Last week we started the story of the boys on the tracks. After a long string of cover-ups, their deaths were finally labeled as homicides. The case is eerily similar to another case out of Oklahoma.
On June 25, 1984, 26-year-old Billy Hainline and 25-year-old Dennis Decker were found lying motionless on a stretch of the Kansas City Southern railroad twenty miles south of Poteau, Oklahoma, approximately 200 miles from Alexander, Arkansas. Like the Arkansas teens, the Oklahoma men were run over by a locomotive and were lying in nearly identical positions.
The Le Flore County coroner ruled the men’s deaths accidental; however, the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner ruled the cause of death unknown.
A month later, a meth lab was discovered just north of the tracks. This discovery led to speculation that the deaths of Billy Hainline and Dennis Decker were drug-related. No one has ever been charged in connection with their deaths.
The similarities are glaring, but nothing connects the men’s deaths in Oklahoma to the boys in Arkansas. Many believe all four deaths are drug-related.
A massive drug-running operation flourished in Arkansas during the 1980s after commercial pilot Barry Seal, a drug smuggler for Columbia’s infamous Medellín Cartel, began using the Intermountain Regional Airport at Mena, a small town in southwestern Arkansas, as a drug transshipment point. A 1986 FBI memo released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in July 2020 confirms the Mena airport as the headquarters for Seal’s smuggling operation after he moved his enterprise from his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Seal and cohorts flew planes carrying illicit drugs, principally cocaine, at low levels over predetermined drop sites in remote areas throughout Arkansas. Packages of drugs attached to a parachute automatically opened upon impact, so the recipients could quickly ‘grab and go’ with the illegal cargo.
Although Seal was murdered in 1986, the year before Don and Kevin’s deaths, the drug drops continued. Several of these drops are believed to have occurred in the Bryant-Alexander area, approximately 120 miles from Mena.
Rumors abounded Kevin and Don were killed after stumbling upon an illegal drug drop in the area. Low-flying planes had recently been seen nearby. Rumors also swirled that several government officials were involved in the boys’ deaths.
In March 1990, Jean Duffey, an Arkansas prosecutor for the Seventh Judicial District made up of Saline County and the neighboring counties of Hot Spring and Grant, was appointed to head the newly created Seventh Judicial District drug task force. Its purpose was to investigate drug and corruption problems occurring in Saline and surrounding counties. At the time, federal authorities were investigating charges of drug trafficking and corruption in Saline County.
Duffey’s undercover officers investigated several reports of residents in Saline and surrounding counties disturbed by low-flying airplanes in the late evening or early-morning hours, always under cover of darkness. Several of these incidents occurred in the area where Kevin Ives and Don Henry were found.
The task force determined these planes were used for drug drops, and the boys’ deaths were likely tied to the drug smuggling ring based in Mena. Taskforce investigators determined the airplane drug drops had not been properly investigated, if at all, by any law enforcement agency in the district for the role they may have played in the boys’ deaths.
The investigators’ accusations led to several public officials; the name most frequently found was Dan Harmon.
Dan Harmon served as an Arkansas state prosecutor from 1978-80. After Don and Kevin’s deaths were ruled homicides, Harmon, then in private practice, was appointed by Judge John Cole as special prosecutor to lead a grand jury investigation of the boys’ deaths. His assistant prosecutor, Richard Garrett, aided him.
Duffey says Harmon asked to be appointed special prosecutor so he could sabotage the investigation. The man investigating the murders was covering-up the inquiry because he was also a drug user.
In June 1990, three months after the task force formation, Harmon was elected as special prosecutor for Saline, Grant, and Hot Springs counties. Duffey says as the task force learned of his drug use and possible involvement in the murders of Don and Kevin, she prepared for federal indictments against him and other public officials.
Harmon used the media to discredit Duffey and dismantled the task force in November 1999 before the indictments could be issued.
Duffey’s team, however, continued to investigate and believed they had enough proof to link Kevin’s and Don’s murders to the Mena-based drug operation involving multiple public officials, including Dan Harmon.
In December 1990, Duffey took the task force findings to Chuck Banks, the United States Attorney overseeing the federal investigation into Saline County’s corruption. She says Banks assured her the federal investigation would continue. However, Banks shut down the probe in June 1991 and cleared all Saline County public officials, including Dan Harmon, of any wrongdoing. He insinuated a federal grand jury made the decision.
Duffey says three grand jurors told her the entire grand jury was ready to indict Harmon and others unanimously but were shut down before being allowed to vote.
In 1993, Linda Ives, Kevin’s mother, requested that the Saline County Sheriff’s Office re-open the investigation into the boys’ deaths. The case was assigned to Detective John Brown. He said most of the pertinent evidence was missing from the file, including crime scene photographs and cigarette butts left at the site.
