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The title of this episode is The Boys on the Tracks, those boys were Don Henry and Kevin Ives, and these two boys’ untimely deaths would set off some of the craziest conspiracies and investigations in Arkansas’s history.
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The title of this episode is The Boys on the Tracks, those boys were Don Henry and Kevin Ives, and these two boys’ untimely deaths would set off some of the craziest conspiracies and investigations in Arkansas’s history.
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Welcome to The Secret Sits, I’m your host John Dodson. Join us every Thursday as we uncover the Secrets behind the world’s most fascinating true crime cases. You can find all episodes of The Secret Sits for free on Apple Podcast, Spotify or where ever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you are hearing, reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook @The Secret Sits Podcast or on Twitter @SecretSitsPod. Now, on with our story.
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In small town USA, there is often very little to do, especially for young people. I know, I have lived in some pretty small towns throughout my life, and most the time I spent in small towns was during my youth. Our story today takes place in one of these small towns which dot the American landscape, Bryant, Arkansas sits just south of Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas. The day started off like any other day. It was August 22nd, 1987 and the day had turned to dusk when two teenagers named Don Henry and Kevin Ives decided to go to a local commuter parking lot to hang out with friends. You see what I am saying, the most interesting place these 16- and 17-year-olds have to hang out in is a parking lot. Anyway, Don was 16-years-old and Kevin was 17-years-old, their favorite hobbies were working on their cars, a Firebird and a Camaro, respectively, or hunting, and on most occasions, they went out on double dates with their girlfriends. As the night wore on and a parking lot became as boring as a parking lot can possibly be, the two boys decided to move on with their evening and they left the parking lot to travel to Don’s house, where both boys had planned on spending the night, who says teenage boys can’t have sleep overs? Kevin waited out on the porch as Don went inside of the house to have a talk with his father. The time was now 12:15am and August 22nd had quietly turned into August 23rd. Don picked up his .22 caliber hunting rifle along with one of his father’s spotlights, think a big over-sized flashlight, and he headed back outside. Kevin and Don planned on going out to the woods along the railroad tracks behind Don’s house to go spotlighting. For those of you who have never lived outside of a big city, spotlighting is an illegal form of deer hunting, the hunter will use a large, bright light to shine into the deer’s eyes, this action transfixes the deer so it will not move, and the hunter can more easily shoot the deer, because it is not moving. This same affect happens when a deer is crossing a road at night and a car’s bright headlights shine into the deer’s eyes, they don’t move out of the way of the car, because they are transfixed by the light. As the boy’s left Don’s house, his father thought nothing about it, this was actually a pretty normal occurrence in their lives.
Stephen Shroyer was working as an engineer for the Union Pacific railroad company, he was running his normal route north from Terarkana to Little Rock. This cargo-train clocked in at 6,000 tons, it was over a mile in length and it was currently traveling at a speed of 52 miles per hour. It was now 4:00am and the train was barreling through the town of Bryant, Arkansas on its way to Alexander, so far this evening’s run had gone smoothly, suddenly in the distance, Stephen saw something strange being lite up by the glowing halo of the train’s headlight. Stephen could just make out two people laying parallel across the railroad tracks, and these people were not moving. As the train grew closer and the two people did not attempt to move out of the way of their impending doom, Stephen went into action; he put the train into its emergency stop procedure and he laid on the train’s horn, a final, frantic warning to the two individuals laying on the tracks. As the train squealed, crackled and groaned, attempting to stop, but knowing that it could not, Stephen had about 5 seconds to take in the scene again, he could now tell that these were two boys, the lower half of their bodies were covered in a light green tarp and their legs were laying across the train rails, their arms were straight down by their sides and neither of them were making any movements at all. Stephen also saw Don’s .22 rifle laying parallel to the boy’s bodies.
From first spotting the boys on the tracks, until the train made its final stop, the front of the train traveled an additional half of a mile, carried by the weight of the 75 cars behind the engine. The train made a catastrophic impact with the two boy’s bodies and it carried them along with its mile of cars for that entire half of a mile. This event took only seconds, but Stephen said that it felt like an eternity before the train grinded to a halt.
One EMT at the scene noted that the blood coming from the boys did not look quite right, the blood looked darker in color than it should have been if it were fresh blood. Most likely a lack of oxygen had caused the boy’s blood to become darker and it also had a different consistency than fresh blood would have had. Their skin was already colorless as lividity had begun to set in, it was obvious that the boys had been deceased well before Stephen had dashed through the town in his freight train.
