After a fun-filled Saturday evening of hanging with friends at a commuter parking lot and favorite teenage hangout near Little Rock, Arkansas, 17-year-old Kevin Ives and 16-year-old Don Henry returned to Don’s home near the small town of Alexander, approximately 15 miles southwest of Little Rock. Don told his father Curtis that he and Kevin were going “spotlighting” along the railroad tracks behind the Henry home. The boys set out at approximately 12:15 a.m. on the morning of August 23, 1987.
Though illegal in Arkansas, spotlighting is a widespread form of poaching wild game. One person transfixes an animal’s eyes by shining a light on it as another person fires at the animal. Kevin and Don had successfully avoided detection on other excursions. This night would have deadly consequences. When the sunlight came, the spotlight was on Kevin and Don. Their mangled bodies were strewn across the Union Pacific train tracks.
The cause of the boys’ deaths was initially ruled an accident but was later changed to “probable homicide” and then to “definite homicide.” The initial investigation suggested a cover-up; subsequent investigations found evidence of a “probable cover-up,” and later findings concluded a “definite cover-up.”
The scope of the cover-up was alleged to involve multiple Arkansas county and state servants, including, some contend, the state’s top elected official, who was relatively unknown outside Arkansas at the time but who assumed residence in the White House five-and-a-half years later.
A plethora of people are believed to be involved in the murders and the cover-up. No one, however, has been charged in connection with the crime.
Many believe the killers of “the boys on the tracks” are, thirty-three years later, still covering their tracks.
A Union Pacific train made its regular run to Little Rock in the early morning hours of August 23, 1987. Shortly after 4:00 a.m., when it was between Bryant and Alexander, engineer Stephen Shroyer noticed something on the tracks. As the train drew closer, his annoyance turned to horror when he realized the obstruction was two bodies.
Shroyer frantically placed the train into an emergency mode. He promptly blared the horn but received no response. The 75-car, 6,000-ton locomotive traveling at 52 miles-per-hour drug the bodies for a half-mile before coming to a stop.
Shroyer and three other crew members were sure a pale green tarp had been placed over the bodies. Responding local and state police arrived on the scene at 4:40 a.m. The officers say they never heard of the tarp. Yet, the train crew is adamant they repeatedly told the police.
The bodies lay parallel to each other across the tracks, their arms by their sides. A .22 rifle lay beside them.
Dental records later identified the bodies as Don and Kevin. The location where the train had run over them was approximately a half-mile from Don’s home in Alexander.
Neither Kevin nor Don’s parents owned a green tarp. Many believe the missing green cover seen by the railroad personnel is the first suggestion of a cover-up in the boys’ deaths.
The ruling of the state medical examiner as to the cause of death soon further fueled suspicions.
Arkansas State Medical Examiner Fahmy Malak ruled Kevin and Don’s deaths accidental, saying they were alive but unconscious when run over by the train. Malak determined each boy had smoked the equivalent of 20 marijuana cigarettes, rendering them into a deep state of unconsciousness. The boys, Malak contended, were so stoned from excessive consumption of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a component of marijuana, that they were unable to hear the repeated blares of the fast-approaching train.
The boys’ parents did not accept the ruling. Neither did the general public, questioning how the boys could be coherent enough to lie on the tracks in near-perfect symmetry but not hear the train’s repeated blares from a short distance.
Two toxicologists, Dr. James Garriot and Dr. Arthur McBray testified before a grand jury that they had never heard of anyone becoming unconscious from exposure to any amount of THC. They also criticized Dr. Malak for not performing a mass spectrometry, the most effective test for determining the amount of drugs in the boys’ systems.
Responding EMT officers also questioned the ruling, saying the blood found on the boys was dark, as though it lacked oxygen, an indication they were already dead when the train ran over them.
A private investigator hired by the Ives was stonewalled in questioning authorities over the supposedly stoned-boys deaths. The parents of both boys held a press conference in February 1988. They contended their sons had been murdered. The following day, the boys’ bodies were exhumed for a second autopsy to be performed by a different medical examiner, Dr. Joseph Burton of Atlanta.
