Kevin Ives and Don Henry (Murder of)
The apparent murder in Saline County in 1987 of seventeen-year-old Kevin Ives and sixteen-year-old Don Henry has spurred ongoing controversy, including conspiracy theories tying their deaths to a drug-smuggling scandal. The case was the subject of journalist Mara Leveritt’s award-winning book The Boys on the Tracks.
On Sunday, August 23, 1987, at around 4:00 a.m., the bodies of the two boys were spotted by the crew of a Union Pacific locomotive near Crooked Creek trestle in Alexander (Pulaski and Saline counties). The bodies were lying between the tracks, wrapped in a pale green tarp; there was a gun nearby. The train was unable to avoid running over the bodies. The train’s crew immediately reported the incident to railroad officials and to local law enforcement at Benton (Saline County), where the train had come to a full stop. By 4:40 a.m., local and state police had arrived at the scene and begun investigating. At first, local officials treated the incident like an apparent suicide despite the objections of the train crew. Reportedly, no tarp was found by the police, but they did take in a shattered .22 caliber rifle as evidence.
Best friends Kevin Ives and Don Henry had been out hunting late on Saturday night, August 22, but when they could not be found the next morning, their parents began searching for them. The spot where their bodies were found was about a mile from the home of Henry’s family in Alexander. On Monday, local officials contacted the Ives and Henry families after the two boys had been identified conclusively through dental records. The story was covered statewide and soon went national. State officials—including the state medical examiner, Dr. Fahmy Malak—ruled the boys’ death as an apparent suicide despite the fact that all four parents disputed the ruling.
A week after Ives and Henry were buried, their parents were summoned to the office of state medical examiner. Malak said that these were “two accidental deaths due to THC intoxication”; THC is a component of marijuana. Malak’s theory was that the two boys had smoked enough marijuana that they simply fell asleep on the tracks that night before being run over. Local authorities did not question Malak’s findings, but the parents were motivated to conduct their own investigations. According to Leveritt, Malak was accused by his own staff of keeping “outdated crime lab stationery” on which he allegedly falsified findings in autopsy reports just before certain cases went to court. Moreover, the hospital where the boys were taken and examined kept no records of their presence there. The hospital clerk told an investigator, per Leveritt, “That’s why the families were not billed.” However, a medical report found by an EMT at the tracks that night noted that the boys’ blood “looked like it lacked oxygen,” raising questions about whether Ives and Henry were already dead when the train hit them.
In March 1988, the parents announced that Dr. James Garriot of San Antonio, Texas, had given a second opinion on Malak’s findings. Garriot concluded that it was highly unlikely for any amount of THC exposure to have the effects that Malak had alleged and that the only truly reliable test for the presence of drugs in the boys’ systems, mass spectrometry, had not been performed. Another toxicologist, Dr. Arthur J. McBray of North Carolina, said that Malak’s conclusions were “very bizarre,” and that he had never heard of anyone becoming unconscious from exposure to any amount of THC. However, Saline County sheriff James H. Steed Jr. repeatedly told the Benton Courier that there was nothing at the tracks that night to suggest that it was nothing more than a “strange accident.” Linda Ives, mother of Kevin Ives, criticized Steed’s administration in a letter she had published in the Benton Courier. After that, Dan Harmon, the parents’ lawyer, made a deal with Steed in February 1988: If the parents would withdraw their criticism of Steed and support him, they would get the investigation they had wanted all along.
Six months after the incident, a three-day-long hearing was held in the Saline County Courthouse in Benton, with the Ives and Henry families hoping to get a new ruling. With the help of lawyers Dan Henry and Richard Garrett, Malak’s ruling of “accidental” death was overturned, but the result was hardly definitive. On February 26, 1988, five days after the hearing, the cause of the boys’ deaths was changed from “accidental” to “undetermined.” Following the discovery of new information after a second autopsy of the two boys’ bodies by Georgia medical examiner Dr. Joseph Burton, the case was put before a grand jury in April 1988. That May, an editorial in the Benton Courier posited the possibility that the boys may have been murdered. A month after that, the grand jury ruled their deaths a “probable homicide.” Before leaving Arkansas, Burton told Garrett that, per his calculations, the two boys had “smoked only one or two joints of marijuana before their deaths.”
