My Town Monday: A Not-so Merry Christmas

Courthouse Square, where the Downtown Posse used to hang out

One of my writing friends wrote a flash fiction piece on Friday about a Christmas that wasn’t so merry–and she conveyed amazingly well in 100 words the devastation losing a loved one during the holiday season can wreak on a family.

But can you imagine how much worse it would be, if that loved one was murdered?

That’s what happened one year to the families of six people in Dayton, in a murder spree dubbed The Christmas Killings. Six people, murdered for no reason, between December 23 and December 26, 1992 – and an appropriately dangerous, conflict-laden situation into which to dump a character – as I did in my time-travel short story, “Time’s Holiday.”

At that time, there was a loose-knit street gang who called themselves The Downtown Posse – teens and twenty-somethings who mostly hung out around Courthouse Square, bumming money off of people to buy booze and drugs. A couple of days before Christmas, the Posse decided to up their game, when one it its members suggested they rob a man she knew, who she enticed with an offer of sexual favors.

Robbery turned into murder, and the four Posse members involved got away with the man’s car, a television set, and his microwave. They’d gotten away scot-free, so why not try it again?

The next day, they shot a young woman on the phone in a phone booth, just for the hell of it. She didn’t have any cash to speak of on her. They took her designer gym shoes and her coat. They then decided to go after one of the girls’ ex-boyfriend – he had money and a car. He managed to get away with a gunshot wound in his leg.

All this time, the cops were busy investigating and putting together clues. The Posse weren’t the smart criminals we read about in suspense novels, so it was a matter of time before they slipped up. The Dayton Police only hoped it was before more people died.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t how it worked out. The Posse’s next victim was another ex-boyfriend, but at the scene of that murder – on the street in front of his home, when he got suspicious – the cops found leads and witnesses that began to point them in the right direction.

The Posse hid out at the home of one of its members. This boy’s mom and her boyfriend were terrified of the Posse (and rightly so), and holed up upstairs the whole day and a half the Posse occupied their house. This is the point at which, in my short story “Time’s Holiday,” young Taylor Gressman shows up and finds herself in a heap of trouble.

The Posse went on to kill a convenience store clerk – the single mom of an 11-year old girl. After that, they cruised around some more in their stolen cars, now numbering three, with some other friends. One young man convinced them to take him home. The other two weren’t so lucky, and were killed because the four ringleaders were getting nervous and feared they might snitch.

As it turned out, the boy they’d dropped off earlier was the one who snitched, giving the police the last bit of evidence they needed. They trapped three Posse members in one of the stolen cars, and found the other at the house where they’d been staying – and where the terrified mom identified the last culprit.

All four of the Posse members who were arrested that day were convicted by the court. One man, Marvallous Keene, was executed by the State of Ohio in July, 2009. The other three perpetrators were only 16 and 17 at the time of the murders, so all three are serving multiple sentences, with no chance for parole until 2098 at the earliest.

While there have been plenty of other murders in the area, including some where more people were killed at once, the police consider this the worst, as it was clearly premeditated, and one murder was committed, then another plan was executed, and another. And the worst thing was, not only did it happen over Christmas, it was done for kicks.

Here is a reprint of a Dayton Daily News article that tells the whole story, which I used extensively in my research.

My story, “Time’s Holiday,” is available as a standalone ebook for FREE! Although fictitious, find out how seventeen-year-old Taylor sneaks away on Christmas Eve, hoping to find the angel who saved her life a few weeks earlier. Instead, she takes an unexpected trip back in time, and finds herself in the midst of a murderous street gang. Now it’s up to Taylor to ensure that she and a newfound friend don’t become the gang’s next victims, and in the process, learn that giving is the best gift of all.

If you’ve thought about giving the Saturn Society series a try, this is a great way to see if it’s something you might like. Grab a copy of the ebook from AmazonBarnes & NobleSmashwordsKobo BooksSony or iTunes.

If you’d like something more, “Time’s Holiday” is also included in the Ohio Valley Romance Writers of America’s anthology, Home for the Holidays. The anthology is available in both print and ebook at; and in ebook from SmashwordsKobo Books, Sony, Barnes & Noble and should be coming soon to  iTunes. All proceeds go directly to Ohio Valley Romance Writers of America, and help bring in educational programs for the whole chapter.

