The men who investigated one of the city’s most shocking and bloody murder sprees in Dayton’s history detail it in a recently released book.
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“The Christmas Killings: 40 Hours to Justice” (Dayton Police History Foundation, 123 pages, $23.50)” outlines the investigation into a crime that saw six people shot and killed over three days around Christmas in 1992.
The true crime book by Stephen C. Grismer, Judith M. Monseur and Dennis A. Murphy includes interviews with Sgt. Larry Grossnickle and detectives Wade Lawson, Tom Lawson and Doyle Burke, the now retired Dayton homicide investigators that worked the case that still haunts the city today.
The officers were interviewed at The Moraine Embassy, a now closed Dayton tavern whose customers included police officers, journalists, factory workers and downtowners.
The “Downtown Posse,” a group that before becoming murderers, spent most days bumming money on Courthouse Square, included then 19-year-old Marvallous Keene and three others — his girlfriend Laura Taylor, 16; Heather Matthews, 20; and DeMarcus Smith, 17.
Marvallous Keene was executed by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville on July 21, 2009. He was 36.
The others remain in prison.
Their killing spree resulted in the deaths of Sarah Abraham, Joseph Wilkerson, Richmond Maddox, Wendy Cottrill, Marvin Washington and Danita Gullette.
Jeffery Wright and Jones Pettus were shot during the rampage that happened at multiple locations around the city, but survived.
Here are five shocking things we learned from the book:
1) The group tried to rob another person before targeting Danita Gullette, an 18-year-old high school senior and mother, in a phone booth.
Wade Lawson: “Gullette on the phone... they walked up and said, ‘Merry Christmas, bitch,’ and began shooting her... ‘Merry Christmas bitch’ and boom, boom, boom... shot nine times.”
Doyle Burke: “Danita was trapped in that phone booth... How to just go up to somebody (and say), ‘Merry Christmas bitch, here you go,’ (then) walk out with a pair of gym shoes (and) take somebody’s $5 to $6 worth of items?”
2) The four lurked near an ATM on Salem Avenue with the intent to attack.
Tom Lawson: “This foursome set on the ATM machine... and their goal was the next person,... after they get their money, they would kill them... It was Christmas night.”
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3) Sarah Abraham gave the gang everything she had when they robbed her family’s store, the Short-Stop Mini Market, then located at 1201 W. Fifth St. They shot her in the face and head anyway. Customer Jones Pettus was also shot. Jimmy Thompson, 71, escaped injury after pretending to be shot. Moments before shots rang out, Thompson had given “innocent-looking” Laura Taylor a nickel to help her buy a soft drink after she was short the money needed.
Doyle Burke: “Our concern really was the capture. Whoever it was, however many there were; this was a series of senseless killings. No one was safe... The capture was of paramount importance.”
4) After killing Joseph Wilkerson, the gang wrecked his house.
“(They) partied in his house for several days, while he laid there in bed with clothes over top of him, dead.”
5) Taylor’s “insolence in the face of serious charges” shocked the detectives.
Wade Lawson: “I don’t think I’ve ever met what I would call, a hardened person at 16 years old. A cold-hearted girl... She was so hard. She didn’t even go to the restroom or asked to go to the restroom. She urinated in the (interview room) chair she was sitting in... Hope I never run into another person like her.”