"The moment there is suspicion about a person's motives, everything he does becomes tainted."
It was the 15th of December 2005. A Thursday. Nineteen year old Nona Dirksmeyer was home alone in her apartment in Russellville, Arkansas, United States. She had plans for later that day. She helped out with an organization called Big Sisters and she was due to meet up with a young girl that she had been partnered with to mentor.
Nona was the perfect person to volunteer with Big Sisters. As a child, it was reported that she had been sexually abused, and she wanted to ensure that other children could enjoy their childhood and have someone to talk to if they needed to. She was the reigning Miss Petit Jean Valley and took part in beauty pageants so that she could raise awareness of child abuse.
Nona was a student at the Arkansas Tech University. When her mother Carol married Duane Dipert, Nona decided to get her own apartment as she didn't like some of the strict rules her stepfather had. Nona was in a relationship with Kevin Jones. They attended different universities but Kevin visited Nona whenever he had time off. So when Kevin had some time off for Christmas in December, he stopped off to see Nona on his way home to Dover. Dover is around twenty miles from Russellville. On the 14th of December he met up with Nona and then drove home to Dover just after midnight.
Kevin knew that Nona had plans for the next day, the 15th of December. She had told him about the Big Sisters' organization. He also had plans. He told his mother Janice, who was the school librarian, that he would take her to the teachers’ Christmas party. But, when they were on the way to the party, Kevin told Janice that he was a little worried about Nona as she didn't respond to any of his calls that afternoon. He asked a friend, Ryan, to check on Nona as he worked close to her apartment. Ryan told him that her upstairs light was on but there was no answer when he knocked on the door. So Kevin told Ryan that he would meet him there. When Kevin arrived at Nona's apartment with his mother, he saw Ryan outside. They knocked on Nona's door multiple times but there was no answer. Even though Kevin had a key for Nona's apartment, he did not have it on him, so he went around to the back of the apartment to see if the sliding door was open. It was.
Nona was naked and lying on the floor in a pool of blood inside the apartment. Kevin ran straight over to her and held her close as Janice called 911. There was blood on Nona's face and her eyes were closed. She was non responsive.
When police arrived, they confirmed Nona was dead. She had been beaten to death and hit on the back of the head. Police believed she was hit with the base of a lamp that was close to her body. Her throat had been cut. There was a condom wrapper on the counter inside the apartment and Nona was naked except for a pair of white socks but despite how it looked, there was no physical evidence that she had been raped.
Police questioned Kevin in relation to Nona's death. He denied being involved and he agreed to take a polygraph test when they asked him to. He was informed that he had failed, failed badly, and they told him that they knew he killed Nona. Kevin repeatedly denied being involved. He told police that he last saw Nona the night before and called her when he got back to Dover. He said that he woke up late the next morning, turned his phone on and saw Nona had sent him a text message:
“good morning cuddle muffin. i love you and hope you have a great day”
Kevin tried to contact Nona a number of times that day and sent her a text message which read:
Even though police believed Kevin was responsible, the murder investigation, led by Mark Frost, took a number of months and he wasn't arrested and charged with first degree murder until the 31st of March 2006. During that period, from Nona's death to Kevin's arrest, there were many rumors going around the town. Police told Nona's mother Carol, who at one time loved Kevin, that Kevin was the one responsible for Nona's death. They told her that he was a narcissist and became enraged and killed her when he entered her apartment, saw the condom wrapper and believed Nona had been with another man. They believed that he staged the crime scene and made sure he wasn't alone when Nona's body was found.
Before the Trial began, the Defense requested a change of venue as everyone was talking about their suspicions and rumors and the Defense believed Kevin would not get a fair Trial. Their request was granted and the Trial began in Ozark, nearly thirty miles from Russellville.
It was the Prosecution's case that Kevin entered Nona's apartment the morning of the 15th of December. Nona was not expecting him. Kevin had a key. They believed he traveled back from Dover that morning to see Nona at around 10.30am. A plumber saw him at his house in Dover just before 10.30am and police believed he left around that time to travel to Russellville. His cell phone was switched off for the next hour and a half. It was their case that he arrived at Nona's apartment at 10.55am.
It was their case that he discovered that Nona had been with another man. They believed he may have either found the used condom on the counter or read a text message on her phone. And as a result, in a fit of jealousy, became so enraged that he beat her, stabbed her and struck her over the head with the base of a lamp.
Nona was hit so hard on the face that there was bruising on her brain. She was then stabbed repeatedly. Her neck was cut and there were a number of shallow cuts around her neck and shoulder. She was strangled with such force that the hyoid bone in her neck broke and was smacked over the head with the base of a lamp.
The Prosecution told the Court that they believed Kevin staged the scene after he killed Nona. According to the Prosecution's timeline, they said that Kevin left Nona's apartment at 11.15am and drove back to Dover. He would have been in Dover around noon. He was seen at the Bayou Bridge Café around 12.30 or 1pm.
The Court heard that Kevin left a perfectly identifiable palm print in Nona’s blood, on the lamp. The palm print was found on the bulb.
It was the Prosecution's case that Kevin then planned that he would be present when Nona's body was found so that he could intentionally contaminate the scene. The Prosecution argued that that was why Kevin held Nona that evening, when he entered the apartment with Janice and Ryan.
It was the Defense's case that Kevin did not kill Nona and that the police did not investigate properly and did not collect and examine all of the evidence. Instead, they argued, that they just focused on one person only from the very moment Nona's body was found. That person was Kevin.
The Court heard that apart from Kevin, Janice and Ryan entering the apartment, a number of paramedics and police walked around the crime scene and some of the evidence was touched and moved. Furthermore, only one area was fingerprinted; the area where Nona was found. This was despite the fact that there was blood beside the door and on the blinds and the condom wrapper was not tested for fingerprints either.