Word travels fast in small towns, and in 1987 the population of Bryant was just around 5,000 people. Once word gets out that something is going down at the train tracks, quite a few residents make their way out to the tracks, even at this early morning hour. When the police take stock of the scene, they find Don’s rifle and flashlight, but the sheriff says that there are no signs of foul play. Police hoped that this presents by the locals, would help them in identify the two boys faster, once someone realized that their kid or kids were unaccounted for.
As the morning waned on, Linda Ives received a call from a man named Curtis Henry, Linda’s son Kevin was best friends with Curtis’ son Don and both boys were supposed to be spending the night at Curtis’ house. Curtis tells Linda that he has not seen either boy since around midnight and this immediately worries Linda, how could Curtis not know where they were, they were staying at his home? Curtis goes on to explain to Linda that the two boys had gone out for a late-night hunting trip, something they did quite often, but they never returned. Linda asks if Curtis has called the police yet, to which Curtis tells her no. He said that he wanted to call around and check in with a few more people before bothering the police. Linda had no idea what to do at this point, and for all she knew, the boys had just crashed at a friend’s house and they were perfectly fine, but the nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach would not go away.
Linda’s phone rings again and it is Curtis, she hopes that he is about to tell her that he found the boys and that everything is fine, but that is not what Curtis has called to tell Linda. Instead, Curtis tells Linda that the boys had been found and the news was not good. According to Curtis, the boys had been shot, tied to the railroad tracks and then run over by a train. Larry Ives, Kevin’s father worked for the railroad, and until recently he ran the route for the train that had struck the boys. Linda makes her way to the Henry’s house where she is met by Curtis and his wife Marvel, along with several law enforcement officers. The parents give the police descriptions of their two teenage sons and based on their descriptions; police tell them that the two boys who had been hit by the train were possibly their missing boys. The following day, the two boys were identified as 16-year-old Don Henry and 17-year-old Kevin Ives. Best friends and seniors at their Bryant, Arkansas High School.
The boys’ parents of course, want to figure out what had happened, how had their boys ended up on those train tracks in the middle of the night. But there does not seem to be a clear answer.
Both boys were taken to the State Medical Examiner, Dr. Fahmy Malak, and Dr. Malak quickly ruled the boys’ deaths as accidental. He states that both of the boys were, definitely still alive before being struck by the train. The Sheriff, also confirmed that there was no evidence of foul play, the rumor about the boys being shot and tied to the tracks were just that, rumor. Dr. Malak went on to claim that, based on toxicology reports, the two boys had been under the influence of marijuana at the time of their deaths, and not just a little marijuana, oh no, Dr. Malak claimed that they boys had smoked upwards of 20 joints, he claimed that the boys were so incredibly high that they were laying on the train tracks in a state of deep sleep, they could not even feel or hear the train as it approached them, and then they were impacted by the locomotive. Because both boys’ deaths were ruled as accidental by the medical examiner, their case is then closed.
Kevin Ives’ mother, Linda Ives was truly dumbstruck at the medical examiner’s finding, and his father Larry had to agree. Larry was typically at home when Kevin came home from school and his mother was at home with him all night, neither of Kevin’s parents believed that their son was into drugs, they had never observed their son intoxicated, and they had never had any other indications that Kevin was taking drugs. Linda admits that they knew very little about marijuana at that time, but in the coming months and years, she would learn more than she ever wanted to know.
One of the first things that the parents questioned about their sons’ deaths was their position on the train tracks. If the two boys were so stoned that they could not hear a freight train coming, how did they lay down so perfectly parallel with one another and in the exact same position? The sound from the train was tested and it rang in at a whopping 98 decibels, this would be equivalent to the sound of a jackhammer, and no matter how high they boys were, they could not have slept through that level of noise. Curtis also brings up Don’s rifle, which was found on the tracks, Curtis said that Don would have never laid his rifle down on the gravel like it was, he was too protective of his firearm and he would have feared the gravel would scratch the wood on the rifle. Two people came forward to say that they had heard gunshots shortly before Don and Kevin were hit by the train. The Saline County Sheriff’s Office assured the families that tests would be done on Don’s gun to see if it had been fired, however; those tests were never conducted. By Wednesday, August 26th, just 3 days after the boys had been hit by the train, the Arkansas Democrat reported that, “the only thing Saline County authorities are sure of, is that foul play was not involved.” What the newspaper did not report on was the fact that the police were so inept in their investigation that they had completely missed locating one of Kevin’s severed feet, which was found by one of Don Henry’s family members. These family members also located pieces of Don’s rifle and more of his personal belongings which were scattered around the site, due to the train collision.
