EDGERTON, Mo. — What started as a four fatality fire has developed into an ongoing homicide investigation with no named suspects and details that continue to confound a grieving community.
Officials have yet to identify the victims found outside a burned down house at 4170 Buena Vista Rd., but family members have informed the media that they likely are all fellow family members who lived at the residence. All four victims were also burned, and the Jackson County Coroner’s Office was still working on the cause of death as of Tuesday, Feb. 23.
The fire was reported just before midnight on Friday, Feb. 19, and multiple agencies battled the blaze, including volunteers from the Dearborn, Camden Point and Edgerton/Trimble fire protection districts.
The house was completely destroyed with only one wall left intact, and it was later knocked down due to being unstable. When Platte County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived on the scene, they saw three bodies in the front yard, two female adults and one infant, with a dog also dead nearby, and sheriff Mark Owen said something “wasn’t quite right” from the beginning.
A male body was found by an outbuilding east of the home, the victim lying on his back with a red plastic gas container found nearby.
On Saturday, Feb. 20, authorities revealed the case was being investigated as a homicide with a Kansas City Metro Squad taking over. A fifth family member believed to have been living in the house was then named as a person of interest in the case. Grayden L. Denham, 24, was apprehended while walking naked in a small Arizona town on Sunday, Feb. 21.
Authorities also located a brown 2012 Nissan Versa nearby. The vehicle was believed to be stolen from Russell and Shirley Denham, an elderly couple who lived at the house on Buena Vista Road along with their granddaughter and great grandson.
On Monday, Feb. 22, Platte County prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd charged Denham with felony theft for taking the Versa, which was found with Oklahoma license plates from a rental car.
In an update to the media Monday, Zahnd cautioned that Denham is not a suspect in the homicides but still a person of interest. He’s currently being held in Yavapi County, Arizona on other charges, and a Platte County judge has issued a warrant for Denham’s arrest with a $100,000 cash-only bond. He was found in Seligman, Ariz. — a town of about 500 — and the car was found at a nearby motel where he was not a registered guest with a pile of clothes outside of it.
Court records indicate the car belonged to Russell and Shirley Denham, who lived at the scene of the homicides.
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. A records check revealed that Grayden Denham’s driving status has been revoked by the State of Missouri due to points violations and child support enforcement issues.
Denham also recently pleaded guilty to assaulting a law enforcement officer in Johnson County while he was being booked into jail on active warrants.
For now, Denham faces up to seven years in prison for the Class C felony of stealing the car.
According to Platte County sheriff Mark Owen, the homicide case remains under active investigation by the Platte County Sheriff’s Office, Metro Squad, and State Fire Marshall’s office. Authorities are awaiting examination of dental records before confirming the identities of the homicide victims.
While the official release waits, those in the Edgerton community have expressed shock while trying to honor the victims.
Mt. Zion Baptist Church where the Denhams were members hosted a prayer vigil on Sunday, Feb. 21. They remembered Heather Denham, granddaughter of Russell and Shirley, as a loving mother who had first child in November. She, along with her three-month-old son Mason Denham, are believed to be the third and fourth victims.
Authorities would not confirm reports of an explosion or explosions at the house during the fire.