Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Cold Case Archives

May 15, 2011

Police reopen investigation of 1974 Wyoming County murder

BIG JENNY — Members of the Eary and Shelvia England family still wait until Dec. 13, each year before they put up their Christmas decorations. They’ve been doing that for more than three decades.

“A lot of those years, mom didn’t put up any Christmas decorations at all,” Rhonda (England) Bryant said. “She didn’t do anything for Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays or anything until a few years before dad died. He died and then she died 14 months later.”

Eary Carl “June” England Jr., 14, was a student at Hemphill School in the fall of 1974 when June decided to spend a couple days with his cousins in Hensley, according to Bryant.

“Dad was a coal miner,” she said. “He worked at Premier and gave June and Stevie (Short) a ride over to Hensley on that Monday (Nov. 4, 1974) and June was going to stay there over night. Dad was going to pick him up on Tuesday.”

Tuesday never came for the England family. For the next few days, law enforcement personnel and volunteers searched the woods on the McDowell County side of Indian Ridge with negative results. During their search, volunteers came upon a skull and human skeletal remains. The skull appeared to have a bullet hole in it. The discovery of the remains was not related to the search for June England, but it reminded searchers of just how remote and isolated that section of the mountains of the McDowell and Wyoming county borders in that area north of Davy and southwest of Oceana are.

On Friday, Nov. 8, 1974, the England family fears became a reality. Searchers found June England’s body, partially buried by rocks, in a small stream on the southern slope of Huff Mountain in Wyoming County. An autopsy later confirmed that he had been killed by two shotgun wounds in his left side from less than 4 feet away.

There was no Thanksgiving for the England family that November and no joy on Dec. 13, 1974, a date that would have been June’s 15th birthday. He had gone into the woods with two of his cousins, but one of his cousins, Stevie Short didn’t venture past the home of Harold England.

In his statement to police, Stevie Short said that June and Stevie’s brother, Eddie went into the woods together at about 11 a.m., but a few hours later, Eddie Short came out of the woods alone. “Eddie told me he got sick while he was in the woods and started puking and came home,” Stevie Short told police. “Eddie said he left June up in the woods.” Stevie Short told police in his statement that Eddie returned at about 2 p.m., according to the hand-written statement Stevie Short gave police investigators after June England’s body was discovered.

The Short boys were June England’s first cousins. The England family had lived in Hensley all their lives before moving to Big Jenny hollow. All of their family ties and friends were in the Hensley area. Christmas of 1974 was terrible for the family. Louise Short visited the Englands in late December 1974 and asked Shelvia not to be mad at her if the police found that Eddie Short was guilty of killing June. Then assistant Wyoming County Prosecutor John Hrko, now Wyoming County Circuit Court judge, recorded that information in a document as he prepared the case for a Wyoming County grand jury.

Based on the circumstantial evidence including witness statements and some blood-stained clothing, Wyoming County authorities thought that they had a case and arrested Eddie Short on a murder charge early in 1975. Constable Joe Blankenship of Hanover headed up the local investigation and Harold “Butch” Carte headed up the investigation for the state.

Wyoming County Prosecuting Attorney Paul “Butch” Goode presented the case to a Wyoming County grand jury and the grand jury returned an indictment on Sept. 18, 1975 charging Eddie Short with murder. According to Rhonda Bryant, that’s as far as it went. She doesn’t recall any trial and she doesn’t know what happened to her brother.

“We all still speak June’s name in our prayers,” Patty Deskins, June’s younger sister said. June had two sisters — Rhonda and Patty — and four younger brothers, Edward, Ronnie, Jimmy and Randy England. “We believe in prayer,” Patty Deskins, the youngest member of the family said.

Since Rhonda was the oldest, she inherited the worn, blue plastic box that their mother saved every newspaper clipping, copies of statements, grand jury transcripts and even a VCR tape of a WVVA-TV broadcast that former reporter Teresa Hamilton put together in the early 1990s to draw renewed attention to the case. Shelvia England kept a notebook with her notes from all the calls she received after the 1993 WVVA broadcast, hoping that some statement might come in handy for an investigator who would chose to take the investigation the next step.

“We even got all the materials together and sent it off to ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ for them to do a story, but they didn’t do anything about it,” Bryant said. The rejection letter from “Unsolved Mysteries” remains in the blue box that Shelvia England kept until she died. Now that task belongs to Bryant.

“I’m sure that I’m getting some of these documents out of order, but I’ll straighten them up later,” Bryant said as she searched through stacks of paper. The family buried June England at Hensley Cemetery. When the girls scour the documents in search of clues, various statements shed light on things they didn’t know at the time. Rhonda was just 16 when her brother died and Patty was only six.

“When the men who were searching for June came to the house that night, I remember that mom sent me up to bed, but I didn’t go into my room,” Deskins said. “I came back to the top of the steps to see what was happening. I guess I was just nosey. When the man told mom that they found June dead, she fell out right there against a chair we kept next to the front door. She fell right out.”

A few months ago, the West Virginia State Police launched an effort to reopen some of the coal case files that remain on their books. Senior Trooper J.W. Keffer of the Jesse Detachment was recently assigned this case to investigate. Trooper D.R. Moore of the West Virginia State Police was the initial investigator on the case back in 1974.

Anyone with additional information that might help Keffer in his investigation of the case can contact him in Jesse at 304-682-4717, through the Welch Detachment at 304-436-2101, or the Princeton Detachment at 304-425-2101.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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