Murder in the Ozarks
One doesn’t often come across murder as the predicate offence to a money laundering offence. The decision from the Supreme Court of the United States to allow the execution of four death row inmates this summer is one such case. Two of the four cases in the decision involved proceeds of crime from murder. Here are those two stories as Part 1 and Part 2.
Arkansas – murder for guns
Part 2, the second case, is like a modern day King Lear tragedy.
It took place in 1996, in the Ozark Mountains and involves the second death row inmate whose execution appeal was denied by SCOTUS, Daniel Lewis Lee (“Lee“).
Lee’s story, however, begins with Chevie O’Brian Kehoe (“Chevie“).
Chevie was the oldest of eight boys of Kirby Keith and Gloria Kehoe. A reporter produced a radio documentary and interviewed acquaintances of the Kehoe family and Chevie’s teachers.
By all accounts, Chevie was a polite, personable, hard working and competent young person. He was an honor student in the gifted program at junior high. He wanted to be a pilot. That is, until Gloria Kehoe removed him from school at 14. His parents believed schools were a threat.
The parents, Kirby and Gloria Kehoe, were anti-government in the extreme – they forbid Chevie from applying for a social security number or a driver’s license so that he would be kept off the grid.
In 1985, the Kehoes moved into a rustic cabin in Deep Lake, near Colville, Washington. They had no electricity or running water, or access to knowledge and information.
In the radio documentary, people in Colville described Kirby Kehoe as an arrogant, controlling schemer who attempted to convert people in town to a white supremacist view and handed out racist material.
Father Kehoe ordered one child to kill the other
A flavor of their parenting can perhaps best be inferred from a family incident in which Kirby Kehoe once ordered Chevie to kill one of the younger Kehoe children. Chevie refused, sending Kirby Kehoe into a rage. No Kehoe reported their parents to the police over this incident.
Chevie did consider turning his parents in to the police.
In 1989, when he was 16, he left his parent’s cabin and set out on his own. He defied them and went on the grid. He registered for a social security number. He took on odd jobs, including at McDonalds. He paid taxes. During that time, he sought the help of a former school teacher to report his parents to law enforcement. He thought his younger brothers ought to be removed from his parents. Ultimately, he lost the courage to turn them in.
Over time, Chevie adopted the white supremacist views of his parents and began to advance the idea of white separatism. He formed an informal association of like-minded persons who advocated for violence and intolerance to achieve their goals.
In 1994, the Kehoe family moved to the wilderness of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.
In the Ozarks, the Kehoe family became friends with William and Nancy Mueller who lived in the area. Like Kirby Kehoe, William Mueller was a vet and an amateur gun dealer with strong anti-government views.
On or around February 12, 1995, while Chevie was visiting his family in the Ozarks, he and Kirby Kehoe went to the Mueller house.
There are different accounts of what happened next.
Guns disappear from the Muellers
Gloria Kehoe says she was told that Chevie and her husband robbed the Mueller house while they were at a gun show, stealing approximately $50,000 in coins and guns, which Chevie took to Washington.
Chevie says that Kirby Kehoe and William Mueller were involved in an insurance scam together that went badly, and they concocted a scheme whereby Kirby Kehoe would take guns and other items from the Mueller home and Mueller would report it as a fake robbery to collect insurance.
The police later asked Gloria Kehoe whether the Mueller robbery was “staged.”
“It crossed my mind,” she said.
Apparently, there was an insurance claim by Mueller which the insurer refused to pay.
After the break-in or insurance scam, Gloria and Kirby Kehoe traveled back and forth by car between Arkansas and Washington.
They sold property in Arkansas and registered the sale under a fake social security number to avoid the payment of taxes and remain off the grid.
Daniel Lewis Lee
Enter Daniel Lewis Lee.
He met Chevie in 1995 in Washington. There is little information about Lee. We know from the trial that, at 17, he pled guilty to taking property from a teenager who later was murdered by someone else. Lee shared in the Kehoe family vision of white separatism and supremacy.
In January 1996, Lee asked Chevie to drive him to Oklahoma so that he could visit his mother who was in hospital recovering from surgery.
The Mueller murders
Here too, there are different accounts of what happened next.
According to Gloria Kehoe and her second oldest son, Cheyne Kehoe, at the end of that trip, on January 11, 1996, Chevie and Lee detoured to the house rented by the Muellers. The Muellers were not home so they broke in but couldn’t find anything of value so they waited for the Muellers to return.
