Unconscionable and so frequent
By Noam Heller
In the pre-dawn hours of August 23, 1987, a 6,000-ton cargo train was carrying out its nightly run to Bryant, Arkansas, when, suddenly, the engineer on board spotted two immobile figures lying on the tracks. He instantly blared his horn, expecting them to pop up. But nothing. Not even a twitch. The train then hit the two bodies, carrying them under for what seemed like an eternity (in reality, it was no more than four seconds).
The two bodies were identified as 16-year-old Don Henry and 17-year-old Kevin Ives – best friends, notorious goofballs, and popular seniors from Bryant High School. If you find it weird that they would remain on the tracks while a massive train was charging towards them, you’re not the only one.
Now, let us warn you. Don and Kevin’s story is arguably one of the most infuriating cases to date. It uncovers not only how corrupt our society is but also how evil some people truly are.
Thick as Thieves
Kevin and Don were both typical teenage boys. They loved to goof around, work on their cars, and hunt in the woods near their homes. Don was a jokester, and Kevin was his loyal companion who would always laugh at his lighthearted jokes. The two popular seniors spent their weekends double dating and hanging out with friends. However, on the night of Saturday, August 22, 1987, things played out a bit differently.
They kicked off the evening at a popular hangout place at the outskirts of Little Rock and then carried on back at Don’s house. Kevin waited out on the porch while Don went inside to let his dad know that they were going out for a round of spotlighting in the woods.
With a .22 rifle and a flashlight in hand, Don and Kevin set out for their night hunt (also known as spotlighting). It’s technically an illegal activity in Arkansas, but that’s beside the point (as the story progresses, you’ll see that there were WAY MORE illegal things going on in the woods).
The boys strolled around their usual hunting ground, a path along the railroad tracks that ran behind Don’s house. So far, so good.
But only a few hours later, the two boys were lying motionless and side by side on the tracks, only seconds away from being run over by a huge train.
It Looked Like a Morgue
Engineer Stephen Shroyer couldn’t believe his eyes. As the train approached the two static figures on the tracks, his brain froze, then he came back to his senses a split second later. “I started laying down on the diesel horn, but I got no reaction. Not so much as a flinch,” he mentioned in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Shroyer explained that they were lying exactly parallel on the tracks, with their arms by their sides and a light green tarp covering half of their bodies. “We just passed over them,” he recalled, shaking his head in disbelief.
What had caused the two boys to lie down like that? Well, according to one deceitful doctor – drugs.
Just Two Irresponsible Potheads?
The state medical examiner, a man named Dr. Fahmy Malak, was responsible for the initial autopsy and came out with the ridiculous (and even comical) claim that the boys had smoked around 20 joints that night, which had caused them to pass out on the tracks.
According to Malak, they were too high to hear the train’s horn, and he ruled the whole thing as an accident. Now, if you’ve smoked a joint or two in your life, you’re probably thinking to yourself – what is this nonsensical babble, and how did people buy into it?
Thankfully, most people didn’t—especially the Henry and Ives families.
A Reliable Doctor Came to the Rescue
“We checked the train, and it was 98 decibels, which is equal to a jackhammer, an air compressor running. I don’t think that no one can sleep through that kind of noise,” Curtis Henry, Don’s father, explained. Outraged and devastated, the families fought hard for a second autopsy, and thanks to their persistence, the bodies were exhumed.
This time, luckily, it wasn’t “doctor” Malak who looked into it. It was a man named Joseph Burton, a nationally recognized forensic pathologist from out of state. The disparities between the two examinations are baffling. While Malak concluded that the boys were high as a thousand kites, Burton said that they had likely smoked just one or two joints. But that wasn’t the only shocking thing he uncovered.
The Startling Findings
Joseph Burton found evidence that Kevin’s face had been smashed by a blow from the butt end of a rifle and that Don had been stabbed in the back. Both attacks happened a while before they were placed on the tracks. This would explain the thickness of their blood, as noted by the emergency first responders who arrived at the scene.
Burton believed that this information alone suggested that the boys had been badly injured or even killed before their bodies were run over by the train.
Arguably the most disconcerting thing Burton noticed was how severely mutilated their bodies were, thanks to none other than our dearest friend – Fahmy Malak.
