Detective ‘ate, slept and breathed’ Howe case

By Rick McCrabb

Staff Writer

MONROE —

It was Oct. 29, 2012, and the Monroe Police Department received a missing persons report from the family of Barbara Howe. The family reported that Howe, an 87-year-old Mount Pleasant Retirement Home resident, hadn’t been seen for one day.

That was the beginning of a murder investigation that Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said the “shear brutality and diabolical nature of this case really is unparalleled in the history of this county. I’ve never seen anything as horrific as this, in the planning and the diabolical nature. It really is an unusual case.”

Howe’s body was found stuffed in the trunk of her red Cadillac that was abandoned in the parking lot of a Middletown apartment complex on Nov. 1, 2012, just days after it was reported missing.

For more than two years, Monroe Detective Gregg Myers dedicated his life to finding Howe’s killer and bringing that person to justice. Myers was so afraid he may miss one clue, one phone call, one piece of evidence, that he cashed in three-fourths of his vacation days the last two years. He gained weight, lost sleep.

He spent more than 50 percent of the last 26 months thinking of nobody but Barbara Howe.

He was 48 then, 50 today, but feels much older.

“It didn’t matter if I was here, if I was in the parking lot, in the middle of the night or during the 30 minutes in the shower,” he said during a one-hour interview in his office. “I ate, slept and breathed this case. I couldn’t make it stop. I couldn’t make myself go away. There was no switch. I wanted to have this case solved the first night. You take it personally when you don’t.”

The price he paid was worth the investment, he said.

“I know I have aged,” he said. “I know there is a difference. Never in my life have I felt a change like this. You like to think you’re still 24 or 25 but your body tells you otherwise. My body really tells me this the last two years. It has taken its toll. But would I do it again? Absolutely.”

His office, what he called “off limits” until recently, is stuffed with Barbara Howe files — electronic and paper. There are binders, folders, cardboard boxes, all filled with evidence collected during the past two years. Because of the shear volume of data, he said it would take 90 minutes to load all the information onto a thumb drive.

And in the corner of his office hangs a poster thumb tacked to the wall. It’s one of the $10,000 reward posters that features a color photo of Barbara Howe and her red Cadillac.

You get the feeling Myers never will forget Howe. But really, how could he?

Howe’s accused killer, Daniel French, 56, of Berea, Ky., began working at Mount Pleasant on Sept. 13, 2003 and worked there until he resigned his position on Dec. 14, 2011, according to a statement from the retirement community.

When police arrived at French’s home just outside of Berea to arrest him, they found him asleep in his bedroom with a gun and a suicide note close by, according to his sister Wanda Allen.

Throughout the investigation, Myers played his reaction over and over in his head. Then when the news finally came, he felt nothing.

“It wasn’t like I rolled down the windows and pumped my fists in the air,” he said. “But there was tremendous relief, tremendous satisfaction. Lots of emotions. One would surface, then another would surface for a moment. You have to remember there never is a winner in these situations. Nobody wins. But as police officers we must take satisfaction in completing our tasks. Otherwise, we aren’t going to last long. We have to celebrate our victories in battle.”

Sometimes those battles leave emotional scars.

After French was indicted, the Monroe Police Department and the Howe family held a press conference at the station. Before Myers addressed the media, he received a hug from Donna Wesselman, one of Howe’s three daughters. She has praised Myers for his police work, and for keeping her “sane” throughout the investigation.

Myers said it was important to solve Howe’s murder quickly. He realized some of her friends at Mount Pleasant died during the investigation. They died never knowing the truth. That bothered him.

“I know the way this case has affected me from the first day, especially when we found her, that if this wasn’t solved, I would work on it until the day I died,” he said. “Even if I wasn’t here, I’d work on it in my mind.”

And then there was Harry Wilks, of Hamilton, and the man responsible for the Hamilton High School Class of 1943 offering a $10,000 reward in Howe’s murder. Wilks died on Nov. 1, 2014.

As Myers talked about the disappointment of not catching the killer before Wilks’ passing, tears filled his eyes. He got out of his chair, reached for a tissue and wiped away the tears.

