After a more than two-year investigation, a suspect has been indicted in the murder of Barbara Howe, the Monroe woman found dead in the trunk of her red Cadillac in 2012.
Daniel French, 56, of Berea, Kentucky, was indicted Wednesday by a Butler County grand jury for aggravated murder with death penalty specifications, aggravated burglary and robbery, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence.
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser called the crime one of the most heinous he has seen in his career.
“The shear brutality and diabolical nature of this case really is unparalleled in the history of this county,” Gmoser said. “In my 40-some years of being an attorney here I’ve never seen anything as horrific as this, in the planning and the diabolical nature. It really is an unusual case.”
Howe, 87, was seen alive Oct. 27, 2012, when she left her cottage at Mount Pleasant Retirement Village in Monroe. She was found dead four days later in the trunk of her car that was abandoned in the parking lot of Woodridge Apartments in Middletown.
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Gmoser has kept a tight lid on the information surrounding the case and said he will continue to do so. He also would not say what, if any, connection French had to Howe.
Howe’s cause of death was never released, and Gmoser said that information will not be revealed until it is presented at trial.
“By the rules of professional conduct, a prosecutor is prohibited from going into specific details regarding the evidence of guilt in cases that are not already in the public domain,” he said. “None of this evidence is in the public domain at this point, so I cannot comment on it.”
This was the first local media outlet to break the news when the sealed indictment was made public after French was taken into custody about 1:55 p.m. Wednesday. Middletown police Detectives Rich Bush and Jon Hoover, along with Assistant Prosecutor Brad Burress traveled to Kentucky to make the arrest. They remained in Berea on Wednesday night after French was booked into the Rockcastle County Kentucky Detention Center.
Gmoser said French could be in Butler County by the end of the week. Gmoser said he will try the case with Burress.
A background check of French indicates he has ties to Middletown, living at several addresses there as well as Franklin dating back to 1990. The most recent was on Bonita Drive in May 2012.
Middletown police declined comment about the department’s involvement in the case. Gmoser pointed out the crimes of gross abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence occurred in that city.
“Mrs. Howe was a beloved member of the community and her loss continues to impact the citizens of Monroe,” Monroe Police Chief Bob Buchanan said in a statement. “The Monroe Police Department is very pleased with the arrest of Daniel French.”
Monroe police has planned a news conference for 10 a.m. Thursday.
“I am so relieved. I really just don’t know what to think,” Donna Wesselman, Howe’s daughter, said.
Wesselman said she does not know French.
“It has been a really tough road,” she said, noting that this holiday season the family can begin to get closure.
She said she also supports the death penalty specification attached to French’s indictment.
Several of Howe’s neighbors and friends also said they were relieved someone was arrested in her murder.
At Grecian Delight, 1300 Cincinnati-Dayton Road in Middletown, where Howe was a frequent customer, owner Maria Ververis hung a poster with Howe’s picture on the door in the days following her disappearance.
When told that an indictment had been returned more than two years after Howe’s death, Ververis said: “Are you kidding me?” She described Howe as “a very nice lady.”
Betty Lou Nein, 93, and Howe lived on the opposite sides of Mount Pleasant, but they had been friends for more than 70 years. When Barbara married Bill Howe, the longtime owner of Howe Motors Chevrolet in Middletown, in the 1940s, Nein played the violin at their wedding reception in Hamilton.
“I’m so glad for her family because this has dragged on way too long,” Nein said. “It’s good that they can be finally be done with this.”
Nein said the indictment also will be comforting news to the entire Mount Pleasant community, which had offered a $10,000 reward along with Howe’s graduating class at Hamilton High School for information about the case.
“Some people were very afraid around here,” said Nein, who said she believes the homicide didn’t occur at Mount Pleasant.
Stan Kappers, executive of Mount Pleasant, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Staff Writers Amanda Seitz, Lot Tan and Rick McCrabb contributed to this report.