The late John Graves, right, holds his young daughter, Ken- dra, left – About ten years before his murder on Jan. 1, 1990, near Mound City.
Family still questions 1990 Missouri slaying
This photo taken in the fall of 1989 – Is the last family photo of the Graves family. On Jan. 1, 1990, John Graves, front right, was murdered near Mound City. His wife, Laura, front center, along with daughters Kendra, back right, and Kimberly, left, relocated to Izard County, AR. Kendra Graves Rains lives in Horseshoe Bend, AR, and is a teacher at Melbourne Elementary. Her mother, Laura Burch, lives nearby. Her sister, Kimberly, resides in Jonesboro, AR.
By Angelia Roberts Executive Director of Ad/Ed Batesville Daily Guard http://www.GuardOnline.com
John Graves arrived at the medical examiner’s office wear- ing his insulated jacket, a flannel shirt, blue jeans and his blood- stained cap placed over his chest. The left shirt pocket produced a pen that he always carried, along with several matchbooks from the R&J Mercury dealer. A blue comb was tucked in the right hip pocket and a pocket watch and penknife were found in the front along with a set of keys. His clothes were still damp from the snow-covered Missouri soybean field where his body was found the night before.
The media would tout it as an “execution type slaying” after the coroner made his official rul- ing: A gunshot wound — by a single projectile — to the front of the head.
Twenty-five years later, the John Graves case still stands
where it did on Jan. 1, 1990. Unsolved.
When the first day of the new
year sunsets, it will be a quarter of a century since Kendra Graves Rains set eyes on her daddy, who she thought the sun rose and set on.
The first four years of her life, Kendra maintained her only- child status until her younger sister, Kimberly, arrived.
Laura Graves, now Burch, re- calls how excited he was over having daughters because the rest of the family had boys.
As a child, Kendra said it nev- er occurred to her that something could happen to one of her par- ents. But at age 13 an outside evil destroyed their world in Mound City, Missouri, which later re- sulted in a move 400 miles south to Izard County.
Kendra, who is a teacher at Melbourne Elementary, and her mother, Laura, recall the night he died.
When the call came that New Year’s Day around 6:45 p.m. to check the alarm activated at a hunting lodge where he served as caretaker, they all assumed it was just another false alarm. The system was known to be sensi- tive and it was always a false alarm.
Earlier in the day, Laura had taken the phone off the hook so they could spend quality time to- gether without any interruptions because it was the last day before the girls returned to school.
As soon as she placed it back on the receiver, the phone rang.
“I looked at John and said, ‘Here we go.’”
She explained the alarm sys- tem would first notify the agen- cy in Kansas City and then the alarm company would notify the sheriff ’s office in Holt County, who in turn would call her hus- band.
While he went to get his coat, Kendra yelled from the den say- ing she wanted to go with him. Laura decided they could all make the quick trip even though she was in the middle of making a seven-layer dessert for the movie they were planning to watch.
Even now, she recalls him waiting to see if Kendra mate- rialized and when it was obvi- ous their teenage daughter had changed her mind, he opened the door to leave.
It was only a 10- or 15-minute drive from the Graves residence to the hunting lodge so Laura knew he would be home as soon as he reset the alarm.
But, John Graves never re- turned.
“It was the last time I saw him alive.”
The first call came about 20 minutes later from Deputy Ken-
ny Gordon who asked if John was home and Laura told him he was checking things out at the lodge.
Another 20 minutes passed and a second call came, this time from a deputy nicknamed Curly.
“John there?” he asked.
Laura was getting a little ir- ritated and told him the same story.
But when Curly said John called to say there was an at- tempted break-in and somebody needed to bring a camera to take pictures for the insurance com- pany she felt uneasy and asked her neighbors to watch the girls while she drove to the lodge.
Not wanting to take her car she yanked the jumper cables off her husband’s truck since he had driven a vehicle belonging to the lodge owner.
She arrived to find, doors open, lights on, but there was “no John, no cops,” as she went through the entire building.
With no sign of her husband, she became even more concerned and told the arriving officers they needed to actively start looking for him as they yelled back and forth over the alarm system.
Outside a bedroom window they found a large footprint and Laura pointed out where it looked like a circular saw was being used on the door.
Sensing her unarmed husband who—“Ifhetellsyouheis gonna be there, he is gonna be there” — could be in danger, Laura then called her parents and Mike Ramsel, her husband’s best friend.