“That’s one of the things that hit me that day,” he said. “I don’t know some of the things that are stuck inside me.”

He has been told by Howe’s family that catching the alleged killer is the best Christmas gift. He was asked what Barbara Howe is thinking about now that her alleged killer is behind bars.

“She was very active and nothing slowed her down,” Myers said. “She would have been the one who jumped the highest, pumped her fist the hardest. ‘Yes, you did it!’ She was a cheerleader for the community and righteous and what was good. If this would have happened to somebody else over there, Barbara Howe would have been the first person to come over here and tell me, ‘Good job.’”

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Moms of Monroe brings Complaints to City

Administrative Reports
Mr. Chesar reported that the City has received complaints about the selling and purchasing of
items in the parking lot at Kroger. Mr. Chesar asked Council if they felt it is a concern that staff
needs to look at.
Mrs. Rubin advised that it began as a swap of children’s items between people; however, now
people from other communities are coming in with car loads of various items. She agreed it
could not go on, but felt they should be provided the opportunity to correct the situation first.
Mrs. Stillman felt that Kroger needs to police their own parking lot. Mr. Chesar advised that
from a zoning standpoint, it would need to be classified as a flea market and not a permitted use.
Mr. Callahan questioned whether or not that is a violation if the property owner doesn’t mind
people hanging out in their parking lot.

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Man accused of killing Barbara Howe indicted on more charges

Man accused of killing Barbara Howe indicted on more charges

By Lauren Pack

Staff Writer

BUTLER COUNTY —

A new indictment was handed down Friday against a Kentucky man accused of killing 87-year-old Barbara Howe and stuffing her body in the truck of a car in 2012.

Daniel French, 56, of Berea, Ky., is facing charges of aggravated murder with death penalty specification, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, gross abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence for allegedly planning to rob and kill Howe of Monroe.

When he was arrested by police on Dec. 10 on Flat Gap Road where he was living with his sister, French confessed to the slaying, according prosecutors. That confession led to an additional aggravating specification and a new indictment.

The grand jury found that French committed murder to escape detection, apprehension, trial or punishment, according to the indictment. This specification, along with aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary, qualify the act of murder to be punishable by the possibility of the death penalty.

French is being held in the Butler County Jail in lieu of a $5 million bond. Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said he expects French will be arraigned next week on the new indictment by Judge Michael Sage.

When police came to arrest French, detectives found him fast asleep in his bedroom with a gun and a suicide note close by, according to his sister Wanda Allen. He was transported to the Butler County Jail on Dec. 15 after waiving extradition earlier that morning in Rockcastle County Kentucky District Court.

According to a Dec. 16 motion filed by Gmoser, Howe was one of three Mount Pleasant Retirement Community residents that French called on Oct. 28 with the ruse of telling them their medical alert system needed repair. French used an in-house phone system to make the call with the intent to gain access to one of the residences “for the purpose of robbery,” according to the court documents. Gmoser filed the motion in order to take a deposition of a material witness in the case who also received one of the fake calls.

“Approximately one half hour after the deponent was called … the decedent Barbara Howe, also a resident of said facility, received a call listed as coming from the in-house phone system. (Howe) did not survive to explain said call, but the examination of her home … revealed that her alert system was placed on the ‘away mode contrary to her habit when she was at home,” the document states.

“French has confessed to the murder of the said decedent and states the decedent was one of three calls made with the ruse of a defective alert system for the purpose of gaining entry in the commission of robbery,” it says.

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Butler County judge removes herself from presiding over murder trial

Butler County judge removes herself from presiding over murder trial
Jennifer McElfresh

Related

Butler County judge removes herself from presiding over murder trial photo
Daniel French

Staff Report

BUTLER COUNTY —

Butler County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer McElfresh has recused herself from presiding over the murder trial of Daniel French, the man accused of brutally killing Barbara Howe, of Monroe, and stuffing her body into the trunk of her Red Cadillac in 2012.

Defense attorneys for French asked McElfresh to recuse herself during a hearing this morning.