When the Muellers returned home, Lee and Chevie emerged from hiding. They were dressed in police gear. Lee was wearing an FBI cap. They overpowered the family, handcuffed them and demanded that William Mueller hand over his valuables.
After finding cash, guns and ammunition, they placed plastic bags over their heads. They used duct tape to hold the bags in place until they suffocated to death.
Lee refused to kill eight year old Sarah Powell, so Chevie killed her by himself.
The vehicle used for the murders was a 1985 GMC truck owned, at that time, by Kirby Kehoe.
After killing the Muellers, they took their bodies in the 1985 GMC truck to Pope County and threw them, weighted down with rocks, into the Illinois Bayou.
Lee and Chevie drove back to Washington with the proceeds of crime.
Gloria Kehoe told the police that Lee and Chevie confessed the murders to her a month after they had occurred and gave her details of how the murders were carried out.
She would wait two years before telling the police about the murders.
Chevie says that they never went to the Mueller home and that his parents, who had a relationship with the Muellers, were responsible for their murders.
Back in the Ozark Mountains, no one knew what had happed to the Muellers but foul play was not suspected at first.
Seattle gun sales
The Kehoe family began selling guns taken from the Muellers. One of the guns registered to Nancy Mueller was sold by Kirby Kehoe in Seattle, triggering an investigation into him. A second gun belonging to William Mueller was found in the possession of a Seattle man who said that he bought it from Chevie.
Then, on June 28, 1996, a woman fishing near a bridge that crosses the Illinois Bayou snagged her fishing line on two tennis shoes tied together. She yanked and reeled in her line and saw there was a leg bone attached. She went to the police. The police drag-netted the water and recovered parts of the bodies of the Muellers.
When two guns belonging to the Muellers sold by the Kehoes surfaced in Washington state, and bodies surfaced in the Ozarks, the Kehoe family, except Chevie, moved to Yaak, Montana.
Police shoot out in Ohio
Several months later, on February 15, 1997, Chevie and Cheyne Kehoe were driving to a campground in Ohio. Chevie was driving his car – an older blue Chevrolet Suburban. They were stopped by state troopers in Wilmington, Ohio. The truck had an expired license plate.
Chevie exited the truck and while he was talking to the troopers, Cheyne Kehoe jumped out of the passenger side of the truck with a loaded gun and started shooting at the troopers. They were not injured. Cheyne Kehoe then fled on foot and Chevie drove off in the truck.
Hours later, Chevie shot at two Wilmington police officers who pulled up behind the truck in a parking lot, and then fled on foot. A passenger was injured in the shoot out.
The dramatic shoot out was aired on several news stations across America. The police seized the Chevrolet Suburban.
The FBI cap
In the Chevrolet Suburban, the police found law enforcement gear, guns, ammunition, handcuffs, duct tape and FBI caps.
Following the police shoot out, Chevie and Cheyne Kehoe became wanted fugitives. Their parents helped them flee.
Kirby Kehoe suggested Chevie pay him money for his truck – the 1985 GMC – to flee, which he did, and he then transferred the vehicle registration to his name. That was the truck used for the Mueller murders.
Ranching in Utah
Chevie and Cheyne Kehoe ended up in Beryl, Utah, where Chevie got a job managing a ranch. While in Utah, Cheyne Kehoe alleged that he became nervous when Chevie discussed murdering their parents.
Cheyne Kehoe stole Chevie’s GMC truck and left Utah. He drove to his parents’ place in Yaak, Montana.
Chevie says that Cheyne Kehoe went to obtain instructions from the parents and that it was decided by them, in essence, that Chevie and Lee should take the fall for the Mueller murders, which would allow Gloria Kehoe and Cheyne Kehoe’s family to collect an award of approximately $50,000 each for turning them in.
Cheyne Kehoe lied to the police and said that he had not gone to Yaak, Montana, to talk with Kirby and Gloria Kehoe before turning himself in and handing over Chevie.
End of the road
On June 16, 1997, Cheyne Kehoe turned himself in to authorities and told them that in February 1997, Chevie had confessed to him that he and Lee murdered the Muellers. He provided them with the GMC truck he had stolen from Chevie, and told them that they would be able to find evidence therein which would tie Chevie to the Mueller murders. The evidence? Duct tape which “had some paint on it,” he said, that would match. The jury must have wondered how Cheyne Kehoe could possibly know that duct tape on three dead bodies had minute paint chips.
The next day, the police arrested Chevie.
In September 1997, Lee was arrested in Oklahoma.