Linda Ives, Kevin’s mother, criticized Saline County Sheriff James H. Steed, Jr. who had said repeatedly that there was nothing at the scene to suggest anything more than a simple, but strange, accident. In February of 1988, Dan Harmon, an attorney in Benton who, at that time had no official role in the case, approached the families and offered to help them by making a deal with Sheriff Steed, this deal would be, that if the Henrys and the Ives withdrew their criticism of Sheriff Steed and supported him, they would receive the investigation they wanted. I mean, give me a break. Around this same time, about six months after the boys’ deaths, the Henry family received Don’s belongings from the medical examiner’s office. Don’s stepmother found a partial bag of marijuana, weighing in at 1.9 grams, in the pocket of Don’s jeans, this made the family wonder what else the so-called investigation had overlooked.
Because of their questions surrounding the case, the Ives and Henrys decided to ask for a meeting with the medical examiner, Dr. Malak. At this meeting Dr. Malak continuously dodged the adult’s questions surrounding the amount of THC in their children’s systems at the time of their deaths. Linda also said that during this meeting, they expressly told the Dr. that they had no interest in seeing any of the autopsy photos of their children, but Dr. Malak kept trying to pull out the photos to show the parents, which only caused them more distress.
The parents left this meeting with Dr. Malak shaken, and they decided that they wanted a second opinion on the cause of their son’s deaths. The parents contact a pathologist from out of state named Dr. Francisco from Tennessee. Dr. Francisco agrees to help the distraught parents as long as they are able to send him a testable sample. The parents get into contact with the Little Rock Crime Lab, where the autopsies took place, and they are told that Dr. Malak is refusing to hand over any samples, when asked, Dr. Malak will also give no reason as to why he is refusing to hand over the samples. Because of their disgusting interactions with Dr. Malak thus far, the parents decide to hire their own private investigator and an attorney to attempt to get the samples and find out what happened to their boys.
After their attorney gets a court order, from a judge, to release the samples, good ol’ Dr. Malak simply refuses to comply with the court order and he refuses to allow the samples to be sent to Dr. Francisco. After Dr. Malak refused to comply with the court order, the parents contacted the District Attorney, hoping he may be able to force Dr. Malak to do the right thing. When they receive a response from the DA’s office, they are stunned at the response that they received. The DA’s office told the parents that they could not do anything to help them, and if they chose to sue Dr. Malak for not abiding by the court order, they, themselves in the DA’s office would be the ones defending Dr. Malak in court. So the parents at this point are just stonewalled. But, after this contact with the DA’s office, suddenly it seems that Dr. Malak has had a change of heart and he agrees to release the samples.
Upon receiving this new, Larry and Curtis, both of the boy’s fathers, head to the M.E. office accompanied by their private investigator. They meet with Dr. Malak and at one point they enter a room filled with sample jars. As they walk through the room, Dr. Malak plucks one of the jars from a shelf. The Doctor unscrews the lid of the jar and he pulls a pen out, he then begins to poke at the specimen within the jar, he then looks at the two men and says, “This is your son’s brain.” After this bizarre experience with the Doctor, the three men leave after obtaining the samples they had come for and they send the samples to Tennessee to be examined by Dr. Francisco. It does not take long for Dr. Francisco’s findings to come back, and when they do, this doctor says that he agrees with Dr. Malak’s findings. Dr. Francisco stated that he had found a large amount of THC in the boy’s urine. But even this second opinion would not change a mother’s understanding about her own child and Linda does not believe Dr. Francisco’s findings either. And like a dog with a bone, Linda would not give up. Linda takes the ME reports and she begins to go through them with a fine-tooth comb. She looks at each test and how each sample was tested, because she wants to know how two different medical examiners had come to this same conclusion.
And thank God for persistent, pushy mothers because Linda soon finds some questionable things about these reports. One of the samples that was sent to Tennessee was a urine sample from Kevin, but there was not urine sample from Don. This makes Linda wonder, how Dr. Francisco had ruled that Don’s urine contained a high level of THC, when he never had a sample of his urine to test in the first place. So, Linda calls up Dr. Francisco and asks him about what she had discovered. During this call Dr. Francisco admits to Linda that, no, he had not tested Don’s urine, actually, he had not done any testing at all, he simply decided to agree with Dr. Malak’s original findings. So, what was the point of him ever agreeing to retest the samples in the first place?
