Death in the Canyon: Forest Service LEO has ride-along from hell
|Plumas and Lassen National Forest Patrol Capt. Chris Holland points out where he discovered the body of Brian Joseph Graves near the Murphy Creek turnout in the Feather River Canyon on April 29, 2011. Photos by Austin Hagwood|
Chris Holland’s headlights blazed into the darkness, his SUV clinging to the road that winds down the Feather River Canyon. The spring night was calm and cool, but what happened next became an ordeal he would never forget.
With a trainee in the passenger seat, the law enforcement patrol captain for Plumas and Lassen national forests cruised past Murphy Creek, a wide turnout halfway down the mountain pass. It was April 29, 2011 — opening day for stream fishing — and the partners had come to aid new anglers.
Then they glimpsed an RV hidden in the brush.
“At first we thought it was just campers, but in the past it had been an area of interest for pot grows,” Holland said. “It was surreal because the way the RV was parked was odd. It was backed up in the trees and disguised.”
Hoping the RV simply belonged to a fisherman, Holland decided to double check.
But before he could even leave his vehicle, Ricky Ray Kingsley, 56, dashed out of his trailer and up to the officers.
“We made contact with Mr. Kingsley, and he was very nervous — not a normal stop for either of us,” said Holland. “His hands were shaking uncontrollably.”
Kingsley claimed to be camping alone with his dog. After his trembling fingers fumbled for a driver’s license without success three times, Holland located it for him.
He also noticed Kingsley’s hands were stained dark red.
As Holland approached the trailer, he noticed a shallow pit surrounded by stones. Kingsley claimed the hole was for mining purposes.
“When he said it was for mining, I said, ‘That’s funny, because it looks like a shallow grave,’” Holland said. “He became very agitated and couldn’t make eye contact.”
Meanwhile, a gust of wind howled down the Canyon, blowing the RV’s rear door open long enough for a sickening stench to reach the officers. Kingsley refused to identify the source of the smell. Thinking a victim had tried to escape, Holland detained Kingsley.
“When I started moving him toward the truck, he started jerking away,” Holland said. “I got him in the handcuffs and asked, ‘Is anyone with you, and what’s that smell?’”
Kingsley started to panic.
“It was an accident. It was an accident,” he said. “We got into a fight and I had to get rid of him. What else was I supposed to do, man?”
Holland asked Kingsley one last time if anyone was with him and if the individual was alive or injured.
Kingsley uttered two words: “He’s dead.”
In the span of 10 minutes, Holland’s patrol escalated from a routine stop to a request for backup from the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol with a potential murder case. Despite the persistent odor of decay, he and his partner searched the RV without success.
On his second attempt, Holland reached the back of the RV to find a mountain of clothes over a table drenched in dried blood. He then found the body of Brian Joseph Graves wrapped in blue blankets.
“Upon reaching the rear of the RV, the odor became so overwhelming I had to hold my breath,” said Holland. “Mr. Kingsley was arrested by PCSO after confirmation that the victim was deceased.”
The details of the murder remain as surreal as the scene of Kingsley’s attempted burial. After arguing over methamphetamine in the Yuba City Wal-Mart parking lot, Kingsley shot the homeless Graves before stabbing him and hiding his body in the RV.
Asked what went through his mind at the time of his discovery, Holland said his primary concern was for public safety and said it was a night he will never forget. Rarely do public contacts expose lawbreakers; even more rarely do they reveal a murder.
“My first thought was our safety because it all went down so fast,” Holland said. “We thought they might be supplying a marijuana garden or cooking meth. The majority of people you contact aren’t that nervous — it could’ve turned out a lot worse.”
Kingsley pleaded guilty in Sutter County and received a 33-year prison sentence in April 2014.