In relation to Kevin's palm print on the lamp, the same lamp that police said was the murder weapon, the Defense argued that the palm print was on the bulb and it could have happened when Kevin found Nona's body. Fingerprints were found on the base of the lamp too and they were not Kevin's prints. They belonged to an unidentified person.
Nona's phone was found inside the apartment and yet, even though the battery had been removed and was missing, the phone was not tested for fingerprints or DNA.
It was the Defense's case that Kevin could not have been at Nona's apartment at the time Prosecution said that he was. They called Kevin's grandmother to testify. She said that she saw him that day at the family gas station in Dover, the 15th of December, at 11.30am that morning. She remembered it well as she gave him lunch money. If that testimony was correct, that meant that Kevin would not have had time to drive to and from Nona's apartment.
The Defense told the Jury that the killer would have had a number of cuts and bruises on their hands and body after beating Nona. Police took photographs of Kevin, front and back of his hands, and his body when they spoke to him on the 15th of December and there were no bruises, scratches or any abrasions on his body.
The Court heard that Kevin had failed the polygraph test but the Defense argued that the person who administered the test wasn’t a certified polygraph examiner and it was a tactic used by the police to try to force Kevin into confessing.
Kevin was found not guilty of first degree murder.
It was a decision that devastated those who loved Nona and who had believed that Kevin was responsible. But if some thought that was the end of the matter,they were very much mistaken. It was just the beginning.
It emerged that working under police chief James Bacon, officer Mark Frost, who investigated Nona's murder had suspected another man at the same time that they were investigating Kevin. That man was Gary Dunn. Gary was a parolee who lived across the street from Nona. Mark gave a report to the State Prosecutor at the time. The report outlined that Kevin failed a polygraph test and that Gary had passed his one. The report stated that Gary had an alibi. He had been shopping with his mother at the time Nona was killed and that was backed up by bank records which confirmed where his mother was on the 15th of December.
But a bank employee later told him that the records might not be accurate. The bank records were not included in his report to the Prosecutor.
After Kevin was found not guilty, Gary was arrested and charged with first degree murder. The Prosecution argued that he either raped or tried to rape Nona before beating her to death. The Court heard that the condom wrapper was later tested for DNA and it matched Gary's DNA.
It wasn't Gary's first time in Court. In a 2002 case, he was charged with attempted murder and second degree battery after he attacked a female jogger on Bona Dea Trails in Russellville. He was acquitted on the attempted murder charge but convicted of the second degree battery charge and sentenced to six years in prison.
At Gary's Trial in relation to Nona's murder, the jogger that Gary had attacked, testified. She told the Jury that she was jogging on a trail and saw Gary sitting on a bench in 2002. The bench was beside the trail. The jogger testified that:
"I ran past him. The trail then curved to the right. I heard footsteps running swiftly behind me. I turned to look and see who was coming."
The jogger saw Gary. He was chasing her with a tree branch. It was more than 2 feet long. Gary caught her and hit her over the head with the tree branch. She fell to the ground and as she lay on the ground, he began beating her with his fists. He struck her face, chest and ribs multiple times and repeatedly told her:
"I'm going to f*****g kill you."
The jogger managed to fight him off and she got up and ran back to her car. She looked back and saw Gary running in the opposite direction.
It was the Defense's case that, despite Kevin's acquittal, that Kevin was the one who killed Nona and then contaminated the scene intentionally. Kevin was called to testify at Gary's Trial and told the Court:
“I remember picking her up, thinking I could take her to the hospital. I climbed on top of her and picked her arms up to me and I just sat there and prayed and hoped the worst wasn’t happening."
The Defense argued that his motives for touching Nona were not altruistic. Instead, they argued, that he intentionally contaminated the crime scene to cover up his tracks. The Defense lawyer, Bill James, asked him:
“Wasn’t it obvious she was dead?”
Kevin responded with:
“I’d never seen a dead body before.”
Bill argued that Nona was seeing other men during the weeks before she was killed and when questioning Kevin, he said:
“She disrespected you, didn’t she?”
But Kevin argued that that was “irrelevant because I didn’t know about it” at the time of Nona's death.
The Defense questioned the DNA evidence also. Prosecutors had argued that Gary was linked to the crime scene from DNA found on the condom wrapper but the Defense disputed it was a match and argued the evidence could not be trusted due to how the evidence was collected and how the crime scene had been contaminated. They also argued that there was no evidence that Nona had been sexually assaulted.
Gary's Trial ended with a deadlocked Jury. They could not decide whether he was guilty or not. A second Trial took place but the result was the same. The Jury could not make a decision based on the evidence before them.
Prosecutors planned to try Gary for a third time but they decided not to at a later date and instead asked a Judge to dismiss the charges against him. The charges can be refiled at a later date.
After the two Trials ended in a deadlock, Gary was a free man. But it wasn't long before he came to the attention of the police again. In December 2018, police were called to the parking lot of the First Baptist Church in the 200 block of South Denver Avenue in Russellville to investigate a possible kidnapping attempt.
When they got there, a forty year old woman and a witness provided a description of the man and the vehicle he was driving. The forty year old woman told police that a man approached her in the parking lot and tried to force her into her vehicle. She managed to get away and he left in his car.
At that same time, police were looking into another possible attempted kidnapping. The other one took place on the campus of the Arkansas Tech University. A woman said that a man asked her to step out of her vehicle. He left when she called 911.
The women in the two incidents described the man and the car he was driving and their descriptions of both were similar. Police stopped a car that matched the description and the driver was Gary Dunn.
Gary pleaded no contest to charges of attempted kidnapping and indecent exposure and he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
To date, nobody has been convicted in relation to the death of Nona Dirksmeyer.
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