Real Name: Unrevealed
Aliases: None Known
Wanted For: Arson, Murder
Missing Since: November 1988
Details: At around 3AM on Thanksgiving Day, 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 blaze 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 "Jim" Kilventon and firemen Robert McKarnin and Michael "Mike" Oldham left within ninety seconds. As Pumper 41 went towards the site, Jim's wife Cecelia 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 the explosives. From the beginning, they suspected that arson was the cause of the fires since they were separate and had started simultaneously. The highway 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 a highway.
Kilventon and his crew soon had the truck blaze under control. However, fire still burned unchecked in the trailer. A few minutes later, Captain Gerald Halloran, along with firemen Luther Gene Hurd and Thomas Fry, arrived at the scene from Station 30. Halloran and his men went up the hill to work on the trailer fire. Pumper 41 stayed behind to wrap up the first blaze. 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 flames. 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 explosion went through the site. Later that morning, it was confirmed that all six firefighters had been killed in the explosion.
An investigation began into the 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 the deadly fire and explosion 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 highway construction project. They discovered that union members had allegedly committed violent acts against non-union companies; fire was used in some of the incidents. However, none of the leads have panned out.
Almost seven years later, the person or persons responsible are still at large.
Extra Notes: This segment ran for the first time on February 10, 1995.
Results: Captured. As a result of the broadcast, five people were indicted for the arson and murder. George Frank Sheppard, his brother Earl, their nephew Bryan, George's girlfriend Darlene Edwards and Richard W. Brown were all implicated in the arson and murders. Over the years, investigators heard from multiple witnesses who claimed that the five suspects had bragged about setting the fire. Several of the witnesses came forward as a result of the Unsolved Mysteries broadcast. Investigators determined that the fires were deliberately set during an attempt to steal equipment and dynamite from the construction site.
At trial, dozens of witnesses testified against the suspects. Other evidence, including statements by the suspects, were also brought up at trial. In 1995, Edwards 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 Brown had said that he went to the site to steal equipment and had taken part in setting the fires. Seven witnesses testified that Earl Sheppard had admitted to being involved in the arson fires and stealing the equipment. Thirteen witnesses testified to admissions made by Bryan Sheppard, including that he had helped set the fires as a diversion for the security guards, and that he was haunted by the deaths of the firefighters. Twelve witnesses testified to admissions by George Sheppard, including that he had set the fire as a diversion, that he had someone drive him to the site, and that he was unable to open the truck or the 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 five suspects together one week before the fire, talking about their plans to steal equipment from the construction site. Other witnesses also saw the five together in the weeks preceding and after the fire. Furthermore, a witness testified to seeing Richard Brown's truck speeding away from the construction 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 construction site. Finally, a witness claimed to have seen Bryan and Richard together a few hours after the fire; both smelled of gasoline and Bryan had several unexplained cuts and abrasions.
All five suspects were found guilty and later sentenced to life in prison. However, some evidence has since come forward to suggest that others may have been involved in the arson, including two security guards who were at the site the night of the explosion. A police investigation is currently underway. Earl Sheppard died in 2009. Bryan Sheppard served twenty-two years and was released after a judge reduced his life sentence to twenty years.
- 6 Firefighters Die in Blast at Kansas City
- United States v. Edwards
- (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 KC firefighters
- Bryan Sheppard, convicted in deaths of 6 KC firefighters, testifies at re-sentencing hearing
- Man convicted in 1988 deaths of 6 KC firefighters getting out of prison