Remembering Dayton’s notorious homicide rampage, “The Christmas Killings”

“The Christmas Killings: 40 Hours to Justice” by Stephen C. Grismer, Judith M. Monseur and Dennis A. Murphy (Dayton Police History Foundation, 123 pages, $23.50)

It has been 25 years since Dayton was the scene of what the authors of a new book could argue was the most stunning rampage of violence and murder that the city has ever witnessed. The story of this horrific episode of homicidal mayhem has recently been recounted in “The Christmas Killings: 40 Hours to Justice” by Stephen C. Grismer, Judith M. Monseur and Dennis A. Murphy.

It was on Christmas Eve 1992 that the four men who at that time served as the homicide investigation squad for the Dayton Police Department became aware of the first murder in what was to become a sudden outbreak of spree killings. These four officers, Sgt. Larry Grossnickle and Detectives Wade Lawson, Tom Lawson and Doyle Burke, had all retired from the force by the time they gathered together once again five years ago at The Moraine Embassy, a now-gone downtown tavern, to recall the stunning events that had become known in Dayton as “The Christmas Killings.”

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Interviews that were conducted with these former members of the Homicide Squad were filmed with the intention of possibly turning that footage into the basis for a documentary film. The film project is apparently still on the back burner. This book was issued by the Dayton Police History Foundation to coincide with the 25th anniversary of those crimes.

Two of the authors, Stephen C. Grismer and Dennis A. Murphy, have served with the Dayton Police Department. Sgt. Grismer retired from the force after 25 years. You might recall that a few years ago I reviewed his previous book “Drenched Uniforms and Battered Badges: How Dayton Police Emerged from the 1913 Flood.” Murphy is a former homicide detective and is still an active officer.

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The book has the feel of a true crime documentary film. The fact that one of the authors is also a former homicide detective provides an essential clarity to the depiction of the investigation. Readers encounter “The Downtown Posse” who executed the crimes. We meet what are described as the “two core couples,” the two companion couples,” and the “three close connections.”

The authors offer us a prelude to the violence which was about to occur:

“In one corner of the city, a small band of youths are emboldened by a 16-year-old runaway girl who just joined their group — Laura Taylor. She is an encouraging influence among her teenage companions … all of whom are estranged from family, disengaged from social norms … adrift. She instantly takes a liking to 19-year-old Marvallous Keene. He hangs with this group on and off … Taylor, Keene and the other teens, who will fancy themselves a local gang — the self-proclaimed Downtown Posse — wander in the underbelly of society, set apart by depravity, adolescent volatility, and prone to impulsive thrills. …”

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Do you remember the “Christmas Killings”? Do you recall the awful things these young people did? Learn about the detective work that resulted in their apprehension and prosecution. It is all here as the case was being remembered by the officers who ultimately brought them to justice.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.

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