A confession letter from Sharlene Wilson, dated May 28, 1993, witnessed by three public officials, was discovered in the original case files. It was not made known to Linda Ives until 2015.
In the letter, Wilson said she and several other people were in the field near the train track awaiting a drug drop in the early morning hours of August 23, 1987. Among those she named were her lover, Dan Harmon, Keith McKaskle, and Larry Rushall. She claimed when she made her way to the tracks, the boys were already dead.
A retired police officer and friend of Linda Ives took the letter to her lawyer, David Lewis, in 2015. He asked then-Saline County prosecutor Ken Casady to bring charges, but Casady refused, probably because the letter is rambling and, at times, incoherent.
Wilson admits she was high on cocaine and meth, but Jean Duffey says a twelve-year-old boy, Tom Niehaus, could corroborate her claims. Tom says as he and his friends were playing in the area that morning, they noticed five people on the tracks. He recognized one of them as Harmon because his mother was dating him at the time, even though he was also in a relationship with Wilson.
Tom said as Don and Kevin came upon the tracks, Harmon motioned for them to come to him. The boys hesitated but eventually walked toward the group. As they did so, Tom and his friends hid behind a nearby bush. Shortly after that, Tom said he heard, but did not see, what sounded like a gunshot and saw a flash. He and his friends then ran away.
After both Sharlene Wilson and Tom Niehaus passed polygraph tests, the FBI opened their investigation.
Another witness told the FBI similar stories.
Ronnie Godwin said Don and Kevin arrived at the local Ranchette grocery store with another friend, Keith Coney, shortly after the incident described by Tom Niehaus. Coney left on his motorcycle when two police officers in an unmarked car arrived at the store.
Godwin says he saw the officers beat the boys unconscious in the parking lot. Kevin was probably killed there with the rifle butt blow to the skull. According to Godwin, the officers then loaded the bodies into the car, drove to the tracks, and placed the boys on them. Godwin’s descriptions of the officers matched those of Kirk Lane and Jay Campbell.
Wilson did not mention police officers in her confession letter, but they may not have been at the tracks at the time of the planned drug drop. Wilson says she arrived at the tracks only after the boys had been killed.
Despite the testimonies, the FBI closed its investigation into the murders of Kevin Ives and Don Henry in 1995, concluding no evidence of a crime had been found. Documents recently released under the Freedom of Information Act tell a different story. One document indicated law enforcement officials were involved in the murders and cover-up.
An FBI file dated February 6, 1995, states in part, “it appears that the special prosecutor appointed in this case, (named blacked out) may have misused his authority and disregarded other leads that may have assisted efforts to bring this investigation to a logical conclusion.” The file also indicates “that certain Saline County officials may have conspired to ‘cover up’ investigation into the deaths of Don Henry and Kevin Ives.”
Another portion says, “the investigation revealed that law enforcement officials in the Little Rock area might have been involved in homicide. . . . Law enforcement officials alleged to be involved in drug trafficking in Saline County include: (names blacked out.)”
It also states, “Since the beginning of the investigation by the special prosecutor, the case has become riddled with rumors and innuendos. Special prosecutor Harmon and assistant Richard Garrett requested assistance from the Arkansas State Police, yet continuously withheld information from them.”
Garrett is now deceased.
Several people who some believe are connected to the deaths of Don Henry and Kevin Ives also died under mysterious circumstances.
Keith Coney, who was allegedly with Kevin and Don moments before they were murdered, told family members and friends that two cops killed Kevin and Don. In May 1988, he was found stabbed to death.
Keith McKaskle managed a local club on the Saline County–Pulaski County line. Sharlene Wilson said McKaskle was at the tracks that morning with Dan Harmon. McKaskle is believed to have taken aerial photographs of the crime scene. He was also alleged to have been an informant for Dan Harmon. In November 1988, McKaskle was stabbed to death.
Greg Collins, who failed to appear after being subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, was killed by a shotgun blast to the face in January 1989.
In March 1989, Boonie Bearden, a friend of both Keith Coney and Greg Collins, disappeared. An article of Bearden’s clothing was found in the vicinity where an anonymous caller claimed his murder had taken place. His body was never found.
Jeff Rhodes, a young man who told his family he had information the murders on the murders of Kevin, Don, and Keith McKaskle, was himself murdered in April 1989. Rhodes had been shot in the head, and his remains set on fire in a dump.
In June 1999, Mike Samples, a grand jury witness, was shot to death. Sources claim he was involved in retrieving drugs dropped from airplanes.
The murder of Jeff Rhodes is the only one of these cases in which an arrest has been made. Authorities say none of the murders is related to those of Kevin Ives and Don Henry.
