by Ivan Foley
Four bodies found outside the home. The bodies had been set on fire. The home was fully engulfed in flames.
That’s part of what first responders discovered when they arrived at the scene of a fire call late Friday night at 4170 Buena Vista Road near Edgerton.
Two female victims and an infant were found in the front yard. A deceased dog was near them.
Another victim, a male, was found on the ground near an outbuilding on the property. The body was laying on its back near the driver’s side of a pickup truck.
Authorities say the deaths are part of a quadruple homicide. Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen says local detectives, along with the assistance of a special team of regional investigators known as the Kansas City Metro Squad, have been working the case non-stop. The state fire marshal’s office has four investigators working the case as well.
While investigators have notofficially released the names of the deceased, saying they are waiting for the results of DNA testing and dental records, family members have told the media that the victims are Russell and Shirley Denham, Heather Denham and Heather’s three-month-old son, Mason.
Authorities say the medical examiner has ruled the deaths as homicide. But authorities have not released the cause of the deaths. At no point have authorities confirmed the deaths were caused by fire.
In a one-on-one interview with The Landmark Monday, Owen declined to comment on a Landmark question as to whether the victims were already deceased by the time the bodies were set on fire.
By Sunday morning, Grayden L. Denham, age 24, whose address matches the address of the scene of the fire, was developed as a person of interest and authorities asked for help in locating him.
Grayden Denham has been described by family members as the grandson of Russell and Shirley Denham, the brother of Heather Denham and the uncle of Mason.
On Sunday, Grayden Denham was located in Arizona where he remains in custody on misdemeanor charges there. Those charges include displaying a fictitious license and theft.
Authorities in Arizona say he was found walking naked in Seligman, Ariz. Deputies say when asked, Denham provided the wrong date of birth and they were concerned for his medical condition.
Platte County authorities had discovered one vehicle, a brown 2012 Nissan Versa with handicapped license plates, was missing from the Denham residence. Investigators determined from relatives and neighbors that Grayden Denham was not allowed to drive the Nissan Versa or any of the other vehicles from that location because his driver’s license had been suspended. His driving status has been revoked by the state of Missouri due to points violations and child support enforcement issues.
The Nissan was found in Arizona. The license plates had allegedly been removed and replaced with stolen Oklahoma license plates.
The Nissan was found in Arizona a few hours after Denham had been taken into custody as he was walking naked in Seligman. Police were called to a local motel on a report of a suspicious vehicle parked on the property. Denham had never checked into the hotel.
Authorities in Arizona said the Nissan was displaying an Oklahoma rental car license plate. The key was in the ignition and clothing was lying on the ground next to the car. Denham’s wallet was found in the clothing.
Arizona authorities ran the VIN number on the vehicle and discovered it had been entered as a felony vehicle and on hold for a Missouri law enforcement agency.
Platte County Circuit Judge Tom Fincham issued a warrant for Grayden Denham’s arrest. Bond on the felony stealing of the vehicle charge was set at $100,000 cash-only.
There have not been any charges filed in the homicides. Authorities will attempt to extradite Denham back to Missouri. Authorities continue to refer to him only as a “person of interest” in the Edgerton case.
On Monday, Owen told The Landmark that some additional local investigators were headed to Arizona to join some who had flown out on Sunday. Those leaving on Monday were “driving and taking equipment with them so we can process additional evidence.”
In total, “more than 20 investigators are looking very carefully and following all sorts of leads,” the sheriff said.
Owen said the goal is to find justice for the victims.
“We’ve not stopped at all. We’re trying to bring some conclusions to try and figure out what caused this. We want justice for these victims,” he said Monday.
Owen indicated to his knowledge there had been no previous law enforcement calls to the Denham residence.
AT THE SCENE
Volunteer fire departments from Edgerton-Trimble, Camden Point and Dearborn fought the fire.
Platte County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Kat Smith was among the first group of officers at the scene after the 9-1-1 call came in Friday night.
The call, presumably made by neighbors, reported the fire at 11:41 p.m. In her report, Smith says after the initial call, dispatch a short time later advised that there were possibly three deceased in the front yard.
Smith’s report indicates that when she arrived on the scene at shortly after midnight, she observed two adult bodies and one infant directly in the yard directly in front of the residence.
“A dog was lying with the deceased. All of the bodies and the dog were burnt. I contacted fire personnel who were on scene and they advised that there was another body by the outbuilding. I walked to the outbuilding that was to the east of the residence. I observed what appeared to be a male party laying on his back. The body was badly burned and the feet of the body were facing southwest. The body was laying by the driver’s side of what appeared to be a white Chevy S-10 pickup truck. I observed a red plastic gas container approximately four to five feet away from the body,” Smith says in her report.
Authorities say some neighbors reported hearing an explosion. Others did not.
Neighbors told authorities that Russell and Shirley Denham lived at the residence. They were described as an older couple that may or may not have a granddaughter and grandson living with them. A neighbor told police the infant was probably the Denham’s great-grandson.
In a press briefing with media about a mile from the scene around 11 a.m. Saturday, Cpt. Erik Holland and Owen answered questions. They indicated authorities had invoked a protected air space order above the scene, which prevented the television channels from flying their news helicopters in the area.
Though they declined during that initial briefing to answer The Landmark’s question as to whether the bodies were found outside the home, it seems obvious now the restricted air space order was invoked to prevent the bodies from being photographed from above by the news choppers.
At that initial briefing Saturday morning, Owen expressed concern that authorities might discover at least one more body. Authorities knew Grayden Denham often stayed at/lived at the residence.
As the day progressed and investigators with the help of heavy equipment dug through the rubble of the fire, authorities eventually announced no additional bodies were discovered.
On Sunday afternoon, three investigators from the state fire marshal’s office were continuing to painstakingly sift through the rubble, searching for any clues that might aid in the investigation. A fourth representative of the state fire marshal’s office on Sunday was working with the Metro Squad at its base of operations, which was the Platte County Resource Center.
GRAYDEN DENHAM’S BACKGROUND
In 2015, Denham was arrested in another county for driving on a suspended license. When officers were booking Denham, court records indicate Denham assaulted a Johnson County, Mo. jail officer.
The police report indicates Denham attempted to strike the officer in the head with an elbow and allegedly grabbed the officer with both hands by the back of the neck and started pulling downward. According to police, video from the jail showed Denham smiling during the attack.
Denham pled guilty to the assault charge less than a month ago and was sentenced to two years probation and 20 hours of community service.
He has a court appearance scheduled April 1 for the court to review his community service.
UPDATES ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Follow updates to this situation throughout the week on The Landmark’s Twitter account @ivanfoley.