Dr. Burton’s findings differed sharply from Dr. Malak’s. The former concluded that Kevin and Don had smoked only one to three marijuana cigarettes, far too few to render them unconscious. He also determined that both boys suffered wounds inflicted before being placed on the tracks; Don appeared to have been stabbed, and Kevin’s skull showed significant damage.
Dr. Burton’s autopsy also showed that Malak had mutilated Kevin’s skull by sawing it in several directions, making it virtually impossible to determine where the initial fractures occurred.
Based on Dr. Burton’s findings and the testimonies of Dr. Garriot and Dr. McBray, the grand jury reversed State Medical Examiner Dr. Malak’s finding of accidental death. In July 1988, Don Henry and Kevin Ives’ deaths were ruled as ‘undetermined.’ It was soon changed to ‘probable homicides.’
After learning of Dr. Burton’s conclusions, one of Malak’s assistants said he had discovered what appeared to be evidence of a stab wound during the boys’ original autopsy but was told: “not to worry about it.”
Five additional pathologists examined Don’s t-shirt and concurred with Dr. Burton’s findings. Cuts in the fabric indicated Don had been stabbed in his back before being run over by the train. Kevin’s skull was also confirmed to have been crushed, likely by his own rifle, before his body was placed on the tracks.
All of the additional pathologists concluded Kevin and Don had been killed before being run over by the train.
Based on the findings, the grand jury changed its ruling from ‘probable homicide’ to ‘definite homicide.’
The public called for the firing of Fahmy Malak as Arkansas State Medical Examiner. The doctor, however, was a close friend of Governor Bill Clinton, who resisted the calls to dismiss him.
Many believe, despite his obvious mistakes and incompetence, Malak continued to work in government because of Arkansas’ “good ol’ boy” system and his friendship with Governor Clinton.
Dr. Malak was later found to have falsified evidence in over 20 additional cases during his tenure as Arkansas State Medical Examiner. Among these rulings:
In one instance, he ruled a death an accidental drowning, but it was later discovered the man had been shot in the head. In his most infamous ruling, Malak concluded a man named James Milam had died of an ulcer, even though he had been shot five times, with four of the gunshots in his chest. Milam’s head had also been decapitated from his body. Malak claimed Milam’s dog had bitten off the head, eaten it, and then regurgitated it. He insisted he had tested the dog’s vomit and found traces of Milam’s brain and skull. Unfortunately for flaky Fahmy, Milam’s skull was later found and confirmed to have been cut from his body with a knife.
Members of Malak’s staff also accused him of incompetence. One assistant accused the State Medical Examiner of keeping outdated crime lab stationery on which he allegedly falsified findings in autopsy reports shortly before cases were tried. In another instance, Malak misread a medical chart leading him to wrongly accuse a deputy county coroner of committing murder. In another, he had based court testimony on tissue samples that DNA tests later determined had been mixed up with other tissue samples.
Despite the grand jury ruling, Saline County Sheriff James Steed insisted foul play was not involved in the boys’ deaths and refused to authorize any funds to aid in the investigation.
In addition to Dr. Malak, the Sheriff also proved derelict in his duty. He had not conducted a thorough investigation of the crime scene as Kevin Ives’s foot had been severed from his body and was not found until two days later.
The Sheriff was defeated in his re-election bid.
With the deaths of Kevin and Don ruled as homicides, investigators believed they might have been related to an incident occurring one week earlier.
A man clad in military fatigues was seen walking near the train tracks where the boys were found. When Bryant Patrolman Danny Allen attempted to question him, the man fired at him. Officer Allen was uninjured, but the assailant disappeared into the woods. Police were unable to locate or identify him.
On August 22, several hours before Kevin and Don were found, witnesses again reported seeing a man in military fatigues walking near the train tracks less than 200 yards from where the boys’ bodies would be found. He was sought for questioning after the discovery of the bodies, but the man again successfully stayed hidden.
No further sightings of the individual were reported.
The deaths of Don Henry and Kevin Ives bore a resemblance to those of two Oklahoma men three years earlier. We will dive into that case on our next True Crime Tuesday.
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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