the chest, deputies said.

Randy Freels has been held at the Miami County Jail since Friday night.

UPDATE @ 1:55 p.m.

A 52-year-old Ludlow Falls woman found dead inside a car Friday afternoon died of a single gunshot to the chest, according to the Miami County Sheriff’s Office.

Samantha Freels’ husband, 57-year-old Randy Albert Freels, has been held in the Miami County Jail since Friday night on two misdemeanor charges of inducing panic and for a hit-and-run crash.

>> Man found in Piqua home; police investigating circumstances as suspicious

Samantha Freels was employed as a digital sales specialist for Cox Media Group Ohio, the parent company of WHIO-TV and Dayton Daily News.

“Samantha (Sam) was a talented, dedicated, and beloved member of our advertising team. We are incredibly saddened by this tragedy and our hearts and prayers go out to her family”, said Rob Rohr, Ohio Market Vice President and General Manager of Cox. 

Person of interest in custody in death of woman found at Ohio 55 crash scene

EARLIER REPORT

Crews were dispatched around 3:10 p.m. Friday to Ohio 55 at Elleman Road around on reports of a vehicle that crashed into a creek. Evidence at the scene, however, led officials to believe Freels’ death was suspicious and more than just a crash.

The Miami County Sheriff's Office Special Response Team, along with SRTs from the Troy and Piqua police departments, went to her home on Rangeline Road, where Randy Freels was found and taken into custody without incident. 

Further investigation revealed Freels was shot to death. 

Randy Freels’ charges may change pending autopsy results, officials said.

Body found wrapped in cloth on Dayton property identified

Published: Friday, January 12, 2018 @ 3:21 PM

MIKE CAMPBELL / STAFF
MIKE CAMPBELL / STAFF

UPDATE @ 3:18 p.m. (Jan. 15):

The body of a woman found in the brush on a property in the first block of Ernst Avenue Friday has been identified as that of Kathleen Driscoll, 31, of Dayton, according to the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.

According to a Dayton police report, Driscoll’s body was found “concealed in the tightly wrapped blue cloth and appeared to have some type of black tape keeping the wrap tightly intact.”

LOCAL NEWS: Woman killed in Fairborn house fire

The coroner’s office said Driscoll’s autopsy results are pending.

Her body was found in the brush at the rear of the lot, the police report said.

INITIAL REPORT (Jan. 12):

A body found in the 30 block of Ernst Avenue in Dayton on Friday is being investigated as suspicious, police said. 

Officers were dispatched to the scene at 1:16 p.m. 

No other information was immediately available, but we will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest information when it’s available. 

Man in 30-hour police standoff released from prison in July

Published: Sunday, January 14, 2018 @ 12:13 PM

Standoff involving 10-year-old hostage in Butler Co. continues

A heated late Friday night incident that boiled over into a nearly 30-hour standoff with SWAT ended early Sunday with the arrest of a man who held a 10-year-old boy hostage at an apartment complex in Liberty Twp..

That suspect, Donald Tobias Gazaway, 31, surrendered at 6:36 a.m. Sunday morning in the 7000 block of East Hamilton Place in Liberty Twp., according to Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones. Gazaway is booked into the Butler County Jail on charges of kidnapping, felonious assault and inducing panic.

The 10-year-old hostage was safe following the standoff, which Jones said would not have ended as well without the assistance of West Chester and Hamilton police departments and the Liberty Twp. Fire Department.

Donald Tobias Gazaway(Staff Writer)

“We’re very fortunate that when these departments were there, that the guy came out and he gave up,” Jones said. “We didn’t think at times we were going to get a good resolve from this. We felt that he wanted us to shoot him at different times, but we could not do anything, we couldn’t breach, we couldn’t come in because … any movement that he made was always with that child.”

“We could hear the child inside, he was crying, he was wanting to get out.”

COVERAGE OF LIBERTY TWP. STANDOFF

The incident started at 11:27 p.m. Friday when the boy’s mother called police saying a man was in her apartment at the Springs at Liberty Twp. with a gun and demanding money, Jones said.