The parents of the two boys did not accept the medical examiner’s conclusions to their sons’ case and five months after their sons’ deaths, the families held a press conference to express their feelings. The story of this seemingly tragic accident had garnered state wide media attention. This press conference began a crusade for the Ives and the Henry families that would go on for years, they were determined to find out the truth about their sons’ deaths and to restore their reputations. This press conference did work, as the day after the press conference the case was re-opened and the newly appointed prosecutor Richard Garrett had Kevin and Don’s bodies exhumed for a second autopsy. This pathologist, Dr. Joe Burton from Georgia, concluded that the two boys had not smoked 20 joints, but rather around 1 to 3 joints. Kevin and Don’s friends who had been hanging out with them on the night of their deaths confirmed this amount of marijuana being used on that evening. During this second autopsy, it was determined that one of the boys was already dead and the other was unconscious when they were struck by the train. On top of these findings, the new examiner found that Dr. Malak did not follow proper protocol when he conducted the initial autopsies on the boys following their deaths. Around this same time, Dan Harmon was appointed by a circuit judge to head a county grand jury investigation as a special prosecutor. In July of 1988, the grand jury heard the case and they chose to reverse Dr. Malak’s original accidental death ruling, this changed the boy’s cause of death to probable homicide.
Richard Garrett ended up having a third autopsy performed on Kevin and Don, the results of this autopsy were released in October of 1988. The pathologist who performed this autopsy, found evidence of stab wounds on the shirt Don wore that night, but he was not wearing this shirt at the time his body was struck by the train, these stab marks also corresponded with wounds to Don’s back. The injury to Kevin’s cheek was caused by being struck by the butt of a rifle. The shape of the wound on Kevin’s cheek matched the butt of Don’s rifle. There was also congestion found in both boy’s lungs indicating that they had been injured before they had been hit by the train. Due to this new information a new grand jury changed the death ruling from probable homicide to definite homicide.
Next, prosecutor Garrett turned his attention to the green tarp. And by the way, the sheriff and all of his deputies all claimed to have never recovered nor seen any tarp on that night, even though it was seen by all three men running the train. Neither of the boys owned this type of tarp, according to their families, so who covered the boys with the tarp and why did they do it? The prosecutor believed that the tarp had existed, however; it was never located. As the case was actually investigated, leads were soon unearthed, funny how that works. Around a week before the boys had been killed, people had spotted a man wearing military fatigues in the same vicinity. The man exhibited some strange behavior and some residence called the police. Officer Danny Allen located the man and he pulled over his cruiser to speak to the man, but before he could even exit his vehicle, the man turned toward Officer Allen and began shooting, Allen ducked down in his seat and after the gunshots stopped and he rose up from his seat, he could no longer see the man. A few minutes after this shooting, officers from Celine County arrived and searched the area, but they were never able to locate this man.
This man was reported again on the night Kevin and Don were murdered, still in his military fatigues. When he was seen on the night of the murders, he was seen heading out of town, walking down a road located less than 200 yards from the spot where the two boy’s bodies were struck by the train. This man has never been seen since.
Six weeks into his investigation, Richard Garrett discovered an eerily similar case, this other case took place in Hogden, Oklahoma, which is located about 200 miles west of Little Rock, Arkansas. This case happened on June 25th 1984, three years earlier than our case today and some things were almost identical. Two men, 21-year-old Billy Hainline and 26-year-old Dennis Decker, were both lying across railroad tracks for the Kansas City Southern railroad when they were struck and ran over by a locomotive. Their autopsies revealed that one of the men had alcohol in his system, but not an exorbitant amount. These boys were also lying in the same position as Kevin and Don, and both of these men were laying completely motionless as the train approached them. Their deaths were ruled as accidental by the county coroner. The coroner believed that the men had fallen asleep on the tracks in a drunken stupor. The State medical examiner changed their manner of death as unknow, owing to the small amount of alcohol and the strange placement of the men’s bodies on the tracks. Many believed that Billy and Dennis had been met with foul play. This case had little to no explanations, just like our case today.
But this case was reopened in 1985, and investigators focused on the involvement of drugs in these deaths. This new investigation discovered that one month after Billy and Dennis were killed by the train, a meth lab was discovered less than two miles from where their bodies were found. In 1987, the deaths were ruled, accidental. Sheriff Charles Hurley stated that he believed the bodies had been placed on the tracks. There are no known suspects in the case and it remains unsolved.
Richard Garrett knows that Kevin Ives and Don Henry were murdered, his working theory is that the boys walked up on something they were not supposed to see. The assailant or assailants incapacitated one of the boys and then did something to the other one. In an effort to cover their bad deeds, they were placed on the tracks and covered with the tarp. After taking on this case, Richard Garrett began doing something he had never done before, carrying a gun at all times. Richard felt that his life could be in mortal danger, just because he took on this case. Kevin and Don’s parents continued to work this case and they planned on doing just that until the case is solved. These families have spent a lot of time in the place where their boys were killed, and they too believed that the boys happened upon something that they were not supposed to see.