Ramsel and several members of his family showed up and decided to drive the back roads around the three different prop- erties John managed and see if they could see anything.
Close to midnight, they spot- ted the vehicle. The back glass had been shot out and no one was inside. Ramsel could see his best friend had managed to es- cape the truck but made it only about 100 feet before he was gunned down.
Mound City, with a popula- tion of a little more than 1,000, is a small town in the northern tip of Missouri where just about everyone knows their neighbor. Located four miles away is the tiny village of Bigelow, with less then 30 residents.
According to Laura, a good portion of Bigelow had already driven out and viewed her 41- year-old husband’s body before it was moved from the crime scene.
The sheriff at the time, Melvin Hayzlett, denied the body had been left unattended, saying he or one of his deputies were there at all times until an active inves- tigation could get underway the following day.
As the days turned into weeks and months, the sheriff appeared unfazed by the criticism of how the investigation was conducted and reports claiming the lodge, the vehicle and the final resting place of Graves were all compro- mised. He also denied help from the Northwest Missouri Major Investigation Squad and told them they would not be needed to assist with the investigation.
“There’s 1,500 people who didn’t vote for me last election, and I presume they still don’t like me,” Hayzlett said early on in the investigation.
Even then the sheriff was ada- mant his officers would solve the case and they needed no outside assistance from other agencies.
But Hayzlett was wrong.
In an interview with the Guard, the former sheriff said they never really developed a case against one or more people.
He said the rural lodge had been broken into more than once.
“Guns were taken there sev- eral different times,” he said, and the owner finally removed them. Once, when they were reported stolen, a friend of the lodge owner was found with one of the guns in his possession when he was leaving the country on a trip to England. While he said that can be easily explained, it did send off some warning signals in
his own head, but on this night, Hayzlett said the suspects cut all the cables in an effort to disarm the alarm, but it still sounded.
Hayzlett retired in 1992 and said he has no idea if anyone else actively looked into the case af- ter he left office.
“Figured we done all we could. I had some good help at that time and I figured we done all we could.”
For Mike Ramsel, the passing of time hasn’t erased the shock and grief of finding his friend.
“I’m 67 years old and I still cry about it,” he said, his voice breaking.
High school friends had re- mained close throughout their adult lives and there wasn’t much they didn’t share or know about each other.
He said it was only luck they found him that night and like the Graves family he is still angered by the lack of investigation into the case.
“It was screwed up as good as you could screw one up,” he said.
Ramsel said they had to drive back into town to notify the sher- iff’s department and then return with them to where he found John’s body. “Instead of getting out of their cars and walking, they drove up to the body and destroyed all the evidence.”
Ramsel said it was obvi- ous the truck was stuck and his friend had tried to run away from whomever was chasing him.
“There are guys that know what happened. I think he seen them. I don’t know if he knew them.”
During the initial investiga- tion, Ramsel said he was ques- tioned several different times and a year later a new deputy came on and sought him out for additional information.
The case eventually caused strained relations between him and the Graves family and they lost contact after both families moved away from Mound City. He now lives within a 30-mile radius.
But while the families are es- tranged, the friendship the two men shared is still with him.
“I still dream about John. He is still with me.”
And it was Ramsel who drove back to the Graves home to de- liver the news to Laura because he didn’t want anyone else tell- ing her.
Ramsel believes there are peo- ple who hold key evidence and even know what happened the night John was killed.
“They know. People up around Mound City know … they know who did it.”
Twenty-five years later there has been nothing to indicate the sheriff ’s office even had a strong lead on what transpired that night.
Laura says they could get no information or interest from the sheriff, but would say the files were extensive and it was on- going. She later learned from a friend, there was basically noth- ing in it making the family even more critical of the investiga- tion.
By the time school was out Laura had decided it was time for a change of scenery, and they moved to Arkansas. Trips back to her hometown would some- times produce additional tidbits of information and while no one has ever been charged, Laura believes her husband knew who murdered him.
She has her own suspicions, as well, and believes an old friend gave her a message that may have implicated his (the friend’s) son. That suspect, she said, has been in and out of prison and at one time his own father remarked his son would be a “lifer” in the system.
Hope for further investigation was born when a new deputy sought her out to re-look at the case, but he was killed the fol- lowing winter in a vehicle acci- dent.
After that, no one seemed in- terested in finding out who killed John, Laura said.