What about you – do you have any creepy true crime stories in your home from around the holidays? Can you imagine what the victims’ families must go through every year? And not to end on such a downer, do you like holiday stories?

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

My Town Monday: Guilty or Innocent, 115-year old case – could you decide?

Dayton, Ohio is no stranger to murder – just watch the news, and it seems there’s one almost every day. But a hundred years ago, murder was a novelty, and a trial for such, a spectacle people came to see from miles away. Yesterday afternoon, Dayton History reenacted such a case in the original Old Courthouse, that still stands at Third and Main today, giving us a chance to see what it might have been like, and even participate in the trial, over a hundred years later.

Dayton's Old Courthouse in the early 20th century

Dayton's Old Courthouse in the early 20th century

Upon entering the courthouse, Dayton History staffers gave the audience a sheet of the text of actual newspaper articles printed at the time. They were printed on yellow photocopy paper, which was amusing considering some of the yellow journalism within. 🙂

In September of 1896, 20-year-old Albert Frantz was accused of murdering Bessie Little, the 23-year-old woman he’d been seeing, whose body was found in the Stillwater River. There were a lot of suspicious circumstances leading up to the verdict of whether Miss Little had committed suicide, as was initially thought, or if she died by another’s hand. Witnesses described how Bessie was caught “in a compromising position” with Mr. Frantz in her parents’ barn, which led to him putting her up in a hotel soon after (there were few living options for single women in those days). It also came to light that she’d seen a doctor, and had been declared pregnant, and Mr. Frantz supposedly wanted to marry her, but was unable due to being underage – and his parents refused to give consent.

At the hotel, they found a letter from Bessie, addressed to Mr. Frantz’s parents, begging them to let their son marry her. But the most telling evidence was found on a newly-constructed bridge, that crossed the Stillwater into what was then a lightly-populated part of town: blood on the bridge itself, and a track mark from it that looked like a buggy had been driven through it.

Reenactment of murder trial in Dayton

Last weekend's reenactment

Mr. Frantz had been planning to take his sweetheart for a ride the last evening she was seen alive.

Other evidence was produced throughout the trial, which in reality, reconvened throughout the next three months. One item was the woman’s skull! It had been kept in a jar of alcohol at the police office, after her body had been exhumed from her resting place in the potter’s field in Woodland Cemetery, when her manner of death was first called into question. When the skull was brought in, the “bailiff” opened the courtroom’s windows, due to the undoubtedly-horrendous smell! The reason the skull was unearthed was probably the biggest factor in the ultimate determination of the court: Miss Little had been shot in the head through the ear, twice.

The prosecution and defense both presented their closing statements – both waxing rather melodramatic at times – then the jury (which were picked from the audience) went to deliberate. As in a modern, Ohio court proceeding, the jury was instructed to issue a guilty verdict only if the prosecution was able to “remove all reasonable doubt.” I was guessing they’d say “Not Guilty,” because despite the evidence, the state hadn’t removed all doubt. When they issued their verdict, the jury agreed, and the “judge” told the defendant he was free to leave.

The Dayton History staffers handed us another sheet of newspaper articles on the way out, containing the results of the trial: Guilty of First Degree Murder! It turns out that, after a series of failed appeals, Mr. Frantz became the fourth person in Ohio to die by electric chair, almost a year later.

Can you imagine that quick of an appeals process now? Or presenting the actual corpse as evidence in a trial? (Thank goodness for modern photography and videography!) And interestingly enough, do you think the modern-day jury was more compassionate, more discerning of the evidence, or maybe just more hard of hearing? (There was a lot of echo in the courtroom, and yes, it was hard to hear sometimes.) Anything fun like this reenactment in your home town? Please share!

Note: This program will be presented three times next weekend, August 5, 6, and 7 –  Details at
Want to learn more about this case? Check out Spilt Blood, by Curt Dalton (one of the researchers for the reenactment)

More at the My Town Monday blog

Historic photo via Dayton History