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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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Alert canceled: Missing endangered Clark County man found by OSP in West Jefferson

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 7:27 PM
Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 9:25 PM

UPDATE @ 9:25 p.m.:

An alert for a missing endangered Clark County man has been canceled.

Clark Pizner was found by the Ohio State Highway Patrol in West Jefferson, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

FIRST REPORT

A missing endangered alert has been issued for a 66-year-old Moorefield Twp. man.

Clark Pizner was last seen around 4 p.m. driving from his residence in a yellow 2002 Jeep Wrangler with a black hard top and brass duck head on the hood with Ohio plate FGG9716, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

He stands 6 feet tall and weighs 220 pounds with blue eyes and brown/gray hair. He was last seen wearing a tan polo shirt, black jersey sweatpants and gray tennis shoes. He wears glasses and has a gray mustache.

He is possibly in need of medical attention, according to the sheriff’s office.

Anyone with information on Pizner’s whereabouts or who spots him is urged to call 911 or the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, 937-328-2560.

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Downtown Springfield pizzeria closing

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 5:47 PM

Bada Bing Pizzeria owner Jason Hague serves the staff of The Salvation Army a Red Kettle pizza.  The Red Kettle pizza is a special pizza that will be available during National Salvation Army week.  JEFF GUERINI/STAFF
Jeff Guerini
Bada Bing Pizzeria owner Jason Hague serves the staff of The Salvation Army a Red Kettle pizza. The Red Kettle pizza is a special pizza that will be available during National Salvation Army week. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF(Jeff Guerini)

PHOTOS: Bada Bing Pizzeria

Bada Bing Pizzeria in Springfield will close on Sunday, according to a post on the business’ Facebook page. 

The post reads in part, “Thank you all for your support over the last few years. We have been blessed beyond measure. What’s next? Stay tuned.”

The restaurant is located at 40 N. Fountain Ave.

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Tipster leads California authorities to felon’s stash of 553 guns, police say

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 1:31 PM

Police – Stash of 553 Guns Found Thanks to Tipster

A tip called in to Los Angeles County authorities led investigators to seize a total of 553 guns from a convicted felon last week, officials said.

Manuel Fernandez, 60, of Agua Dulce, was arrested Thursday on charges of being a felon in possession of firearms, possession of an assault rifle, being a felon in possession of ammunition and possession of large-capacity magazines, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials. He was released on bond the following day.

Sheriff’s Department officials said in a news release Monday that deputies at the department’s Palmdale station received a tip about a felon in possession of a “large arsenal of firearms.” Detectives, along with agents from the California Department of Justice, obtained a search warrant for Fernandez’s home in Agua Dulce. 

Agua Dulce is located about 20 miles northeast of Santa Clarita, near Angeles National Forest. 

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Investigators found a total of 432 guns during the execution of the first search warrant at Fernandez’s home, the news release said. That search led them to a second home in Agua Dulce connected to Fernandez.

A total of 30 guns were found at that home, which belongs to a woman described by authorities as a female associate of Fernandez’s. The woman, who was not home Monday and has not returned since the search, is expected to face charges.

A second warrant served at Fernandez’s home led investigators to find another 91 weapons hidden in the house, the news release said. 

“Detectives also seized computers, cellphones and hard drives from the residence believed to be involved in the illicit purchase of firearms by the suspect,” the news release said

A photo released by the Sheriff’s Department shows rifles and other weapons piled into the bed of a Ford F-150 pickup truck. Other pictures show the massive cache of weapons laid out on a patio at the station.  

Pictured are some of the weapons seized after Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials received a tip about a convicted felon in possession of a large arsenal of weapons. Manuel Fernandez, 60, of Agua Dulce, was arrested on multiple weapons charges Thursday, June 14, 2018.(Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

The number of weapons seized was so large that investigators brought in agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to assist in tracing the purchase history of the guns, authorities said. 

“This case is a testament to the community’s involvement in reducing crime and taking guns out of the hands of criminals,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement.

McDonnell said the response by his personnel, as well as state and federal officials, shows the positive result of the Sheriff’s Department’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign.

“We are proud of the relationship we have built in the Antelope Valley area as we continue to build trust with the communities we serve,” the sheriff said

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UPDATE: Brock Turner headed back to court next month

Published: Thursday, May 17, 2018 @ 7:12 AM
Updated: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 @ 2:30 PM

Brock Turner returned to Ohio and lives in Greene County, where he is a Level III sex offender. GREENE COUNTY SHERIFF / CONTRIBUTED
Brock Turner returned to Ohio and lives in Greene County, where he is a Level III sex offender. GREENE COUNTY SHERIFF / CONTRIBUTED

UPDATE @ 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 19

Oral arguments in Brock Turner’s appeal of his sexual assault conviction will be held next month, according to court documents.  

The Oakwood High School graduate and registered sexual offender’s appeal will be heard July 24 in San Jose, California.

UPDATE @ 10 a.m., Monday, May 21

Brock Turner’s attorney has asked the court to reschedule oral arguments in his appeal case, according to a court docket. A new date has not yet been scheduled.

ORIGINAL STORY

Oral arguments in Brock Turner’s appeal of his sexual assault conviction are scheduled for next month, according to a California appellate court spokesman.

The Oakwood High School graduate and registered sexual offender’s appeal will be heard by a panel of three justices from California’s Sixth District Court of Appeal. Turner’s counsel and the state’s attorney will present arguments and answer questions during the June 28 hearing in San Jose, California.

MORE: Brock Turner case: What led to Stanford assault?

The justices will then deliberate and later issue an opinion, said Cathal Conneely, the court’s spokesman.

The scheduling comes as Turner’s legal team drops several claims that would have allowed a re-trial or a re-sentencing on one or more counts, according to a court document filed by Turner’s attorney, Eric Multhaup.

The decision to withdraw a handful of the claims, Multhaup wrote, “was reached in large part out of consideration for appellant’s (Turner’s) family and out of consideration for Jane Doe and her family.”

Doe is the unidentified victim in the 2015 sexual assault at Stanford University. The 2016 case — and Turner’s sentence — sparked a nationwide controversy and wide-ranging discussions about sexual assaults on college campuses.

MORE: Brock Turner’s classmates describe Oakwood party culture

A jury found Turner guilty on three felony counts: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person, and penetration of an unconscious person. Turner was sentenced by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky to six months in jail, but served three months of the sentence.

Turner returned to Ohio and lives in Greene County, where he is a Level III sex offender — Ohio’s most-strict classification.

In a court filing earlier this year, the state’s attorney argued there was “substantial evidence from which a rational jury could find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of all three charges.”

Turner’s attorney declined comment. Doe’s family friend, Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, also declined comment.

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