The Most Likely Suspects
Over the years, evidence has been accumulating that Kim Nees was killed by several female assailants who lured her to the Poplar riverbank park during the early morning hours of June 16, 1979. The accumulated evidence shows that several females beat Kim Nees to death as a result of jealousy harbored over Nees’ romantic relationship with a man also involved with one of these girls.
• In September of 1979, three months after Kim Nees’ murder, Roosevelt County Sheriff Don Carpenter took a taped statement from Orrie Burshia, (Tr. 27-29). Orrie Burshia approached Sheriff Carpenter to disclose information she learned about the Nees’ murder. In that taped statement that was never disclosed to the defense, Orrie Burshia told Sheriff Carpenter of a conversation she had with Mike Longtree approximately three weeks after Kim Nees’ body was discovered.
Longtree told Burshia that he had been present at the scene of the crime on the night that Kim Nees was murdered. Longtree described to Burshia how he had watched a group of Native American girls, including Sissy Atkinson and one of the Reddog sisters, among others, beat Kim Nees to death. Longtree told Orrie Burshia how Kim Nees was trying to get away and begged people to help her. Longtree never said that he saw Barry Beach at the murder scene. The statement from Burshia was never turned over to Barry Beach’s lawyer.
Over the years, Mike Longtree has reaffirmed to a number of people his statement that he was present at the time that Kim Nees was murdered. On July 1, 2004, Longtree had a conversation with Lisa Perry of Poplar, Montana. During that conversation, Longtree told her that he knew the names of the people who killed Kim Nees and further indicated the killers were Maude Kirn (maiden name Grayhawk), Sissy Atkinson, Joanne Jackson, and Jordis Ferguson. Lisa Perry has given a sworn statement relating to this conversation.
Although Orrie Burshia is now deceased, the fact that Mike Longtree told her that he had witnessed the murder is confirmed in the statement by Susie Cowans Bissel. Bissel has given a sworn statement of what she was told by Orrie Burshia.
Around 1990, Mike Longtree told Sherrie DeMarias, Mike Longtree’s common law wife and mother of his three children, that he saw the murder and told her some of the details. He told her that Sissy Atkinson, Maude Grayhawk, Jordis Ferguson and two Jackson. sisters were involved. Longtree told her that he was with Les Bighorn and saw the girls drag Kim Nees to the river. Longtree has denied that he was a witness to the murder when contacted by police officers.
Nevertheless, his statements should have been revealed to Barry Beach’s lawyer prior to the trial so the defense could investigate the statement.
• Judy Grayhawk, (Tr. 555-570), is the sister-in-law of Maude Grayhawk. Maude Grayhawk was the daughter of Officer Steve Grayhawk, a tribal police officer who was on duty the night of Kim Nees’ murder. He is also the tribal police officer who admitted to breaking into the evidence room following the collection of evidence from the Kim Nees’ murder scene.
In 2004, Roosevelt County District Attorney investigator Ron Kemp, (Tr. 571-589), attempted to interview Maude Grayhawk regarding the murder of Kim Nees. Maude Grayhawk initially told Kemp to return at another time. When he returned, she related that she had called Sissy Atkinson immediately after Kemp’s visit with her and Atkinson told her not to talk to Kemp and that “they don’t have anything.” Maude Grayhawk then denied committing the murder,however, she then began to weep and asked Kemp whether she may have been involved in Kim Nees’ murder and not now remember it. After Kemp left his attempted interview with Maude Grayhawk, Maude Greyhawk called her sister-in-law, Judy Greyhawk. Maude Grayhawk told Judy Grayhawk that she hadn’t been the one who actually killed Kim Nees.
• Maude Grayhawk confessed to Judy Grayhawk that she, Maude, had in fact lured Kim Nees to the park that night and “I might have kicked her in the head once or twice,” but did not kill her.
Judy Grayhawk testified before the Board of Pardons and Parole regarding this confession by Maude Grayhawk.
Maude Grayhawk had been married to Dana Kirn. In 2002, Dana Kirn and Maude Kirn separated and then engaged in a bitter custody battle over their children. A final hearing on their divorce and custody issues was scheduled for April 7, 2003. Two days before the scheduled court hearing, Dana Kirn was stabbed to death by Maude’s new boyfriend, Tracy McGowan. There is significant evidence that Dana Kirn planned to reveal at the upcoming divorce/custody hearing that Maude Grayhawk had confessed to him about participating in Kim Nees’ murder.
Before his death, Dana Kirn told a number of people that Maude had confessed to him that she was a participant in Kim Nees’ murder and that he was going to reveal this information. Prior to the death of Dana Kirn, he told his father, Albert Kirn, Sr., that with regard to the upcoming hearing he didn’t need a lawyer because he had enough information on Maude to put her away for life.
