Crime

Person of interest in four Platte County killings charged in car theft

“I don’t want to take a chance on a loophole. We need to do what is right for the victims and get this done right the first time,” Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen (right) said Monday as he and County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd spoke at a news conference on the investigation into four homicides Friday near Edgerton, Mo. Grayden Lane Denham, 24, a person of interest in the case, was arrested Sunday in Arizona and charged with auto theft in Platte County.
“I don’t want to take a chance on a loophole. We need to do what is right for the victims and get this done right the first time,” Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen (right) said Monday as he and County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd spoke at a news conference on the investigation into four homicides Friday near Edgerton, Mo. Grayden Lane Denham, 24, a person of interest in the case, was arrested Sunday in Arizona and charged with auto theft in Platte County. jledford@kcstar.com

Platte County prosecutors have accused a 24-year-old man of stealing a vehicle from his grandparents, who were killed along with two other family members Friday near Edgerton, Mo.

No charges have been filed in the four homicides.

The theft suspect, Grayden Lane Denham, is being held in an Arizona jail after he was arrested about 7:30 a.m. Sunday while walking naked in Seligman, Ariz., about 1,200 miles from Edgerton.

He allegedly had driven his grandparents’ car to Arizona.

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Authorities did not say how the victims died, but all four bodies had been set on fire, Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen said in a news conference Monday afternoon.

Authorities have not released the victims’ names but relatives have identified them as Russell and Shirley Denham, their granddaughter, Heather Denham, and her 3-month-old son, Mason Gage Denham.

Grayden Denham lived with his grandparents. Heather Denham was his sister.

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Three bodies, including that of the infant, were found in the front yard of the home in the 4100 block of Buena Vista Road. A man’s body was found on the east side of the residence. He appeared to be laying on his back near the driver’s side of a white Chevy S-10 pickup. A plastic gas container was about 5 feet from the body, according to an incident report released Monday.

A dog was dead in the yard.

The residence was engulfed in flames when sheriff’s deputies arrived.

Owen and Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd released only basic facts about the killing scene Monday and said they will not reveal what evidence has been collected.

Investigators noticed a brown 2012 Nissan Versa that belonged to Shirley and Russell Denham, with handicapped license plates, was missing from the scene, according to the court records in support of the stealing charge.

Grayden Denham, who usually stayed at the home, was not there. A witness told investigators that Denham was not allowed to drive the Nissan or other vehicles on the property because his Missouri driver’s license had been revoked for points violations and child support enforcement, court records stated.

Zahnd said his office would seek to have Denham extradited to face the stealing charge. Bond was set at $100,000 on the felony count.

“This is a horrendous thing to have happened to any family, to any community, and so our thoughts and prayers are with them to what must be an awful, awful thing,” Zahnd said.

The medical examiner has ruled the deaths as homicides.

Two Metro Squad detectives have flown to Arizona to investigate. Two other detectives are driving to Arizona to process the stolen vehicle and collect other evidence, Owen said.

Investigators have obtained subpoenas to secure dental records for the three adult victims before releasing their names.

Owen would not say where or how the fire was set.

“I don’t want to take a chance on a loophole,” he said. “We need to do what is right for the victims and get this done right the first time.”

When Arizona police stopped him while walking naked, Grayden Denham gave a wrong date of birth, according to the sheriff’s office there. Because of concerns about his medical condition, he was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

A motel manager in Seligman called the sheriff’s office about 10 a.m. Sunday to report a suspicious vehicle. He told deputies that a Nissan sedan had been parked on the motel property for several hours.

The car was unlocked with the key in the ignition and clothing on the ground next to it.

Deputies found a Missouri identification card with the clothing. The card had Denham’s name and real date of birth, the sheriff’s office reported.

An Oklahoma license plate on the car had been reported stolen.

After checking the Nissan’s vehicle identification number, deputies determined that the car had been reported stolen in Platte County, Arizona officials said. It was listed as having a “felony vehicle with a stop and hold” order for a Missouri law enforcement agency.

The manager of the motel where the car was found told deputies that Denham was not a patron of the motel and did not have permission to be on the property.

Denham was being held in the Yavapai County Jail.

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @gricekcstar

Tony Rizzo: 816-234-4435, @trizzkc

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