McElfresh worked in the Butler County prosecutor’s office at the time of the probe of French. While she was not directly involved in the investigation of French, she did have limited involvement with investigation of evidence in the case.

McElfresh said she agreed to recuse herself from the trial not because she couldn’t be fair and impartial, but because this was an important case and she wanted all parties involved to feel they received justice.

It is not clear when a new judge will be appointed.

Prosecutor: Accused murderer admitted to killing Barbara Howe

Prosecutor: Accused murderer admitted to killing Barbara Howe

Prosecutor: Accused murder admitted to killing Barbara Howe photo
Daniel French was in court Monday morning, Dec. 15, in Rockcastle County, Ky., for an extradition hearing where he told the judge he would not fight going back to Ohio to face the charges against him.

By Lauren Pack

Staff Writer

HAMILTON —

Daniel French, the man accused of killing 87-year-old Barbara Howe of Monroe, has admitted to the crime, according to Butler County court documents obtained exclusively by the Journal-News.

French, 56, of Berea, Ky., was indicted last week by a Butler County grand jury on charges of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications, aggravated burglary and robbery, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. Police accuse the former Middletown resident and Mount Pleasant Retirement Community employee of brutally killing Howe and stuffing her body into the trunk of her red Cadillac in 2012.

When police arrived Wednesday at Daniel French’s home just outside of Berea to arrest him, detectives found him fast asleep in his bedroom with a gun and a suicide note close by, according to his sister Wanda Allen.

French was transported to the Butler County Jail late Monday after waiving extradition earlier that morning in Rockcastle County Kentucky District Court. He is scheduled to be arraigned today at 1 p.m. before Butler County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer McElfresh.

A motion filed this morning by Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser reveals more details of what police and prosecutor’s say occurred.

Howe was one of three Mount Pleasant Retirement Community residents that French called on Oct. 28 with the ruse of telling them their medical alert system needed repair, according Gmoser. French used an in-house phone system to make the call with the intent to gain access to one of the residences “for the purpose of robbery,” according to the court documents.

Gmoser filed the motion in order to take a deposition of a material witness in the case who also received one of the fake calls.

“Approximately one half hour after the deponent was called … the decedent Barbara Howe, also a resident of said facility, received a call listed as coming from the in-house phone system. (Howe) did not did not survive to explain said call, but the examination of her home shortly after Oct. 28, 2012, revealed at her alert system was placed on the ‘away’ mode contrary to her habit when she was at home,” the court document states.

The document says, “French has confessed to the murder of the said decedent and states the decedent was one of three calls made with the ruse of a defective alert system for the purpose of gaining entry in the commission of robbery.”

Allen, French’s sister, spoke exclusively with this news outlet Monday at her home on Flat Gap Road about her brother’s indictment and whether she believes he’s guilty of murder. Allen, 60, said her brother has been living with her for the past three years and she “will always believe they have the wrong man” when it comes to Howe’s death.

She was there when Middletown detectives and the Kentucky State Police came to arrest her brother. Allen said she fears what might have happened if French had been awake at the time.

“He was a sleep when they came,” Allen said while sitting at a picnic table outside her home. “I am thankful for that. They found him with a gun and a suicide note.”

Allen described French as a “very loving and kind person” who loved to collect movies and books. She said they shared a love for flea market hopping, as they are plentiful in the Berea area.

“He was the one who took care of me when I broke my leg and even took care of my animals for me,” Allen said, wiping away tears. “I will forever know him as the person who was so gentle and covered me with a blanket when I fell asleep.”

But prosecutors and police view French much differently. Gmoser has used words such as “diabolical,” “horrific” and “brutality” in describing the alleged planning and execution of Howe’s death by French.

“The shear brutality and diabolical nature of this case really is unparalleled in the history of this county,” Gmoser has 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.”

If convicted, French could face the death penalty for the murder of Howe who was last seen on Oct. 27, 2012.

Allen, who lived in Middletown for several years, said she “just can’t see in my heart that he (French) had anything to do with it.”

In the past two years, Allen said police have visited her home questioning French and his family members numerous times. Last week, Allen said she as well as others were called to testify before a Butler County grand jury.

