Printed on: May 01, 2013

Never again

Twin Falls Times-News

SHOSHONE -- Cindy Trappen doesn't remember much about the man who murdered her mother.

It was 1970 and the family lived in Shoshone, where everyone knew everyone. Trappen, then known as Cindy Gray, was only 10 years old.

Danny Williams, the man eventually convicted of murdering her mother, was 18.

In the 43 years since the murder, Trappen has become very familiar with Williams. She sifted through court files to find details of how he beat, stabbed and mutilated her mother. She learned about his life in a Kansas prison and has traveled to the state four times to fight his release on parole.

Last week, at the most recent hearing, Trappen studied the killer's face.

There was no remorse, she said. Nothing to indicate he understands, or cares, that he forever changed the lives of two families in Idaho and Kansas.

It's that lack of remorse that motivates her to keep traveling to Kansas to fight the release of the man she believes would kill again.

A November murder

The nude and partially dismembered body of 33-year-old Melba Gray was found Nov. 13, 1970, along a stretch of train tracks east of Shoshone. Gray's head had been bludgeoned, her arm and leg severed by passing trains.

At the time of her death, Gray was a divorced mother of six living in Shoshone. She had planned a trip to California to visit relatives. The children were to stay with family during her vacation.

Gray's bags were packed. She said goodnight to her son at 11 p.m. Nov. 12, 1970. It was the last time anyone saw her alive.

Her 15-year-old son came home at 3 a.m. to wake his mother for her trip, according to Times-News coverage at the time. Instead, he found an empty house and untouched luggage. He called police.

According to an autopsy report, Gray's body was found early the morning of Nov. 13. Three trains had passed the site between the time her son last saw her and when her body was discovered. At least two of the trains hit her.

Police first questioned Gray's ex-husband. But authorities quickly cleared him. He returned to tell his children their mother had died but offered no details, Trappen said.

It only was after Trappen was older, and started asking questions, that she learned the horrific circumstances surrounding her mother's death.

Later that November day in 1970, Twin Falls police arrested Williams, who had been a neighbor of Gray.

In 1971, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life.

Once incarcerated, Williams became a model prisoner. That contributed to his parole release in 1979. A condition of his parole was that he find a job.

Gray's family was not notified of his release. Until April 1982, they believed Williams still was locked up. Meanwhile, he found a job as a butcher in Wichita, Kan.

That's where he ran into trouble again.

Another murder, states away

In 1982, Wichita Police Officer Ron Spurgeon was called to the scene of a homicide. The half-nude body of Francis Ellifson, 47, had been found. She had been beaten and stabbed -- similar to the murder of Gray 13 years earlier.

As Spurgeon drove down the street, he watched for anyone acting suspiciously.

He saw Williams leave a convenience store, look both ways and start walking toward the murder scene.

Spurgeon detained Williams for questioning and spotted blood on his shoes.

Thirty-one years later, Spurgeon still can remember that night. He keeps in touch with both the Gray and Ellifson families, and has researched everything he can about both cases.

His goal is to keep Williams locked up, but that decision rests entirely with the Kansas Parole Board.

Though Williams was on parole in Idaho at the time of Ellifson's death, if he is released in Kansas, he won't have to come back to Idaho to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

Under Idaho law, if a parolee is arrested in another state, he or she serves the sentences concurrently (at the same time) instead of consecutively (one after the other).

"If we let him go (in Kansas), he'll be a free person," Spurgeon said.

Changes come too late

In 1996, Idaho discharged Williams from its correction system, meaning the state no longer has authority to bring him back to serve the remainder of his sentence for Gray's death.

"By our laws, he had completed (his) Idaho sentence," said Olivia Craven, executive director of the Idaho Parole Commission.

Although he was sentenced to 30 years in prison, five years was taken off for time already served -- a system called "good time."

"Good time" no longer exists in Idaho, Craven said.

Spurgeon expressed disgust that Idaho not only let Williams go on parole, but didn't tell the family.

"He committed a ... heinous crime in Idaho and served eight years, and they washed their hands of it," Spurgeon said.

He also disagreed with the decision to train a convicted murderer to become a butcher.

"They didn't see any problem with it," Spurgeon said.

A lot has changed since the '70s.

Today, Idaho participates in a victim notification system that allows those affected by crimes to check the status of the offender, and notifies them if the offender is released.

When Trappen went to Kansas last week and testified against Williams' release, she was joined by two siblings, her mother's twin sister, Spurgeon and Francis Ellifson's family.

According to the Wichita Eagle, 40 people in all testified against his release. The Kansas Parole Board will meet with Williams in the next month, and a decision on his parole will come after that.

Regardless of the decision, the damage he inflicted on the Gray family never can be undone, Trappen said.

Most of her family moved away from Idaho after the murder. Trappen didn't move back to the Magic Valley until she married. She still winces every time she drives through Shoshone. The house where the Grays lived is just off Highway 93, she said, and there is no way to avoid it.

Despite the pain, she decided to write a book about the murder.

"I want people to know," she said.