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A brutal Christmas crime spree that occurred almost 30 years ago still haunts the community of Dayton, Ohio.
On Christmas Eve of 1992, Danita Gullette’s family waited for her to return from work to start their holiday celebration. Her mother had prepared their annual holiday meal of chili and corn bread. But 18-year-old Danita never arrived.
Finally, her sister, Dr. Rhonda Gullette, the oldest of the eight brothers and sisters, told their mother that they would have to delay their plans until the next morning. She grabbed Danita’s 2-year-old daughter and went home.
That same night, Dayton homicide detective Doyle Burke’s pager alerted him to a shooting outside a telephone both. The victim was teenage girl, who was shot in the chest, legs, and hand.
Police also found something unusual on the crime scene: .25-caliber “Blazer” aluminum bullet shell casings.
“It will kill, but it’s not what it is designed for,” Burke told Oxygen series "Homicide for The Holidays."
Police identified Danita from the school books in her backpack. Her shoes and coat were also missing. Family members said the flannel coat was second-hand and worth little, but her Fila tennis shoes were expensive.
It wasn’t long before Burke's pager buzzed with news of another deadly shooting that Christmas day.
This time the victim was 19-year-old Richard Maddox. He was shot in the right side of the head at close range from someone who was likely in the passenger side of the car.
Witnesses said they saw a young woman jump out of his moving car before the vehicle hit a tree and stopped. This shooting took place just a few miles away from where Danita was gunned down.
The next day, police spoke with the family and friends of Richard Maddox. He didn’t have many enemies, but he didn’t have many friends either, although his family told police about a girlfriend, Laura Taylor. Taylor was missing, and her family had no idea where she was.
Then, there was another shooting. Two people were shot at Short Stop Mini Mart outside of Dayton. Two men had entered the store demanding money, which was given to them, but they started shooting everybody anyway.
Sarah Abraham, who was behind the counter, was shot in the face and killed. A customer was also shot. A part-time worker at the store, Jimmy Thompson, 71, survived by pretending to be dead.
Police found the same aluminum shell casings spotted at the crime scene for Danita Guellette.
Within minutes, authorities were alerted to another crime: an armed carjacking in the same neighborhood.
Montgomery County Assistant Prosecutor James Levinson told "Homicide for the Holidays" that a woman was filling her tires with air when two males, both armed with guns, approached her.
“One of them pointed his gun at her and said, ‘You will die today,’” Levinson said.
She ran away as they fired bullets at her, but she was uninjured. They did get possession of the car, a Dodge Shadow. Now, investigators had a vehicle to be on the lookout for.
Police were trying to solve the crimes and calm an anxious community at the same time.
“The last thing you want is a random suspect around shooting people for no apparent reason and no apparent connection,” Sergeant John Huber told "Homicide for the Holidays." “I think the community is absolutely wondering how this could happen and why.”
They got a break in the case when Huber spotted the Black Dodge Shadow. He ran a check on the license plates, but they didn’t match. He then noticed that the plates were switched with another vehicle parked right in front of it.
The car was registered to Joseph Wilkerson, 34. Police went to his home and were immediately struck by a foul odor. The house was ransacked, and inside they found Wilkerson’s body. His hands were tied to the bedpost, and he had been shot once in the head and once in the chest. Investigators also found the unusual aluminum shell casings on the scene.
A short time later, investigators got a call from someone claiming to have knowledge about the crime spree. He blamed the so-called “Downtown Posse” for the crimes.
In the meantime, Huber monitored the Dodge Shadow. He confronted three people about to take off in the car. One man escaped, but police took the other two — Marvallous Keene, 19, and Laura Taylor, 16 — into custody. They also recovered two firearms from the car. The pair were indeed part of a group that called themselves the "Downtown Posse."
A short time later, police arrested other "Downtown Posse" members DeMarcus “Maurice” Smith, 17, and Heather Matthews, 20.
Investigators questioned the suspects, starting with Taylor first.
“She never said a word. When I asked if she wanted to use the restroom, she stood and urinated on the floor and then sat back down,” Burke told "Homicide For The Holidays." “It was going to be hard to get anything from her.”
But the others did start talking. The crime spree had started when Taylor and her boyfriend, Keene, decided to rob Wilkerson by promising him sex in exchange for money, according to The Dayton Daily News. They recruited Matthews to help with the plan. They arrived at his home, tied him up, stole things, and then Keene shot him in the chest with a gun they found in the home. Taylor, Matthews later testified, shot him a second time in the head.
They stole his car, recruited Matthews' 17-year-old boyfriend, Smith, and came across Gullette when she was using a payphone. They shot her and robbed her. Later that Christmas Eve, they went after Matthews' ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Wright, but he managed to escape and survive the shooting attempt, according to the outlet.
On Christmas Day, Taylor convinced Maddox to take her for a drive while the other three followed behind in another car. When Maddox noticed the car trailing them, he became spooked — so Taylor shot him in the head and leapt out of the car before it crashed. They then went on to rob the mini mart and murder Abraham.
But that wasn't the end of the killing spree. Investigators learned that the group were worried two of their friends, Wendy Cottrill, 16 and Marvin Washington, 18, would implicate them in the murders, as they had been present during the attempt on Wright's life, The New York Daily News reported. They picked the two up, brought them to a gravel road, and ordered them out of the car. Smith and Keene then executed them, according to The Dayton Daily News.
The trial was held in the summer of 1993. Heather Matthews agreed to a deal, while Demarcus Smith pled guilty the morning of the trial. Both Laura Taylor and Marvallous Keene went to trial and were found guilty.
“The only time they showed emotion is when it came time to be sentenced,” Dr. Rhonda Gullette said. “Then they were crying and doing all of that.”
Taylor, Smith, and Matthews were all sentenced to life in prison. Keene was sentenced to death. He was executed on July 21, 2009.
“My family is still feeling the loss. We’re still not the same. When something tragic happens it disrupts those traditions and leaves something that is hurtful in its place,” Dr. Gullette said. “Now something ugly is standing right there and you just can’t block it out.”
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