One big question that lingered around this case was a simple one, who would want to kill Kevin and Don? They were just two high school boys and they did not have any enemies. Soon, rumors began to swirl, lightly at first, just small-town gossip. But then these rumors began to intensify and more and more attention was paid to them. The base of these rumors was that Kevin and Don had been involved with, or witnessed drug trafficking. The nearby town of Mena, Arkansas, had strong ties to drug trafficking, actually, it was one of the largest drug trafficking towns in the United States at the time. If you somehow recognize the name of this town, but you can’t quite place it, it may be because it was featured in a movie starring Tom Cruise, this movie was titled American Made and it told a movie version of the following story. Barry Seal, was a pilot who ended up working for the Medelin cartel from Colombia. Barry smuggled guns and cocaine from Colombia into the United States beginning in 1981. Barry used low-flying planes to airdrop drug packages in remote areas of Louisiana, then other members of his team would locate and pick up the packages. Barry had 12 planes and the frequency of the flights caught the Louisiana State Police’s attention, they then alerted Federal investigators. Because of this heat, Barry Seal moved his base of operations to the much smaller area of Mena, Arkansas. There he used the Mena Intermountain Regional Airport to do maintenance and modifications to improve the panes’ carrying capacity and avionics. Eventually, Seal became caught up in an investigation called Operation Screamer in which over 80 pilots were indicted. Seal ended up surrendering to federal authorities in April of 1983, after he was convicted and he was facing a heavy prison sentence, Seal started to work with the authorities and he went undercover for them. Barry Seal ended up meeting Pablo Escobar who was setting up a cocaine lab for production. This covert operation lasted for a while, but on February 19th, 1986, Seal was assassinated by 6 Colombian hitmen, working for the Medelin cartel. The Medelin drug cartel’s operation continued after this, possibly with the help of a very high profile, United States politician. So, the rumors around town, were that Kevin and Don may have unintentionally stumbled into one of these drug drops on the night they were murdered.
In the fall of 1988, Unsolved Mysteries featured The Boys on the Tracks case during one of their episodes. Prosecutor Garrett participated in this episode and when the show host, Robert Stack asked him what he thought had happened in this case, Garrett stated that he believed Don and Kevin, “saw something they shouldn’t have seen and it had to do with drugs.” The grand jury announced that the boys’ deaths may have been related to drug trafficking, however; Sheriff Steed still refused to relinquish any funds that could have helped in the investigation. It also came out that Sheriff Steed had straight up lied about where he had sent Don and Kevin’s clothing for examination. You see, Sheriff Steed had publicly stated that he had sent the clothing to the FBI for testing, however; he had actually sent the cloths to the Arkansas State Crime Lab. Following his botched investigation in this case, Sheriff Steed, lost his next bid for reelection.
Two days after Steed lost his bid for reelection, on November 10th, 1988, a 43-year-old man named Keith McKaskle, who had supposedly worked as an informant for attorney Dan Harmon, was murdered. Keith McKaskle was a large man, he stood at 6 foot two and he weighed in at over 200 pounds. It was said that this man would quite often break up bar room brawls, without the use of any weapons. He was found in the carport of his home, wrapped in a flower print shower curtain, his body was riddled with 113 stab wounds, his home looked like a scene from a horror movie, all of the walls were spattered with bright red blood, the evidence of a ferocious and long fight for his life. Keith McKaskle, was probably not surprised when, whoever it was, showed up at his home to kill him, he had been telling his friends that he thought he had become involved with the wrong people, because Keith McKaskle had allegedly been at the railroad tracks on the night of Don and Keith’s murders and he had worked with prosecutor Garrett during his investigation. He made arrangements for his own funeral and went around telling his family members goodbye, only two days before his murder, but the most interesting thing he told people was that he was constantly being followed by two police officers.
In August of 1989, a 19-year-old named Ronald Shane Smith was sentenced to 10 years in jail for the murder of Keith McKaskle. Another inmate claimed that he had been approached and offered $4,000 to kill McKaskle, so maybe someone had paid Smith to commit the murder. Smith claimed that he had been at McKaskle’s home to pay him for some items he had purchased, including a silver tray for his mother, when three men in clown masks burst into the house, two of these men had knives and one had a gun. Smith claimed that these men held him at gunpoint while they viciously stabbed McKaskle to death. After the man was dead, these, clown faced intruders then made Smith also stab McKaskle while they took polaroid photos of him doing so, they then used these photos to blackmail Smith into taking credit for the murder. Strangely, even though Smith was convicted and served 10 years for the murder, Keith McKaskle, Mckaskle’s murder is still listed as unsolved.