Dayton Daily News Library

1998 homicides:
Cheryl Ann Durkin


  On April 13, 1998 bicyclists found a human torso on the bank of the Great Miami River in Hamilton. The remains would later be identified as Cheryl Ann Durkin, missing since February
   In September Mary Ellen Peck confessed to burying other parts of Durkin's body in a wildlife area in Preble County. Police began a manhunt for her son, James Lawson.

  But Lawson had already disappeared. He had acquired false identification papers had was living under an assumed name in a small town in Kentucky.
  Lawson managed to remain undetected until November when he joined his new girlfriend, Billie Jenks, for Thanksgiving dinner at the home of her grandmother. But Lawson became suspiciously agitated when someone began shooting videotape of the gathering. Later, Jenks' grandmother reported her suspicions and Lawson was arrested Nov. 28.


SEPTEMBER, 1997: Cheryl Durkin returns to Middletown after completing aChristian drug rehabilitation program in Florida and moves in with her sisterin Madison Twp., west of Middletown.
* JAN. 29, 1998: Durkin is arrested on charges of criminal trespassing andpossession of drug paraphernalia in Middletown.
* FEB. 5: Durkin is last seen in Middletown, two blocks from James Lawson'shome.

* FEB. 25: Durkin was slain by Lawson "on or about" this day, police say.
* APRIL 15: Durkin's sister, Karla Edwards, files a missing-person's reporton Durkin. Edwards indicates Durkin has been missing since Feb. 16.
* APRIL 13: A torso later identified as Durkin's body is found bybicyclists on the bank of the Great Miami River in Hamilton.
* MAY 27: An anonymous call points police to James Lawson. Police searchhis sister Melissa Lawson's garage, but fail to find Durkin's body partsconcealed there.
* JUNE: Mary Ellen Peck, Lawson's mother, and Melissa Lawson bury Durkin'shead, feet and a leg in woods at Rush Run Wildlife Area in Preble County andher arms and the other leg in woods near Brookville Lake in Indiana, policesay.
* JUNE 5: Police search Lawson's home at 216 Garfield St. in Middletown.
* JUNE 10: Lawson flees to San Bernardino, Calif., but later returns toMiddletown, police say.
* JUNE 11: Lawson is issued two fake state ID cards by the Ohio Bureau ofMotor Vehicles. Police say Lawson created the new identities by altering dateson the birth certificates of family members and acquaintances.
* AUG. 12: Police again search Lawson's Garfield Street home. Lawson fleesagain to California, investigators say. Police lose contact with Lawson formore than three months.
* SEPT. 1: Butler County police reveal they are searching for Lawson inconnection with Durkin's slaying. They arrest Mary Ellen Peck, Lawson'smother, after she and his sister direct them to a Preble County wildlife areaand Brookville Lake in Indiana, where they buried parts of Durkin's body.
* SEPT. 2: Peck is ordered held in the Middletown jail. Bail is set at $1million bail. Authorities acknowledge they hope this will convince Lawson toturn himself in. A federal arrest warrant is issued in Cincinnati declaringJames Lawson a fugitive who has taken flight to avoid prosecution in ButlerCounty.
* OCT. 13: Lawson begins work at Varity Dayton Walther's Carrollton MachineCenter in Carrollton.
* NOVEMBER: Lawson meets Billie Jenks while working at Varity DaytonWalther, a job he got through the temp agency with identification establishinghim in the last of a series of false identities.
* NOV. 26: Lawson bristles when the family of his new girlfriend shootsfootage for a family video on Thanksgiving Day. His behavior raises questionswith family members, including Jenks' grandmother, Leda Meadors.
* NOV. 27: Indiana State Police receive a call from Meadors, a resident ofBlocher, Ind., a small community near the Kentucky border, indicating that sheknew the whereabouts of a murder suspect from Middletown. Butler Countyauthorities visit her home and identify Lawson from the holiday video.
* NOV. 28: Lawson is arrested without a struggle outside thegranddaughters' home in Carrollton.
* DEC. 1: Butler County Coroner Richard Burkhardt rules that Durkin diedfrom multiple blows to the head.
* DEC. 2: Lawson is arraigned in Middletown Municipal Court. Peck issentenced to four years in jail for tampering with evidence and obstructingjustice in her son's case. Melissa Lawson acknowledges her role in buryingDurkin's body and police say she will be charged.

Selected Dayton Daily News Stories:

By Lawrence Budd Warren County Bureau
Published: 09/02/98 -- Page: 1A

the life of one who trod in harm's way

By Lawrence Budd Warren County Bureau
Published: 10/21/98 -- Page: 1B


By John Keilman and Tom Beyerlein DAYTON DAILY NEWS
Published: 11/29/98 -- Page: 1A





* Ellen Peck is sentenced to four years for burying parts of the woman her son is charged with killing.

By Tim Tresslar and Lawrence Budd WARREN COUNTY BUREAU
Published: 12/03/98 -- Page: 1A


By Lawrence Budd, John Keilman and Tim Tresslar WARREN COUNTY BUREAU
Published: 12/06/98 -- Page: 1A

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