Desiree Kirn-Lambert was Dana Kirn’s younger sister. Dana Kirn revealed to his sister that while he and Maude were still living together, Maude revealed several things that led him to believe she was involved in the murder of Kim Nees. He said they were sitting on the couch at their home one day when she said to him, there’s something I haven’t told you in all these years. I know about the Kim Nees murder. Maude confessed to Dana, according to Desiree, that Maude was afraid she was going to be going to jail.
• Finally, Maria Decker, (Tr. 597-607), Dana Kirn’s half-sister, gave a sworn statement that after Dana separated from his wife, Maude, he lived with Maria and her husband for a while. She says Dana disclosed to her that Maude admitted to him more than once during their marriage that she was involved in the murder of Kim Nees. Specifically, Dana said Maude told him that she participated in the fatal beating of Kim Nees along with Sissy Atkinson, Joanne Jackson, Roberta Jackson, Jordis Ferguson and Rhea Reddog. Dana said that Maude revealed to him that Ed Vandover devised a plan to lure Kim to the location where she was murdered; that they planned to beat Kim, not kill her, then realized they had gone too far.
Dana brought up Maude’s admissions to him regarding the murder of Kim Nees on multiple occasions according to Maria Decker. Michael Burshia has also given a statement that over a period of several years, Dana told him a number of times that Maude confessed to him that she was involved with others in the murder of Kim Nees.
• Sissy Atkinson has been a suspect in Kim Nees’ murder since 1979. An FBI report dated July 19, 1979 states: “The name of Sissy Atkinson has also come up on numerous occasions as a possible suspect in this matter.”
Calvin First, a Tribal patrolman, reported that while he was at an Exxon station getting gas at about 1:30 to 1:45 a.m. on June 16, 1979, he saw Sissy Atkinson driving Maude Greyhawk’s car away from the area of the murder. A passenger was in the car. Calvin First believed the passenger might have been Maude Greyhawk, but he wasn’t certain. Calvin First was never called as a witness at trial.
Sissy Atkinson has confessed to a number of people that she was responsible for Kim Nees’ death. In the mid-1990s, Sissy Atkinson revealed to her longtime boyfriend, William Stubby Balbinot, that she, Sissy Atkinson, bludgeoned Kim Nees to death with a tire iron and that Maude Grayhawk, Joanne Jackson, and Jordis Ferguson participated with her in the murder.
Atkinson’s confession to her boyfriend, William Stubby Balbinot, was disclosed by Balbinot to his sister, Sheryl. In 1984, Atkinson bragged to coworkers at the Tribal Industries plant in Poplar that she had committed the perfect crime.
Witness Carl Fourstar, (Tr. 521-555), heard Atkinson gloating over the Beach conviction and the fact that she had committed the perfect crime.
• J.D. Atkinson, (Tr. 274-300), the older brother of Sissy Atkinson, testified that he visited his sister, Sissy Atkinson, in Great Falls in 2003 and 2004 at a time when Sissy Atkinson was heavily addicted to narcotics. J. D. Atkinson described how Sissy Atkinson on a number of occasions began to talk about the Kim Nees murder and on at least one occasion began to “unload” and described that on the night of Kim Nees’ murder she, Sissy Atkinson, along with Maude Greyhawk, Joanne Jackson and Jordis Ferguson were partying down off Highway 2 near the river. Sissy Atkinson described a fight breaking out among these girls and Kim Nees. Sissy Atkinson described herself to her brother as a witness rather than a participant. Nevertheless, she has never publicly described herself as a witness, but always claimed that she was home by 11:00 p.m. on the night of Kim Nees’ murder.
• Forty-two year old North Dakota resident, Vonnie Brown, (Tr. 301-315), testified about her contact with Sissy Atkinson in June of 2004 in Great Falls. Vonnie Brown was born and raised in Poplar and lived there most of her life. When she visited Sissy Atkinson in 2004, Sissy was in the midst of heavy drug use. During one visit, Sissy began to talk about the Kim Nees’ murder. Sissy told Vonnie Brown, “I know who really did it.” When Vonnie asked who, Sissy began describing girls kicking Kim and pulling her by the hair. Sissy said that Maude was one of them. She then began describing Maude, herself and others being present, but then stopped and changed the subject. Vonnie Brown described how during her visits with Sissy in Great Falls, she saw Sissy’s brother, J. D., visit on occasion. This corroborates J. D. Atkinson’s testimony that he visited his sister at her apartment in Great Falls.