What Was Malak Hiding?
Malak had mutilated Kevin’s skull by sawing it in different directions, and he also completely dismantled his jaw. It looked he had purposely messed around with Kevin to make it impossible to tell where the original injuries were.
“I’ve performed thousands of autopsies and had never seen anything like it,” Burton admitted. Was Malak trying to hide something?
When confronted with Burton’s new findings, Malak remained loyal to his original verdict – “Was there a stab? The answer is no. Were they dead beforehand? Absolutely not. They were alive,” he shamelessly concluded.
From Accidental to Homicide
In addition to Burton, two additional forensic pathologists and seven other forensic investigators with years of accumulated experience reviewed the case. It was their collective opinion that the ruling be changed from accidental to murder.
So, what did this do to Malak’s reputation? It opened a pandora box, that’s what it did. More than 20 additional cases where Malak had falsified evidence surfaced in the news. His bizarre rulings include “suicide” for a man who had been shot five times in the chest and “ulcer” for another man who was found decapitated.
They Gave Him a Raise
Media coverage of Malak’s dishonest rulings resulted in a massive public outcry, with calls for his removal from office. Astonishingly, Arkansas’s governor at the time, Bill Clinton, and chairman Jocelyn Elders not only insisted he remain, but they gave him a $14,000 raise.
“Based on the facts that I have, I really feel that Arkansas owes Dr. Malak a great debt and a real apology,” Jocelyn told local interviewers. Clinton agreed and added that if Malak missed out on any details, it was because he was simply overworked, tired, and underpaid.
The Police Turned a Blind Eye
Malak wasn’t the only sketchy player involved in this bungled investigation. “Reliable” sources, all the way from federal officials to local officers, were caught acting suspiciously. Stephen Shroyer (the engineer from the train) said that he had told police about the tarp but that they later denied his claims.
“They even questioned its existence. That, to me, would be like questioning the existence of the boys on the track,” he argued, “Because what’s real is real and what’s not is not. And it was there. As well as the boys.”
In spite of it all, local Sheriff Jim Steed told the media he was extremely pleased with the “thorough” investigation.
At the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
All of this dodgy behavior begs the question – what’s going on? Why can’t Henry and Ives’ families get justice for the horror that was done to their sons? To answer this, we need to understand why they were killed in the first place. And like Malak’s obscene ruling – the reason has to do with drugs.
Unfortunately, the boys were at the wrong place at the wrong time. And their casual stroll into the woods landed them smack in the middle of a drug drop. A drug drop involving people from the “good-hearted” community of ordinary, local citizens, including the police.
Keep Your Friends Close, but Your Enemies Closer
In comes Dan Harmon – a key figure in this story of corruption. Harmon is a former prosecutor who, suspiciously, insisted on taking on the boys’ case. Despite having multiple domestic abuse charges thrown at him by his ex-wives, he has, for some reason, all always been protected by law enforcement.
Harmon grew close to the grieving families, embracing them with arms wide open and assuring them that he would find the killer. Little did they know, Harmon was involved in the whole scheme.
From up close, Harmon was easily able to manipulate the case in his favor.
A Peculiar Warning
As 1988 came to an end, so did the investigation. It had been a little over a year, yet nothing had really changed. A bunch of suspicious behavior, ridiculous claims, and above all – the case had the same dodgy group of people “investigating” it.
Things finally began to shift once Jean Duffey, a newly appointed prosecutor, was hired to investigate the drug and corruption issues in the Saline County area. But before she began connecting the dots, she was warned not to look into anything involving government officials.
She Found It Hard to Believe Any Cops Were in the Wrong
On her first day at work, Duffey’s immediate supervisor Gary Arnold stood in front of her, looked her straight in the eye, and told her, “You are not to use the drug task force to investigate any public official.” As confused as she was by his remark, she shrugged it off because, at the time, she genuinely didn’t believe that there were any cops involved in illegal acts.
It didn’t take long for her to realize how naïve she was. After hiring undercover agents to collect information on drug activities in the district, she discovered there was a huge drug-smuggling ring operating out of Meena airport and that packages were being dropped in the exact same spot where Kevin and Don had been murdered.
