Sunday, July 23, 2000

Butler Co. prosecutor dies

John F. Holcomb served 27 years

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        John F. Holcomb, Butler County prosecutor for 27 years and one of the county's most powerful politicians, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack at River Downs racetrack in Anderson Township.

        Mr. Holcomb was stricken while in the grandstand, and was taken to Mercy Hospital Anderson. He was unconscious when he arrived, said hospital spokeswoman Laurie Gettings.

        Mr. Holcomb, 62, Ohio's longest-serving prosecutor and an avid horse racing fan, was pronounced dead at 6:28 p.m. by emergency room doctors, said Ms. Gettings.

        John Engelhardt, spokesman for River Downs, said he was told by other workers at the racetrack that CPR had been attempted on Mr. Holcomb in the grandstand area.

        Officials at the Hamilton County Coroner's Office said they had not determined the cause of Mr. Holcomb's death. He suffered an aortic aneurysm in 1996, and though still frail and using a cane, he recovered enough to resume his duties.

        The prosecutor's son, John M. Holcomb, said he and other family members would not comment until today.

        “Our prayers go out to his family,” said Joe Statzer, political director for the Republican Party in Butler County. “Despite a rather rough political race this year, we certainly looked at that as professional and not personal. We do tip our hat to John Holcomb's 27 years of service as prosecutor in Butler County and we hope the best for his family.”

        Mr. Holcomb won re-election six times, half of them without opposition. But this year's campaign against Republican Robin Piper had been particularly contentious. Mr. Holcomb's fund-raising methods — the so-called 2 Percent Club — have been called into question since the Enquirer wrote about the practice last year.

        Mr. Holcomb's Republican opponent in the sometimes bitter race this fall for the county prosecutor's office, declined to comment.

        Dick Holzberger, Hamilton city councilman, fellow Democrat and longtime friend, described Mr. Holcomb's death as “a heck of a shock.”

        “I just talked to him twice earlier this week. It seemed like he was fine and looking forward to his race,” Mr. Holzberger said in reference to the fall election.

        Catherine Stoker, West Chester Township trustee and fellow Democrat, said she too was shocked by the news.

        “This is a man who dedicated his life to keeping law and order in this county,” Ms. Stoker said.

        “At least he went the way he always wanted to go — in the middle of a big fight,” she said in reference to Mr. Holcomb's election battle with Mr. Piper.

        Mr. Holcomb said horse racing was his favorite way to unwind. “I don't want you to think I'm a (horse) racetrack bum, but I love it. That's my hobby, and that's my pastime,” he said in an interview this year.

        Some of the more sensational cases Mr. Holcomb successfully prosecuted during his long career included: guilty verdicts for a man who killed 11 family members on Easter 1975, a satanist who dismembered a Fairfield woman in 1987, and a Liberty Township woman who conspired with her boyfriend to kill her husband with a crossbow in 1993.

        Janice Morse and Steve Kemme contributed to this report.

Holcomb was tough, caring

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