“They wanted to know about his demeanor when he came back from visiting there (Butler County),” Allen said, adding she never noticed any change in her younger brother.

But after two years of questioning and the grand jury subpoenas, the pressure became too much, which she said explains the gun and suicide note.

“There has just been a lot of stress … everybody is under stress about this,” Allen said. “He has three children, grandchildren … they are having to deal with this.”

Gmoser confirmed Monday with this newspaper that the grand jury heard evidence in the Howe case for about three months.

“There were many evidentiary issues that were developed like a Polaroid camera in that grand jury,” Gmoser said.

Howe, who lived alone in a cottage on Paxton Circle in Mount Pleasant, went missing after she had dinner with a friend and sent a funny political email. Her car was found by Middletown police at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 1, 2012, in the parking lot of Woodridge Park East Apartments on Woodridge Drive, near Roosevelt Avenue, just 5.2 miles from her home.

Monroe police peppered the media and community for days asking for help in finding the beloved and active senior citizen who was known to visit friends in Middletown.

Middletown Lt. Scott Reeve began looking for Howe’s car after the department’s Police Chaplin Lamar Ferrell came to the office expressing concern for the woman.

Reeve learned that Monroe police had checked Howe’s former Middletown residence and began driving in areas she might pass or frequent. He noticed the Cadillac parked at the apartment complex and made the horrific discovery of Howe dead in the vehicle’s trunk.

How long Howe had been dead, where she was killed, and even the exact cause of death has been closely guarded by the detectives, the county coroner’s office and Gmoser.

Howe, who was born in Hamilton, dedicated her life to her husband, Bill, and three daughters, and enjoyed cooking, sewing, traveling, playing tennis and reading. She was a lifelong member of First Presbyterian Church, Middletown Symphony Women’s Association, Cotillion Mixers, and a former member of Brown’s Run Country Club and Wildwood Golf Club.

She was on the scholarship committee at Miami University Middletown and helped raise funds to build the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.

Her husband of 51 years owned and operated Howe Motor Co. in Middletown.

As months without an arrest turned into years, Monroe Detective Gregg Myers continue to work the case. Posters offering a $10,000 reward for information about her killer remained in stores and police stations throughout Butler and Warren counties.

Monroe police Lt. Brian Curlis said last year that more the 100 DNA samples had been taken from people investigators have talked with. Investigators also processed evidence from at least three crime scenes — Howe’s home, her car and the parking lot of Woodridge Apartments in Middletown where she was found in the trunk of her car on Nov. 1.

Myers revealed in September 2013 that there was a person of interest in the case. A missing 3.31-carat, oval-cut, diamond wedding ring that Howe never removed could also be a key piece of evidence, the detective said.

Last week, before a press conference at the Monroe Police Department, Myers hugged Howe’s daughter, Donna Wesselman, as she wiped away tears.

“It is very rewarding,” Myers said, noting there is still a long road ahead during the trial process.

The detective did confirm that French was the person of interest he had referenced last year.

Wesselman said she never lost hope her mother’s killer would be found because Myers kept her and her family informed every step of the way.

“If it weren’t for Gregg Myers … he kept me sane through all of this,” Wesselman said.

The Blue Ash woman said Myers once described the case and investigation as “like working on an all-white puzzle, and you only have the corner pieces.”

French’s arrest was made public Wednesday afternoon when he was taken into custody about 1:55 p.m. Middletown police Detectives Rich Bush and Jon Hoover, along with Assistant Prosecutor Brad Burress traveled to Kentucky to make the arrest.

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. He has no criminal background in Butler County, according to police and a public records search by this newspaper. The only court cases involving him are for civil matters and two divorces.

In a written statement, Stan Kappers, the executive director at Mount Pleasant, said French met employment requirements and passed a background check and screening that included finger printing and a felony and misdemeanor criminal convictions and driver’s licence record check though an independent third party provider.

“I am personally sickened by the thought that anyone previously associated with this community could have been involved in this tragic crime,” Kappers said in the statement.