One Name Stood Out
Duffey’s undercover agents came to her with names of the people involved. And one name, in particular, stood out, both because of how frequently it came up but also because of the person’s status. It was Dan Harmon. The state’s “law-abiding” and “honest” prosecutor.
Ironically, Dan Harmon and fellow prosecutor Richard Garrett, the very same people working on Don and Kevin’s murder case, were now two of Jean Duffey’s main targets.
It wasn’t long before Harmon detected Duffey was after him. Can you guess his response?
She Was Smart Enough to Take Off
Harmon wasted no time and launched a massive media campaign against Jean Duffey. He spread lies upon lies, doing whatever he possibly could to lower her status and credibility. Unfortunately, the man was so well connected that nobody questioned whether he was speaking the truth.
Magazines and newspapers printed whatever he asked of them. Whether he had evidence to back up his claims was utterly irrelevant. He left Duffey no choice. She eventually quit and became a schoolteacher in Texas until things quieted down.
Silenced Witness Number One
Through the years, people with information about Kevin and Don’s murders would be killed. And all of their cases grew cold, except for the murder of one man named Keith McKaskle, who’s said to have been murdered by his neighbor (even though there’s virtually no evidence to back that up).
Even more, concerning is that McKaskle had reportedly told his friends and family a few days before he was killed that he knew too much about the murders of Kevin and Don and that he felt that his days were numbered.
Silenced Witness Number Two
Witness and victim number two is Keith Coney, a friend of Kevin and Don’s who was with them that dreadful night. Like McKaskle, someone saw Coney as a potential threat and decided to kill him off. Coney’s mom, Betty Alexander, informed interviewers that she knew her son was afraid for his life.
“A couple of months before, he said a couple of times that he knew he was being watched and that he was afraid,” she revealed.
Despite the obvious connections, officers refused to link Coney and McKaskle’s deaths to Kevin and Don’s. Prosecutor Richard Garrett stated that both fellows probably suffered from “a lot of paranoia.”
A Ride to Nowhere
In 1993, the Ives family urged to reopen Don and Kevin’s murder case, and the new man assigned to it was an out-of-state detective named John Brown. However, just like Jean Duffey, Brown was given some bizarre instructions on his first day at work.
His immediate supervisor took him for a one-hour ride “to literally nowhere,” all while babbling on and going around the bush saying things like, “there’s nothing to this. This could have been an accident. It’s going to bring you a lot of grief if you continue on and do this.” Finally, when they parked the car, his supervisor said, “John, you really need to leave this alone.”
The Case File Had Been Robbed
Disturbed by his superiors’ peculiar request, Brown decided to do some digging. It soon became evident that the case file had been robbed of crucial evidence. There were no crime scene photos, no sketches of the accident scene, no list of evidence. Nothing.
The one thing John Brown managed to collect was valuable testimony from a woman named Sharlene Wilson, who claimed to have been there that night. “She told a horror story that I didn’t really believe at the time,” Brown said. “So I started searching for evidence to substantiate what she said. That’s when Harmon went ballistic. He threatened everyone. All because I talked to this one woman.”
What Did Sharlene Wilson Have to Say?
Wilson told Brown that the people on the track that night were herself, Dan Harmon, Keith McKaskle, and an individual named Larry Rochelle. She also claimed to have seen the boys that night on the tracks. “They were watching the drop sites, and they got curious as to what was being dropped there,” she stated.
Dan Harmon wasn’t pleased with Wilson’s little confession, so he began sending death threats to Brown in the hopes of scaring him off. But detective Brown stuck around for a while, interviewing more and more people, including pilots from Mena airport, to verify whether they had any knowledge of the shady flights.
Devious Dan Strikes Again
No matter how hard he tried, John Brown was up against a mountain of resistance when it came to the investigation of both Mena airport and the deaths of the boys. Like Duffey, he eventually retired from the force for fear of what his snooping around might lead to.
After driving Duffey out of state and forcing John Brown into early retirement, Dan Harmon appointed his loyal pal Roger Walls as head of a new task force, which is pretty much the same position once held by Duffey. Again, very convenient.
