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The Boys on the Tracks [Book]

Mara Leveritt’s 1999 book Boys on the Tracks: Death, Denial, and a Mother’s Crusade to Bring Her Son’s Killers to Justice is one of the most important examples of investigative journalism in modern Arkansas history. The book’s subject is one of the state’s most famous unsolved cases. At the heart of the case are events surrounding the deaths of two young men—best friends Larry Kevin Ives and Donald George (Don) Henry, both of Bryant (Saline County)—and the resistance encountered by their grieving parents as they searched for the truth. The book won the prestigious Booker Worthen Literary Prize in 2000.

On August 23, 1987, at around 4:00 a.m., the bodies of two young men were spotted by the crew of a Union Pacific locomotive near Crooked Creek trestle in Alexander (Pulaski and Saline counties). The bodies were lying between the tracks, wrapped in a pale green tarp; there was a gun nearby. The train was unable to avoid running over the bodies.

The state medical examiner, Dr. Fahmy Malak, originally ruled the deaths of Kevin Ives (age seventeen) and Don Henry (sixteen) “two accidental deaths due to THC intoxication”; THC is a component of marijuana. However, the parents disputed this and began to conduct their own investigations. Experts hired by the parents disagreed strongly with Malak’s findings, and on February 26, 1988, five days after a hearing, the boys’ deaths were changed from “accidental” to “undetermined.” Later that year, a grand jury ruled their deaths a “probable homicide,” and NBC’s hit show Unsolved Mysteries featured a segment on the case in the fall of 1988, including allegations that the boys had been murdered due to witnessing something regarding drugs.

Rumors continued to circulate around the case, especially following the deaths of certain people who were supposed to testify before the grand jury. In 1994, The Clinton Chronicles, a propaganda video purporting to connect Bill Clinton to various crimes, was released. The deaths of Ives and Henry were among those to which Bill Clinton was supposedly connected. The Clinton Chronicles advanced the conspiracy theory that, while governor of Arkansas, Clinton had a connection to a scandal involving large shipments of cocaine, guns, and money from Central America passing through Arkansas at the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport. It further speculated that the two boys had been murdered after stumbling upon a shipment moving through Saline County.

Lawyer Dan Harmon, who had represented Ives’s and Henry’s parents, was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, and drug possession with intent to distribute in 1997. Leveritt writes in her book that his conviction and the resulting eleven-year prison sentence handed down in 1998 proved, to the boys’ parents at least, that their boys’ deaths “had occurred in an environment of local corruption.” Despite the exhaustive amount of information that Leveritt provides in her book, she offers no conclusions regarding the case. She, instead, presents the story mostly through the eyes of Linda Ives, detailing the resistance she has met in her struggle.

In her review of The Boys on the Tracks, Linda Satter of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote that the book “can leave a person depressed. But that’s not because it’s a sorrowful book that you wish you wouldn’t have read. It’s because the exhilarating, eye-opening, thought-provoking ride it took you on has come to an end and you want more. You want the remaining questions answered. You want the mystery solved.” Satten’s review labeled it a “true-crime” story, writing that, the “characters are real people, many of whom still live in the community, [which] makes the story more compelling.” The Boys on the Tracks was originally published by St. Martin’s Press in late 1999 but was reprinted in 2006 by Bird Call Press in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

For additional information:
Day, Chris. “Train Deaths are Officially Homicides.” Arkansas Gazette, March 6, 1988, p. 3B.

Leveritt, Mara. Boys on the Tracks: Death, Denial, and a Mother’s Crusade to Bring Her Son’s Killers to Justice. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999; Little Rock: Bird Call Press, 2006.

Satter, Linda. “Unraveling Mysteries in Saline County Murders.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 26, 1999, p. 6J.

Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Last Updated 2/15/2017

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