Pike County murders: 5 unanswered questions 1 year later

Published: Thursday, April 20, 2017 @ 5:19 PM

Done camera views of the Pike County murder scenes one year later.

The one-year anniversary of the brutal slayings of eight family members in rural Pike County is April 22. 

Despite intense media scrutiny and around-the-clock work by investigators, there still remain more questions than answers. 

» RELATED: ‘There will always be a scar on this town’

Here are five mysteries that still remain one year later:

1. Who did this? 

At various times in the investigation there have been differing theories on who killed the Rhoden family. 

After a previous drug bust in the area was mentioned, statements by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine led to speculation that a Mexican drug cartel could have been involved. Commercial marijuana grow operations were found at two of the four murder scenes. 

But DeWine and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader have since expressed the belief that the perpetrators – the consensus is that there’s more than one – were local to Pike County.

A reward poster for information about the Rhoden murders hangs in a tree outside the home of Leonard Manley, whose daughter Dana Rhoden, 37, was one of the eight victims in Pike County on April 22, 2016. The case remains unsolved. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Some officials have speculated the suspects were even closer to the family.

Leonard Manley, whose daughter Dana Rhoden, 37, was one of the eight victims, has previously said whoever entered the property had to be familiar to the family’s dogs, or else they would have barked and attacked. 

The victims suffered a combined 32 gunshot wounds – one was shot nine times, two were shot five times each – and some showed soft tissue bruising, suggesting they may have been beaten, according to autopsy reports.

DeWine and Reader would not say at a recent press conference if they believe they’ve interviewed the perpetrator(s). 

MORE ON PIKE COUNTY 

» DeWine says case remains priority 

» Watch: A year in Pike County, from murders to community grief to rebuilding 

» Pike County shooting victims: A closer look at the 8 who died

2. Is the investigation progressing?

DeWine and Reader gave a press conference April 13 and stressed that the case is still a top priority. 

But after more than 800 tips, 400 interviews, 38 search warrants and a dozen investigators constantly on the ground in Piketon, there have been no arrests. 

DeWine and Reader declined to discuss possible motives, a time-frame for the investigation or scenarios that have been ruled out. 

They insist a lack of disclosure about new details will protect the integrity of the investigation — the largest in the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation history. They also insist the case is not cold, and that there exists — somewhere in the county, or elsewhere — someone with answers.

“We will find you,” Reader said to the killer or killers. “We will arrest you, and you will be prosecuted.”

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3. Will anyone talk?

The sheriff’s office has hung posters all in various locations around Piketon, advertising a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in the case. 

Crime Stoppers is accepting donations to increase that amount. 

But Reader admitted at the recent press conference that fear of reprisal is still a real factor in this case. 

He said he’s sure some of the people they’ve interviewed have lied to them, whether out of fear of getting in trouble for criminal activity, or out of fear that they could be next. 

A billboard seeking information about the Rhoden family murders is seen along Ohio 23 near Waverly. Eight members of the Rhoden family were killed in rural Pike County in the early morning hours of April 22, 2016. One year later, the murder case remains unsolved. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Staff Writer)

The killings were committed “execution-style,” and whoever did it is still out there. In the immediate aftermath of the crimes, Reader told other members of the Rhoden family to arm themselves for protection. 

DeWine said solving the murders is the top priority, and detectives need information.

“This is a homicide investigation,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t care what you’ve done with drugs – we care, but our focus is on the homicide, and so people should not be concerned about coming forward and disclosing information that may be helpful in the investigation.”

4. What was the motive?

Was the family killed by rival drug dealers or were the murders in connection to other criminal activity? There was evidence they were raising roosters for cock fighting, DeWine has said.

This criminal activity, Reader said, was “minute” compared to their slaughter.

“Regardless of their lifestyle, they were human beings,” he said. 

Was the murder more personal? In the immediate aftermath, several individuals who had expressed prior disputes with Rhoden family members on social media were questioned, but quickly let go. 

There have been more rumors than concrete theories when it comes to motive. 

MORE ON PIKE COUNTY
» Timeline: The shocking events of the Pike County shooting
» Photos: Scenes from Pike County six months after a massacre
» DeWine on Pike Co. shootings: Someone involved ‘knew the territory’
» Ohio covers funeral costs for Pike County murder victims

5. Can the community heal?

Things are quieter now in the rural community, but the specter of these slayings, unsolved, still hangs over the people of Pike County. A billboard with the victim’s faces literally hovers over the sheriff’s office. 