His Nefarious Deeds Caught Up to Him
For a while there, Harmon felt like he was in control. But his criminal ways eventually caught up to him. In the mid-‘90s, both he and his buddy Roger Walls were convicted of several felonies, including drug charges and racketeering.
Unfortunately, investigators never connected Harmon’s drug crimes to the murders on the tracks from 1987 because they weren’t allowed to look into anything from the 80s. So, despite his arrest, justice hadn’t really been served yet.
Another Valuable Eyewitness
Wilson wasn’t the only witness putting Harmon’s name on the map. A young boy named Tom Neihaus claimed to be in the woods as well and confirmed that Dan Harmon was really there that night. He knew for a fact it was him because, at the time, his mother was dating Harmon. So, there was no way he would have mistaken his face for somebody else.
Tom said he kept his distance from Harmon and the rest of the group, peaking at them from afar. He then spotted two young guys (Don and Kevin) with a rifle and a flashlight, minding their own business, and when Harmon spotted them, he signaled them to come closer. At first, they hesitated but eventually agreed to go near.
A Hidden Confession Letter
Tom added that at a certain point, he heard what sounded like a gunshot, followed by a sudden flash. He and his friends were so terrified that they turned on their heels and made a run for it.
This testimony, as well as Wilson’s, was kept under wraps for years.
What’s crazier is that Wilson wrote a confession letter revealing everything, a letter that targeted Dan Harmon and uncovered some ugly truths about what was happening in the area. But due to some influential (and evil) people, the confession letter never reached the Ives and Henry families.
Linda Had No One to Talk To
In 2015, a retired police officer and a friend of Linda Ives (Kevin’s mom) managed to get his hands on Sharlene’s letter. Linda then took it straight to Saline County prosecutor Ken Cassidy, who rudely brushed her off and even refused to look at it. He told her to see the Saline County Sheriff instead.
But, lo and behold, guess who the Sheriff was at the time? Dan Harmon’s nephew, a man named Rodney Wright. Unbelievable, really.
What was Linda supposed to do now? Show Rodney the letter accusing his uncle of being a drug lord/murderer?
So, What Really Happened That Night?
Let’s try and put the pieces together. So, Don and Kevin went out hunting the very same night that Sharlene Wilson, Dan Harmon, and another guy named Larry Rochelle were out there in the woods waiting for their drugs to fall from the sky (Keith McKaskle still hadn’t arrived).
Kevin and Don were walking along the tracks and happened to stumble upon Dan Harmon and the rest, as witnessed by Tom Neihaus and his group of friends who were peaking at them from the nearby bush. A shot was then fired either by Harmon’s group or by one of the boys.
A Brawl Outside the Woods
But that’s not the end of the story. The boys didn’t die from the gunshot. They reportedly managed to run out of the woods, eventually reaching a local grocery store where they met their friend, Keith Coney (according to two eyewitnesses from the store named Ronnie Godwin and Mike Crook).
Godwin and Crook told investigators that Coney left on his motorcycle when two police officers, Kirk Lane and J. Campbell, showed up and beat Kevin and Don unconscious outside the store. They were then thrown into the vehicle and taken back to the tracks, where they were placed side by side and covered with a green tarp.
A Very Toxic Political Machine
With a heavy heart and a long face, Henry’s mom, Linda, told interviewers: “Our lives revolved around the ball field and going to the lake… until the Arkansas political machine reached into our lives and destroyed the tranquility that we had.”
Tragically, no one has been held accountable for the murders. Yes, Dan Harmon was thrown behind bars for drug charges and other felonies. And many more corrupted officials were tossed into jail for all sorts of crimes they couldn’t get away with. But no one was arrested for Don and Kevin’s murders.
Enough With the Cover-Ups
Lastly, here’s an interesting tidbit about chairman Jocelyn Elders (who argued for Malak’s innocence), Her son, Kevin, was arrested in the mid-‘90s for selling cocaine to undercover agents. Surprise, surprise, right? Somehow, all the people entangled in this sordid affair were related to the world of illegal goodies.
In the words of Linda Ives: “It’s time to make our government work for us, instead of against us.” So, enough with the corruption. Enough with the cover-ups. Enough with this sickening obsession over power and money.