NBC’s hit show Unsolved Mysteries featured a segment on the case in the fall of 1988. When asked about his thoughts on the case by host Robert Stack, Garrett alleged that the boys “saw something they shouldn’t have seen and it had to do with drugs.” Despite the grand jury’s announcement that the boys’ deaths may have been related to drug trafficking, Sheriff Steed refused to allow any funds to aid in the investigation. Steed had also lied about where he had sent the boys’ clothes for examination. Per Leveritt, Steed sent the clothes to the Arkansas State Crime Lab, not to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as he was supposed to do. Steed was not reelected as county sheriff following his involvement with the case.
The focus of the investigations turned toward allegations that their deaths had something to do with drug trafficking, and some additional people were thought to be connected to the deaths or to have information—people who knew each other and supposedly knew things about what Leveritt calls the county’s “drug underworld.” Two days after Steed lost the election, Keith McKaskle, one of Harmon’s informants in the case who was asked by Harmon to take aerial photographs of the crime scene, was murdered. McKaskle was also a well-known manager of a local club on the Saline County–Pulaski County line. On January 22, 1989, twenty-six-year-old Greg Collins, who had been called to testify before the grand jury, died from three shotgun blasts to the face. In addition, just weeks before, Collins’s friend Keith Coney, who was also called to testify to the grand jury, died in a motorcycle accident. By March 1989, another recipient of a subpoena to appear before the grand jury, Daniel “Boonie” Bearden, had disappeared. Another death supposedly connected with the case was that of twenty-one-year-old Jeffrey Edward Rhodes, whose body was found in a landfill in April 1989. The deaths were ruled homicides in March 1990 after yet another investigation, but, per the Arkansas Gazette, there were no reported arrests.
On September 10, 1991, four years after the deaths of Kevin Ives and Don Henry, the announcement of Malak’s resignation appeared in the Arkansas Gazette. With Governor Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign beginning around the same time, some alleged that Malak had made a deal with Clinton, but Malak repeatedly denied the accusations. In 1994, The Clinton Chronicles, a propaganda video purporting to connect Bill Clinton to various crimes, was released. The deaths of Ives and Henry were among those to which Bill Clinton was supposedly connected. The Clinton Chronicles advanced the conspiracy theory that, while governor of Arkansas, Clinton had a connection to a scandal involving large shipments of cocaine, guns, and money from Central America passing through Arkansas at the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport. It further speculated that the two boys had been murdered after stumbling upon a shipment moving through Saline County that night in August 1987.
Harmon, who had represented the Ives and Henry parents, was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, and drug possession with intent to distribute in 1997. Leveritt says in her book that his conviction and the resulting eleven-year prison sentence handed down in 1998 proved, to the boys’ parents at least, that their sons’ deaths “had occurred in an environment of local corruption.” Despite the exhaustive collection of details that Leveritt provides in the book, she offers no answers to the questions it raises. The case remains unsolved.
In August 2016, a new lawsuit was filed by Linda Ives citing a violation of the Freedom of Information Act by local and federal officials, or “stonewalling,” in relation to the boys’ deaths. On November 15, 2017, a federal judge ordered three defendants in the suit—the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security—to turn over for private review documents that had formerly been redacted; the judge dismissed several other agencies from the suit, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. State Department, the FBI, the Arkansas State Police, the Saline County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bryant Police Department. The suit was dismissed in 2019. It was reported in February 2018 that former World Wrestling Federation wrestler Billy Jack Haynes had recorded a video testimony in which he claimed to have witnessed the murders of Ives and Henry while providing security for a drug trafficking drop in 1987.
For additional information:
Day, Chris. “Train Deaths Are Officially Homicides.” Arkansas Gazette, March 6, 1988, p. 3B.
Farrar, Lara. “Mom of Cold Case Victim Dies.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 5, 2021, p. 3B.
Leveritt, Mara. Boys on the Tracks: Death, Denial, and a Mother’s Crusade to Bring Her Son’s Killers to Justice. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
Satter, Linda. “Suit over Records in ’87 Deaths Dismissed.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 20, 2019, pp. 1A, 5A.
———. “Unraveling Mysteries in Saline County Murders.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 26, 1999, p. 6J.
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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