Parents of Saline County murder victims hope recent arrests will reopen cold cases

by Mara Leveritt on November 5, 2011

Marissa Bragg Wright

Marissa Wright, who was charged last month with two murders after the bodies of two men were uncovered in her back yard, appeared in The Boys on the Tracks, my book about multiple murders in Saline County that trace back more than two decades. Now, the father of one of those murder victims, whose burned and dismembered body was found in a county dump, hopes that more may yet be discovered about the extent of that bloody era.

In  late 1989, Wright, who was then known as Marissa Lynn Bragg, was accused as an accomplice with her boyfriend, Frank Pilcher, in the murder of 21-year-old Jeffrey Rhodes. Bragg turned state’sevidenceand testified against Pilcher at his trial. She said she had witnessed the killing of Rhodes and had helped Pilcher dispose of his body. Pilcher was sentenced to life in prison. Bragg was granted immunity.

After I wrote about the investigation that led to  Wright’s arrest in early October, Eddie Rhodes, the father of Jeff Rhodes, wrote to me, recounting the time around his son’s death and the trials of Pilcher and another man that followed. Even today, however, Rhodes wrote: “I think there were a lot more people involved, and I think Marissa knows a lot more than she told back in 1989.”

Rhodes said that Jeff had called him, shortly before he was found dead. In that phone call, Jeff had asked his dad  to help him get a  job in Texas. “I asked him why, had he got a girl pregnant?” Rhodes wrote. “He said he just needed to get out of Arkansas. I pressed him, and he tells me that he knows who killed [Kevin] Ives and [Don] Henry [the boys whose bodies were found on railroad tracks] and Keith McKaskle [a local man who was also killed after telling people he knew who killed Ives and Henry].” None of those murders has ever been solved.

Linda Ives, the mother of Kevin Ives, who was 17 when he and his friend Don Henry were murdered, also hopes that Wright’s arrest might lead to more information about why Bragg and at least five other people implicated in murders were granted immunity. Linda Ives has said for years that she believes disgraced former prosecuting attorney Dan Harmon, who later served time in prison on drug charges, was involved  in her son’s killing.

Eddie Rhodes wrote in his recent letter that a telephone bill showed that his son had placed a call to Harmon shortly before his murder. “Then DanHarmon turns out to be the godfather of the county,” Rhodes wrote. “I think Jeff called Dan Harmon for help, and that is what got him killed.”

So the anguish and questions linger. In the late 1990s, a documentary video, “Obstruction of Justice: The Mena Connection,” was made about the multiple murders. The video listed Harmon, the prosecutor, along with police officers Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane, as “suspects implicated” in the “Ives/Henry murders and cover-up.” Campbell and Lane sued the video’s producers for defamaton, but lost. The ruling by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals began: “The record in this case reads like a John Grisham novel. However, unlike The Pelican Brief or The Firm, here the lines between fact and fiction are blurred.”

Campbell went on to become police chie f in Lonoke, Arkansas, but, like Harmon,was later also sentenced to prison on drug-related  crimes. Lane became chief of police in Benton, where he now heads the investigation into one of the two murders with which Marissa Bragg Wright was recently charged.



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