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Murdered woman had been seeking divorce, family says


GRAFTON TWP. — A guard at the Lorain County Jail has been charged with murder and domestic violence for allegedly stabbing his wife to death early Thursday.

Corrections Officer William Dembie Jr. called the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office at 1:32 a.m. to report that he had beheaded his wife, 33-year-old Holly Dembie, at their Cowley Road home, according to a news release from sheriff’s Sgt. Donald Barker.

When deputies arrived, William Dembie, 42, told them he had killed his wife, and he was immediately arrested, Barker wrote.

Holly Dembie’s body was found behind the couple’s home.

Deputy County Coroner Eric Lockhart said Holly Dembie wasn’t beheaded, but she had been stabbed multiple times with a knife. Some of the wounds were in the neck area, Lockhart said. He also said it was unclear whether Holly Dembie had defensive wounds.

Diedre Ashmun, Holly Dembie’s aunt, said the couple’s 4-year-old son wasn’t home at the time of the killing because he had gone with his grandmother and other relatives to see a drive-in movie. The family saw the crime scene tape and patrol cars when they returned home.

Ashmun said her close-knit family is devastated by the loss of her “big-hearted” niece, who worked with special-needs children at Midview Schools.

“This is going to be a great loss, not only to the family, but for the community and the schools,” she said.

Ashmun said she doesn’t know what led William Dembie to kill his wife, although the couple was having marital problems. She also said Holly Dembie had consulted a lawyer about getting a divorce.

“This was devastating for her because she said, ‘I don’t want to live my life like this,’ but she didn’t want to be the first in the family to get a divorce,” Ashmun said.

Ashmun said that William Dembie had physically abused his wife, including using tactics on her that he was trained to apply when controlling prisoners.

“My niece told me he was abusive,” she said. “He got rough-handed with her.”

Elyria City Prosecutor Scott Strait said it doesn’t appear that William Dembie has a criminal record.

Dembie briefly appeared via video uplink Thursday in Elyria Municipal Court, and his bond was set at $5 million.

Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh said Dembie, who is on unpaid leave, was transferred to the custody of the Erie County Jail after the hearing.

Dembie chuckled during Thursday’s hearing when Elyria Municipal Court Judge Lisa Locke Graves asked him if he was employed, before replying that he had worked at the Sheriff’s Office for nearly 13 years.

Dembie, an Olmsted Falls High School graduate and former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, was hired to be a corrections officer in January 1999 and earned mostly positive reviews during his tenure there.

His 2009 review, however, noted some concerns that he “had displayed excellent work habits and attitude in the past, but appears to be slipping away from that slightly.” The 2009 review also noted that Dembie “needs to control his opinions.”

His 2010 review, the most recent in his personnel file, noted that he “gets along well with others,” follows orders and “helps out without hesitation.”

Dembie had only a few minor disciplinary actions in his file, the most recent of which was a 2009 incident in which he scrawled graffiti on a time clock as a joke.

He also was written up in 2009 for habitual absenteeism, an issue that appeared to stem from a weekend in which he took time off for two days of training with the Army National Guard but hadn’t informed the jail about his planned absence until the day before he was due to leave. He was off for one day, but reported for work the next day and told his superiors that inclement weather had canceled the training.

Dembie was also written up in 2006 for a booking error that resulted in the jail’s prisoner count being off.

William Dembie’s family declined to comment Thursday, but Ashmun and her husband, Dennis Ashmun, said he kept mostly to himself and rarely attended family functions, even though Holly Dembie’s parents lived two doors down the street.

The Ashmuns said that William Dembie was smart, but also described him as “dark.” Records from the Ohio State Nursing Board showed that he became a licensed practical nurse in 1997 and became a registered nurse last year.

Court records indicate that William Dembie has three other children from a previous marriage, which ended in 2004, a year before he and Holly Dembie were married. William Dembie’s ex-wife works at the county jail as well.

Coleen Barta, an intervention specialist at West Elementary School in Grafton, said she’d known Holly Dembie for about five years as a colleague and friend.

“She loved working with the kids, and the kids loved her,” Barta said.

Holly Dembie was a paraprofessional aide with her 11-year-old cousin, who is blind and has cerebral palsy. Ashmun said her daughter was the reason Holly Dembie got her job.

Barta described Holly Dembie as cheerful, and “the kind of person who just really brightened up the whole place.” Barta said Holly would sing in the hallways and make up songs to help with lessons.

Holly Dembie was in the process of getting a teaching degree through Lorain County Community College and planned to become a special education teacher, Barta said.

Iva Pratt, another co-worker, said she can’t fathom why someone would want to kill her friend, who she called “the sweetest lady in the whole wide world.”

“She’s always bubbly,” Pratt said. “I always begged her to just have part of her energy level. She always smiled. I never saw Holly in a bad mood and the kids just loved her.”

Web reporter Rona Proudfoot contributed to this story. Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or and Kiera Manion-Fischer at 329-7123 or

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