KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Platte County grand jury handed down a 12-count indictment against Grayden L. Denham last week, officially implicating the 24-year-old in the murder of four family members this past February in Edgerton, Mo.
The charges against Denham include four counts of first degree murder and four counts of armed criminal action in the homicides of his sister Heather Ager, 32, his three-month-old nephew Mason Schiavoni, his grandmother, Shirley Denham, 81, and his grandfather, Russell Denham, 82. Platte County prosecutor Eric Zahnd and Platte County sheriff Mark Owen announced the development in the case during a short news conference Monday, June 27.
Zahnd said the determination has not been made on whether the state will seek the death penalty in the case, a process that could take a month or more. He also declined to give many specifics of the crime and because of the grand jury indictment, no probable cause statement can be made available to the media.
Denham remains in custody at the Platte County Detention Center in lieu of a $4 million cash-only bond. He’s set to be arraigned on the new charges Thursday, June 30 in Division II of Platte County Circuit Court.
“If we have the chance to have 12 independent grand jurors,” Zahnd said, “to review that case, assist us in the investigation and ultimately determine what charges — if any — can be brought in a very serious case, we want to take that opportunity. We had that opportunity in this case, and that’s the way we decided to address these very serious charges.”
Denham had been considered a person of interest in the case from the beginning. He was known to be an occasional occupant of the house at 4170 Buena Vista Road in Edgerton along with the four victims.
Late on Friday, Feb. 19, authorities responded to the residence for reports of a fire. The victims were found to be murdered with the bodies burnt outside of the house, and information presented at Monday’s press conference provided a few additional details. All four victims suffered at least one gunshot wound and all of the bodies were found actively burning when emergency responders arrived at the scene, according to Owen.
Three of the victims were found in the front yard, while Russell Denham was located near an outbuilding east of the home, lying on his back with a red plastic gas container nearby. A family dog was also found dead at the scene, shot and also burning.
Additional counts filed against Denham include a felony for arson, a felony for tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor for animal abuse. A previously filed felony charge of stealing his grandparents’ vehicle also remained on the indictment.
Authorities apprehended Denham while walking naked in a small Arizona town two days after the fire. They also located a brown 2012 Nissan Versa at a nearby hotel, a vehicle discovered missing from the Denham residence during the early part of the investigation.
Outside of the vehicle, authorities located a pile of clothes, and Grayden Denham was not a registered guest of the hotel.
On Monday, Feb. 22, Platte County prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd charged Grayden Denham with felony theft for taking the Versa, which was found in Seligman, Ariz. with Oklahoma license plates from a rental car. He remained in custody in Yavapi County, Arizona until an extradition process brought him back to Platte County.
Denham had been in custody on the felony stealing charge in lieu of a $100,000 cash-only bond since returning to Platte County early this month.
“First of all, I’d like to say my thoughts and prayers and that of the department continue to go out to the Denham family and friends as they continue dealing with this tragedy,” Owen said.
In wake of the tragedy, the Platte County Sheriff’s Office requested the activation of a Kansas City Metro Squad, which finished its investigative work on Feb. 23. Owen said the investigation had been wrapped up, but the charges waited until after the grand jury finished work Zahnd called extensive.
Early on in the investigation, members of the community came together to publicly grieve the deaths of well-known citizens. However, answers didn’t come quickly, and as recently as last week, Grayden Denham’s mother publicly spoke in support of her son following a court appearance on the car theft charge, saying she believed him to be innocent with the real killer yet to be found.
The grand jury’s findings, while merely accusations, have the case going in the direction many expected from the beginning.
“Our hearts go out to the family members and frankly, the members of that community,” Zahnd said. “This is a devastating thing to happen to a family and to happen to a community, and our goal has been, and will continue to be, to do justice for everyone involved in this case.”