Real Name: Unrevealed
Aliases: None known
Wanted For: Arson, Murder
Missing Since: November 1988
Details: At around 3am on Tuesday, November 29, 1988, two security guards at a highway construction site in Kansas City, Missouri, discovered a pickup truck in flames. 500 yards away, a second fire was spotted next to a storage trailer. The guards called the fire department and were concerned because they believed that explosives were stored in the trailer. The dispatch went to Station 41; Captain James Kilventon and firefighters Robert McKarnin and Michael Oldham left within ninety seconds. As Pumper 41 went toward the site, James' wife, Cecilia, heard the dispatch over the police scanner that she kept at work.
When Pumper 41 arrived, the security guards told them about the trailer and explosives. From the beginning, they suspected that arson was the cause of the fires since they were separate and had started simultaneously. The construction site, a frequent target of vandals, was located ten miles from downtown Kansas City. The trailer was perched on a hillside; the pickup truck was 500 yards away, on the other side of the highway.
Kilventon and his crew soon had the truck fire under control. However, fire still burned unchecked in the trailer. A few minutes later, Captain Gerald Halloran and firefighters Gene Hurd and Thomas Fry arrived at the scene from Station 30. They went up the hill to work on the trailer fire. Pumper 41 stayed behind to wrap up the truck one. To Captain Halloran, a check of the area suggested that the explosives had been properly stored in clearly-marked storage sheds known as "bunkers". About eight minutes later, Captain Kilventon and his crew arrived at the trailer.
At 4:08am, the battalion chief arrived at the construction site, 1/4 mile from the fire. He learned that there were large quantities of explosives in the trailer. He was about to radio to Pumpers 41 and 30 when a large explosion occurred. Fifteen companies of firefighters rushed to the scene to aid their comrades. However, safety concerns prevented them from entering the area for several hours. Forty minutes after the initial blast, a second one went through the site. Later that morning, it was confirmed that all six firefighters had been killed.
An investigation began into this case; Kansas City police were joined by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. They searched through the wreckage for clues. The worst part of the disaster was that it should never have happened; evidence at the site after it proved it had been created by an arsonist.
Tips immediately began to pour in about possible suspects and motives. Some tipsters claimed that the arsonists had planned to steal from the construction site. Others claimed that the fires were just set for "fun". Federal investigators looked into a labor dispute that surrounded the construction project. They discovered that union members had allegedly committed violent acts against non-union companies; fire was used in some of them. However, none of the leads have panned out.
Almost seven years later, the person or persons responsible are still at large.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the February 10, 1995 episode.
Results: Captured. As a result of the broadcast, five people were indicted for the arson and murders. They are George Sheppard, his brother, Earl, their nephew, Bryan, George's girlfriend, Darlene Edwards, and Richard Brown. Over the years, investigators heard from multiple witnesses who claimed that the suspects had bragged about setting the fires. Several came forward as a result of the broadcast. Investigators determined that the fires were deliberately set during an attempt to steal equipment and dynamite from the construction site.
At the trial, dozens of witnesses testified against the suspects. Other evidence, including statements by them, were also brought up. In 1995, Darlene made a tape-recorded statement with investigators, claiming that she drove Bryan and Richard to the construction site where they planned to set fires to distract security guards while they stole equipment. Other witnesses claimed that she had confessed to helping them steal equipment and tools from the site.
Fifteen witnesses also testified that Richard had said that he went to the construction site to steal equipment and had taken part in setting the fires. Seven witnesses testified that Earl had admitted to being involved in the fires and stealing the equipment. Thirteen witnesses testified to admissions made by Bryan, including that he had helped set the fires as a diversion for the security guards, and that he was haunted by the firefighters' deaths. Twelve witnesses testified to admissions by George, including that he had set the fires as a diversion, that he had someone drive him to the site, and that he was unable to open the truck or trailer to get to the equipment.
Along with the suspects' admissions to others, prosecutors introduced other crucial testimony. Darlene's daughter, Becky, testified that she had seen all the suspects together one week before the fire, talking about their plans to steal equipment from the construction site. Other witnesses also saw them together in the weeks preceding and after the fire. Furthermore, a witness testified to seeing Richard's truck speeding away from the site just minutes after the first explosion. George and Earl were also seen at their mother's home shortly after the explosion; she lived just a few minutes away from the site. Finally, a witness claimed to have seen Bryan and Richard together a few hours after the fire; they both smelled like gasoline and Bryan had several unexplained cuts and abrasions.
All five suspects were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. However, in 2007, a former employee of the construction site came forward to suggest that others may have been involved in the arson, including two security guards who were at the construction site the night of the explosion. The former employee claimed to have seen one of them running from a burning truck that night. A police investigation is currently underway. Earl died in 2009 at age forty-nine. Bryan served twenty-two years and was released after a judge reduced his life sentence to twenty years.
- 6 Firefighters Die in Blast in Kansas City
- Police say arsonist responsible for explosion that killed 6 firefighters
- Firefighters mourned; arson probe continues
- Five indicted in 1988 explosion
- Five indicted in fatal explosion
- Fifth suspect in K.C. arson blast surrenders
- Sentencing next in deadly K.C. fire, explosion (Page 1) (Page 2)
- United States vs. Edwards
- New allegations uncovered in deadly blast
- Man convicted in 1988 explosion that killed 8 K.C. firefighters dies
- (2014 Kansas City Star Article) Six Kansas City firefighters killed in 1988 explosion
- Reporter still looking for justice in the 1988 explosion that killed six K.C. firefighters
- Bryan Sheppard, convicted in deaths of 6 K.C. firefighters, testifies at resentencing hearing
- Man convicted in 1988 deaths of 6 K.C. firefighters getting out of prison