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.

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Troy man pleads not guilty to assaulting two corrections officers

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 6:05 PM

Marion Cotterman
Miami County Jail
Marion Cotterman(Miami County Jail)

TROY - A Troy man pleaded not guilty Tuesday, April 24, to two felony counts of assault of a corrections officer.

Marion Cotterman, 45, is accused of causing or attempting to cause physical harm to two officers in the Miami County Jail in Troy on March 14. 

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The pleas were heard by Common Pleas Judge Jeannine Pratt, who set bail at $5,000 cash or surety.

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Father punches woman trying to kidnap his son, police say

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 5:14 PM

Woman Punched In Face By Father While Trying To Kidnap Son

Police in Tennessee say a father's quick actions stopped his 5-year-old son from being kidnapped Monday.

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A man called authorities Monday to report that a woman had grabbed his son and tried to run away from him.

The father punched the woman and got his child back, according to police.

Authorities identified the attempted kidnapper as Gina A. Ricard, 53. Officials said after the incident, she went to a nearby fire station and told them that she tried to stop a kidnapping.

According an arrest affidavit, Ricard was incoherent and said that she “believes God told her (to) help.”

She was arrested and charged with attempted aggravated kidnapping.

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Dayton teen sentenced to prison for 2017 killing

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 4:26 PM

A Dayton teen convicted early this month for murdering a 23-year-old man in September was sentenced to 18 years in prison Tuesday, according to a press release from the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s office.

Keith P. Reid was 17 years old when a surveillance video captured him fatally shooting Davion G. McGhee of Huber Heights on Summit Square Drive on Sept. 30, the release said. Reid, who has since turned 18, was tried as an adult because of the severity of the charges against him.

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On April 6 he was found guilty of attempted murder, involuntary manslaughter, tampering with evidence and carrying concealed weapons. 

Once he’s released from prison, Reid will be placed on post-release control for five additional years. 

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Teen accused of murdering mother with help of two friends

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 9:57 AM

Teen Allegedly Stabbed His Mother To Death With Help Of Friends

A 15-year-old and his friend drugged, strangled and stabbed his mother to death at a home in Maine, according to court documents.

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Kimberly Mironovas, 47, was found stabbed and strangled to death at her home in Litchfield, Maine, early on Sunday morning. 

Police say the woman, originally from Ashland, Massachusetts, was killed by her son and his 15-year-old friend. 

A third teenager, a 13-year-old friend, allegedly helped plan the murder.

According to prosecutors, the 13-year-old came up with a plan to kill Mironovas by crushing prescription pills and mixing them into a glass of wine, but court documents show the boys' attempt to secretly mix in the pills failed.

Mironovas’ son and his friend entered her bedroom wearing gloves and armed with a knife early Sunday morning, according to prosecutors.

Mironovas was found shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday, and police say she had been strangled and stabbed in the neck.

All three boys were arraigned at a juvenile court in Maine on Monday.

The 15-year-old suspects were charged with one count each of murder, and all three were charged with criminal conspiracy to commit murder.

Mironovas and her son had moved to Maine from their home in Ashland, Massachusetts, where former neighbors told Boston 25 News they hope her son gets help. 

"She was a quiet person," said Jim, a former neighbor. "I think her son was troubled a little bit, she had him in a special school."

Mironovas moved from Ashland to Maine about a year ago to attend cosmetology school.

Authorities continue to investigate the case.

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