By Rick McCrabb
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.’”