In March 1998, Gloria Kehoe also went to the police and told them that two years earlier, Chevie and Lee had confessed committing the murders to her.
She led police to a storage locker rented by Kirby Kehoe that contained items stolen from the Mueller house. Kirby Kehoe also had 30,000 rounds of ammunition, an AK-47, assault weapons, grenades and large quantities of guns in his storage locker.
She led police to a second storage locker that she said was rented by Chevie which had items similar to those in the Mueller home. Forensic scientists found the fingerprints of Lee and Chevie on some items in Chevie’s storage locker.
Gloria Kehoe told the police that Kirby Kehoe was going to kill her because she knew too much.
On December 12, 1997, Chevie and Lee were indicted (with others) with several significant offences, superseded in July 1998, with charges that included racketeering and murder. The indictment alleged, among other things, that Chevie launched an enterprise designed to start a revolution in the US to create a new supremacist nation financed with the proceeds of crime derived from robberies, kidnapping and the murder of the Muellers.
Both Lee and Chevie denied involvement in the Mueller murders.
A strand of hair
The case in respect of the murders appears to have been mostly circumstantial, based on the testimony of Gloria Kehoe and Cheyne Kehoe.
But there were also two pieces of material evidence tied to the Mueller murders.
Experts testified that: there were paint samples taken from the GMC truck (owned by Kirby Kehoe at the time of the murders) that were consistent with paint chips found in duct tape removed from the Mueller bodies; and that one of the FBI caps located in Chevie’s Chevrolet Suburban was used in the Mueller murders and contained a hair that an expert testified was similar to Lee’s.
The hair strand in the FBI cap was the only physical evidence tying Lee to the Mueller murders.
No DNA testing was done on the hair.
The jury was told at closing that it was Lee’s hair in the FBI cap.
Only it was not.
In 2007, long after the trial was over, the hair was DNA tested and was excluded from being Lee’s hair.
On May 4, 1999, a jury found Lee and Chevie guilty of numerous offenses. Lee was found guilty of three counts of murder, racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering.
Lee was sentenced to death.
Chevie was not.
An appeal Court later called the disparity between the two sentenced given to Chevie and Lee “troubling” and “unfair.”
Both have appealed their sentences numerous times, all unsuccessfully.
Strand of hair DNA tested
Lee, in particular, as part of a broader set of appeals, appealed with the new evidence that proved from a DNA test that the strand of hair in the FBI cap worn by one of the men who committed the Mueller murders, was not his.
The argument, in effect, was that since it was proven that that particular FBI cap was worn to commit the Mueller murders and the strand of hair was not Lee’s or Chevie’s as the jury was told, there must have either been a third man in the Mueller home who participated in the murders, or there were two men, and Lee was not one of them. Either way, it was presumably argued, based on the DNA evidence, there was no longer physical evidence that tied Lee to the FBI cap, and therefore to the murders.
In 2008, the Court rejected the new evidence from the DNA test as a ground of appeal to vacate his sentence, finding that he was not prejudiced by it.
Execution of Lee scheduled
Lee has exhausted all of his appeals and his execution is scheduled for July 13, 2020.
Some members of the family of the victims do not support his execution. Neither do the prosecutors who prosecuted the case against Lee. The presiding judge over the case, now deceased, said that justice was not served in respect of Lee’s penalty. To be clear, none of them believe Lee is innocent but they object to the inequitable result of the jury’s sentence.
Where are they now?
Chevie is in prison in Colorado.
Gloria Kehoe disappeared after the case and is believed to have returned to Yaak, Montana, where she raised the remaining six Kehoe boys.
Kirby Kehoe and Cheyne Kehoe were both sentenced to terms of incarceration for various convictions related to their activities in the mid-1990s. Both were released and then resumed their lives of criminality and illegal weapons collecting together. Kirby Kehoe is incarcerated in California. Cheyne Kehoe is at an unknown location.
They and several other Kehoe sons were living off the grid on 40 acres of land in Ash Fork, Arizona, where over a dozen illegal guns and 15,000 rounds of ammunition were located and confiscated.
These Kehoes were engaged in the production and commercialization of illegal drugs.
At that time, in 2014, a Kehoe son told law enforcement that his father, Kirby Kehoe, was unstable, had extreme anti-government views and would act on those views.
An unsolved mystery
Flowing from the DNA test of the strand of hair, the identity of the person whose strand of hair was taken from the FBI cap used in the Mueller murders is an unsolved mystery.
Part 1 – the gruesome murders of Wesley Ira Purkey is here.