Murder: Beauty and a Beastly Death
When Gary Dunn was tried for the 2005 murder of beauty queen, Nona Dirskmeyer, his legal team’s strategy was to blame the slaying on Kevin Jones, Dirksmeyer’s boyfriend and the first suspect, who was acquitted in 2007. The only person who could fully corroborate Jones’ alibi was his grandmother, but when Dunn had to account for his time on Dec. 15, he didn’t do much better. He said he had been remodeling his mother’s house in Dover and produced a sales receipt from Lowe’s Home Improvement Store in Russellville for materials he bought there. The receipt was stamped around 1:30 p.m., and Dirksmeyer had been murdered between 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Dunn said he had also been to Lowe’s around 11 a.m. but could not find a receipt for that trip. The only people who could back him up were members of his own family, and they disagreed about details, discrepancies that were the result of memories made hazy by the passage of time, according to the defense. A piece of evidence that might have shed light on Dunn’s alibi was a video from Lowe’s surveillance camera, but detectives didn’t realize they had not retrieved the footage until it was too late. The store destroyed the tape after 90 days.
Kevin Jones testified at Dunn’s trial, and the defense attorney asked him about his keys, including one to Dirksmeyer’s apartment. He didn’t have the keys with him when he, his mother and a friend found the victim’s body. They had to get in through a sliding glass door on the back of the apartment because the front door was locked. Jones’ keys turned up later in a box of items that Dirksmeyer’s family collected from her apartment. Jones said he didn’t know how that happened.
Michael Rome, Dirksmeyer’s uncle by marriage, testified Jones had gone with him and other family members to Nona’s apartment to pick up some things, including a dress for her funeral. Rome said Jones seemed to be hunting for something, looking under a mattress and going through dirty clothes and the garbage. Jones told Rome he needed to find a DVD that was due back at the video store, but even after Rome found the DVD, Jones continued to search.
Jennifer Dunn testified against her estranged husband, saying he had brutalized her so terribly that she had to undergo a hysterectomy, but her gynecologist denied that was the reason. He said the surgery was necessary because of an inflammatory pelvic disease.
On the third day of jury deliberations, the judge declared a mistrial. The jurors were deadlocked 8 to 4 in favor of acquittal. They gave several reasons for the impasse: the DNA evidence was inconclusive; Jennifer Dunn’s testimony was “dubious”; and the Russellville Police Department did a poor investigative job. The jurors also thought Jones was as good a suspect as Dunn.
Dunn’s second trial covered the same ground as the first … with one difference. Testimony about his previous criminal conviction, heretofore excluded, was ruled admissible for the retrial. The jury heard that he had been convicted of second-degree battery after he attacked a female jogger on the Bona Dea Walking Trail in Russellville. The woman testified Dunn struck her repeatedly with a tree limb before she managed to escape. He served two years of a six-year sentence before being paroled.
Jurors considered the assault on the jogger but decided it wasn’t relevant to Dirksmeyer’s death, and Dunn’s second trial also ended with a hung jury voting 8 to 4, again in favor of acquittal and citing not enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Though Jones was free on bail during his trial, Dunn was indigent and remained in jail on a $1-million dollar bond from August 2008 until April, 2011, when the prosecution decided against trying him a third time. The trials had polarized the community with one faction supporting Jones and the other defending Dunn. According to a former Russellville resident, it’s still a divisive issue.
Jones is suing Dunn, former Russellville Police Chief James Bacon, and Det. Mark Frost for allegedly conspiring to withhold evidence and falsify information, leading to his wrongful arrest and prosecution.
Nona Dirksmeyer’s murder remains unsolved.