“I see the look of disappointment when I speak with the family, and I look into their eyes and the grieving they still have,” Reader said last week. He said these murders were the worst thing he’s seen in all his years in law enforcement. 

“There will always be a scar on this town,” said Morty Throckmorton, who manages the Smart Mart store in Piketon.

» HAVE A NEWS TIP? Contact our 24-hour line at 937-259-2237 or newsdesk@cmgohio.com

Santa Claus visits babies in local NICU

Published: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 7:13 PM

Santa Claus paid a visit to the NICU of the Miami Valley Hospital tonight to spend time with its infants.

The early holiday visit started at 6 p.m. at the Berry Women's Center Building. 

The NICU "elf" was there to take photos with Santa and the babies. MVH has approximately 30 to 40 infants in its NICU. 

According to the hospital, Santa's visit has been a positive experience for families over the years as they celebrate their babies first Christmas.

Slow warming trend to begin Friday into the weekend

Published: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 3:24 AM
Updated: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 3:21 PM

Finally a quiet day after several rounds of snow earlier this week.

Clouds will break as we head through the evening hours. Temperatures will drop through the 20s.RELATED: Outage Report

QUICK-LOOK FORECAST

  • Clouds break tonight, cold
  • Few passing flurries north Friday
  • Temperatures back to near normal this weekend

RELATED: Geminid Meteor Shower

DETAILED FORECAST

TONIGHT: Expect more clearing as temperatures fall into the upper teens.

TONIGHT: Expect more clearing as temperatures fall into the upper teens.

FRIDAY:  More clouds arrive. Cool and breezy with a few flurries possible across the northern Miami Valley. Highs will be in the lower 30s.

RELATED: Dayton Interactive Radar - WHIO Doppler 7

SATURDAY: Skies will be mostly sunny with more seasonably temperatures rising into the lower 40s. It will be breezy.

SUNDAY: Clouds increase with showers developing. Temperatures will rise into the lower 40s.

RELATED: 5-Day Forecast

MONDAY:Clouds will linger with a chance for a few early morning showers. Highs will be in the lower to middle 40s.

TUESDAY: Skies will be mostly cloudy with highs in the middle 40s.

The Christmas Killings: Dayton’s worst crime spree

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

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. 

"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.

Bullets aimed at officers' chests stopped by vests, officials say

Published: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 3:24 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 4:13 PM

St. Louis Police Officers Saved By Bulletproof Vests

A man opened fire on two police officers who were 15 feet away from him on Thursday morning, striking them with bullets that would have hit their chests if not for their bulletproof vests, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

The vests might have saved the officers’ lives, KTVI reported. The pair was conscious and speaking Thursday after the shooting in Bellefontaine Neighbors, according to the news station. They were released from a hospital on Thursday afternoon after getting treatment for their injuries, St. Louis County police said.

Bellefontaine Neighbors Mayor Bob Doerr told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the injured officers were a 44-year-old male sergeant who has worked in law enforcement for “half his life” and a 25-year-old female police officer who was hired in 2014.

"They were wearing their bulletproof vests, so thank God," Doerr old the Post-Dispatch

The officers were injured around 7:30 a.m. after being called Thursday morning to a home in north St. Louis County where a man was suspected of having fired multiple shots on Wednesday night, KTVI reported. Police left the home Wednesday after finding no evidence to continue an investigation, St. Louis County police Sgt. Shawn McGuire told KMOV.

He told the news station that a neighbor called authorities Thursday morning after spotting the man who was suspected of firing the shots. Officers said they found the person walking in the area and tried to talk to him, but St. Louis County police said they were unsuccessful.

“Officers tried to take the suspect into custody, at which time the suspect resisted arrest,” police said. “One of the officers attempted to use a Taser to control the suspect, but was unsuccessful.”

Authorities said the man then pulled out a gun and fired shots at the officers’ chests.

One of the officers returned fire, but it was not immediately clear if the man was hit. He ran into a home, where he barricaded himself for hours before police officers were able to take him into custody Thursday afternoon.

Witness Steve Jones told KMOV he spotted police officers Thursday morning in the front yard of a home on Bellefontaine Road.

“All of a sudden, I (see) ... Bellefontaine officers trying to take this man to the ground, and the next thing I know, this man jumps up off the ground and I see pepper spray being deployed from the officers,” Jones told KMOV. “This man backs up about 15 feet and starts shooting.”

He said he heard several gunshots and saw the officers fall to the ground. He told KMOV he called 911.

Police did not immediately identify the man accused of firing shots at police or either of the injured officers.