Jean Duffey, Linda Ives, and others believe the FBI investigation was quashed because it would expose the involvement of many high-ranking state and government officials in the Mena drug trade, including members of the CIA and possibly the former Arkansas Governor who had become the nation’s commander-in-chief.
Bill Clinton served as Arkansas Governor from 1979-81 and 1983-92. Although he claimed he “did not inhale” during his presidential campaign, he allegedly used several drugs, including cocaine and marijuana, while heading Arkansas. Sharlene Wilson is known to have had a relationship with Clinton’s brother and drug-user Roger. In one instance, she says the Governor was so high on crack that he fell against the wall and slid into a garbage can.
The headline below is sensationalized; no one is alleging the Clinton’s themselves killed Don Henry and Kevin Ives or that they ordered the boys be killed. Some, however, believe they and other high-ranking government officials covered up the murders to keep their drug use hidden.
In 1997 disgraced District Attorney Dan Harmon was convicted of several felonies, including drug charges and racketeering. After helping prosecutors in a murder case, he was released from prison in 2006.
Harmon was arrested in connection with drugs again in 2010 but was acquitted of the charges.
Jay Campbell, one of the police officers mentioned as having possible involvement in the murders, later became the Police Chief of Lonoke, Arkansas.
In 2006, he and his wife Kelly were arrested on multiple charges of corruption involving drug use, fraud, theft, and, in Kelly’s case, having sex with prisoners. The Lonoke police chief was convicted of multiple charges, including running a criminal enterprise, and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In 2009, however, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed Campbell’s conviction on the criminal enterprise charge, which carried the longest sentence. All the other sentences ran concurrently, and he was released. He has not been retried, and his wife Kelly has since been paroled.
The second police officer named as possibly having involvement in the boys’ murders is now the drug czar for Arkansas.
Kirk Lane became Police Chief of Benton and was appointed as the drug director in 2011.
Interestingly, current Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, the man who appointed Lane as drug czar, was the United States Attorney for Arkansas’ Western District from 1982-85 when the Barry Seal drug operations based out of Mena were occurring.
In a July 2020 article, The Arkansas-Democrat Gazette quotes Hutchinson as saying, “I initiated a grand jury investigation concerning money laundering through the Mena airport in 1985. I resigned from the office in November of 1985, and my successor took over the investigation. I started it and pursued it but was unable to complete it because I left the office. No investigation was blocked.”
In 2016 former professional wrestler Billy Jack Haynes came forward saying he had witnessed the murders of Kevin Ives and Don Henry.
In a written and recorded statement, Haynes named three local law enforcement officers, two local attorneys, several politicians, and a bar owner as those being on the scene of the murders. He also mentioned a “criminal politician” who directed the scene via cell phone with an “attorney-politician.” He did not provide their names.
Haynes says in the 1970s and early ’80s, he was, between wrestling bouts, a hired enforcer for drug traffickers who ran large quantities of cocaine throughout the United States.
When he was not wrestling, Haynes says he provided muscle and intimidation in many criminal enterprises. Haynes is 6’3″ inches tall and, at the time, weighed 280 pounds of primarily that– muscle. He was a most intimidating-looking man.
In August 1987, Haynes said he was contacted by the Arkansas criminal-politician and asked to be an enforcer at a drug drop.
The criminal-politician, Haynes says, suspected some drug money drops were being stolen and that Arkansas state and county police officers were involved in the thefts. Haynes says while assisting with security at the drug drop site, he witnessed Don and Kevin’s murders.
Haynes believes the boys were murdered by people working for the same criminal politician. He says he did not come forward sooner out of fear and that his life is still in jeopardy by coming out now.
Haynes met with Linda Ives and her and private investigator Keith Rounsavall. He gave them a statement outlining everything he said he knew about the murders.
Linda initially believed Haynes’ contentions but now says his story does not add up and that she does not believe he was at the train tracks on the morning of the murders. Keith Rounsavall believes Billy Jack Haynes’s claims.
The difference of opinion led to a falling out between the client and the private investigator.
In 2019, Linda Ives and Jean Duffey brought a lawsuit against her former Private Investigator, Keith Rounsavall. Billy Jack Haynes is mentioned in the lawsuit.
The murders of Kevin Ives and Don Henry are probably the most infamous and convoluted unsolved crime from the Razorback state. It’s possible the murders could be something as simple as an owner being upset with the boys for trespassing on their land. Another person also out poaching could have accidentally shot them and, in a panic, placed their bodies on train tracks.
The evidence, however, indicates a cover-up through all levels of government. Many people have been railroaded through threats and intimidation to keeping quiet about the boys on the tracks.
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