Neighbors told this media outlet that the boy’s mother ran from townhouse to townhouse, banging on doors and seeking safety. The woman was crying, barefooted and with pajamas only, one neighbor described. The woman’s blood was still visible on at least two of those doors on Sunday.

Police made cellphone contact with Gazaway at 11:38 p.m. and shots were reported fired inside the apartment at 11:51 p.m., leading police to evacuate surrounding apartments in the complex.

A view of the standoff at Springs at Liberty Township apartments as of 1:50 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. WAYNE BAKER / STAFF

Shots were again fired from inside the apartment between 4 and 6 a.m. Saturday with Gazaway using the boy as a shield, according to police. Officers breached the front door around 6 a.m. to communicate with Gazaway and shots were fired at a police robot around 7:47 a.m.

At 9 a.m., police made visual confirmation that Gazaway was using the child as a shield with a gun to his neck and at 11 a.m. he took the boy to the apartment’s garage and got in a car, where he fired shots at 12:52 p.m., Jones said.

Negotiations continued from 1 p.m. Saturday through the night until Gazaway surrendered without incident.

MORE: 37 people indicted in Butler and Warren counties

Jones said the boy’s mother knew Gazaway “a couple of weeks” and was a friend of the family.

He said he could not yet disclose the type of firearm that was fired at police or the extent of damage it caused to police equipment. Jones said more than two dozens shots were fired by the suspect in the incident. Police did not fire a shot, Jones added.

This isn’t Gazaway’s first run-in with the law. State records show he served more than four years in prison for felonious assault and a gun specification out of Hamilton County, and was released from prison in July and remained under the supervision of Ohio’s Adult Parole Authority, according to our news partner, WCPO-TV.

The suspect using a child as a human shield “definitely changes the dynamics of the standoff,” said Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit.

“Having a hostage, especially a hostage of this age and a child, I can tell you that I know that probably without exception every officer, every operator that was out there is a parent and a lot of those operators have their own children at home about this age,” Bucheit said. “Everybody knew just what was at stake, how important this was, and I think this really helped keep these folks going through some very difficult, long hours, very difficult conditions.”

Bucheit credits negotiators for doing “an outstanding job” of talking to Gazaway, keeping him calm and building a rapport with him, even as he fluctuated between wanting to let the boy go and standing his ground against police.

“Over enough time, I think that finally wore him down and he was out of options,” Bucheit said. “He was in the car, the car was running, it was getting low on gas … (temperatures) are in the single digits … and eventually he just wore down and gave up.”

West Chester Police Chief Joel Herzog said the standoff was one of the most difficult and challenging that he had been involved with and even been aware of in his 27 years in law enforcement.

He said it was “very valuable” that the various departments all were on the same radio system because it allowed for “seamless” communication between the three law enforcement agencies.

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The boy was sent to a hospital for observation. His mother told WCPO she was “happy that this turned out right.”

“He’s a brave little boy,” she said. “All he wanted to do at the end of the day was protect mommy. I think he was more concerned about me being safe versus him being stuck with the bad guy.”

The suspect was like family, the mother of the boy told WCPO, but he acted strangely and aggressively before the standoff.

“Mommy won’t be dating for a while or bringing any guys around my son,” she said.

Police: Juvenile shot in mouth, investigated as accidental shooting

Published: Monday, January 15, 2018 @ 12:23 AM

SCENE: Juvenile shot in mouth in Dayton

A juvenile was shot in the mouth late Sunday night by another juvenile relative at a Dayton home, police said.

The incident was reported around 11:50 p.m. in the 500 block of Brightwood Avenue.

The victim was rushed by medics to a local hospital. 

The minor’s age, gender, and condition were not immediately available, however, the individual shot was able to walk to the ambulance themselves and is expected to be okay, per officials. 

According to initial reports, the individuals involved may be siblings.

>> Man who holds child hostage in 30-hour standoff released from prison in July

Dayton police said the shooting is accidental, but will continue to investigate.

We will continue to update this story as we learn more information.