Jay Grahlman, 38, and his 6-year-old daughter, Jaymie, died from injuries suffered in a late-night fire set at their Cedar Rapids home on Saturday, April 5, 2003. Jaymie suffered brain damage and died Sunday after being removed from life support. Jay died the following Wednesday morning from complications due to burns he sustained in the fire.
Also in the home at the time of the fire was Jay’s girlfriend, Vickie Reed, 32, Reed’s daughters, Kylie Reed, 9, Nicole Reed, 7, and Grahlman’s youngest daughter Ida Mae Grahlman, 3.
The house sat at the end of a quiet dead-end street, and Reed (sometimes referred to as Reed-Grahlman) stated in published reports that she pulled Jay and three of the daughters to safety but couldn’t find Grahlman’s daughter Jaymie.
Once Jay realized Jaymie still remained inside, he ran back into the burning home to search for her. His efforts — tragically unsuccessful — also ended up costing Grahlman his own life; while frantically searching for his young daughter, he sustained second- and third-degree burns over 37 percent of his body on his face, scalp, neck and shoulders.
Firefighters found Jaymie — not curled up in a fetal or protective position but rather lying face up — in the home’s bathtub.
Jay Grahlman (right) with his brother Duane
The family had spent the day socializing and barbecuing with Jay Grahlman’s brother Duane Grahlman and 39-year-old neighbor Brian Zirtzman, who was mentally retarded, and then played cards later in the evening. Some family members went to bed just after 10 p.m., and the fire was reported around 11:55 p.m.
Fire officials initially believed the fire started in a kitchen wastebasket, but after further investigation said the fire started in a utility/laundry room and quickly spread to the kitchen and living room, trapping Jaymie, a kindergartner at Kenwood Elementary, in the bathroom.
Jaymie’s mother, Shannon Salmons of Logansport, Ind., shared joint custody of Jaymie with Jay Grahlman, and was scheduled to pick up Jaymie the following day for the Spring Break.
Jaymie Grahlman’s last birthday
Immediately following the fire, Zirtzman — who had an IQ of only 67 — organized a church drive to help the surviving family members replace clothing and household items.
When authorities questioned him, Zirtzman — bizarrely articulate in what sounded like a recitation — confessed to starting the fire “so he could save the family and become a hero.” He said he started the fire in the utility room by throwing clothing into the furnace.
He was charged with both first-degree arson and two counts of first-degree murder for allegedly setting fire to the home so he could save the family, but acquitted of all charges on July 14, 2004, after a jury trial.
Jaymie Grahlman with her brothers Jarrod (top) and Jesse, whom she called “big bubby” and “little bubby.”
According to testimony by Dr. Dan Rogers of Fort Dodge — a psychologist hired by Zirtzman’s defense team — Brian Zirtzman’s IQ of 67 put him in the bottom 1 percent of adults and Zirtzman was unable to understand his rights when interviewed by investigators. Rogers also testified in support of a defense motion to suppress Zirtzman’s [confession] to Capt. Al Brockhohn, the Cedar Rapids Fire Department’s lead investigator.
“He said something to the effect of, he didn’t want to hurt anyone” in the June 19 interview at the Fire Department, Brockhohn testified.
Before that interview, Zirtzman signed a Miranda statement waiving his right to silence, Brockhohn said. But after the session was transcribed, Zirtzman balked when Brockhohn reviewed the Miranda waiver. Zirtzman then stated he wanted to have an attorney.
The unemployed Zirtzman lived with his parents, Delbert and Orian Zirtzman, across the street and two houses up from the Grahlman’s at 3748 H Ave. NE. Court documents showed he’d set a few fires in his early teens in the same neighborhood and on the same block where he lived with his parents and twin brother, but his last arson charge as a teen had occurred almost 25 years earlier in 1979. In none of those cases had Zirtzman set a fire with anyone present in the home; one neighbor stated the then-teen actually waited until he knew no one was home.
Jay Grahlman (left of center, back row) came from a close-knit, large family.
In her 1979 house fire, neighbor Georgie McNamara said fire investigators told her Zirtzman had waited until she left, then gone behind her house, leaned in a window and held a cigarette lighter to bedroom curtains to start the fire. The fire, she said, gutted her home and destroyed most of her family’s possessions.
More than two decades later when Jay and Vickie moved into the last house on the dead-end street, McNamara warned Vickie Reed to be careful of Zirtzman and told her about his juvenile arson record.
Georgie McNamara also stated she’d been prompted to call the fire department when she once saw smoke coming from the Zirtzman’s garage.
Jay Grahlman with his four children, Leanna and Boseck (back row) and in front, Ida Mae and Jaymie.
Zirtzman had been adjudicated September 26, 1979, for having committed two counts of second-degree arson. In October 1979 he’d been sent to the Mental Health Institute in Independence, where he remained until September 1980 when transferred to the psychiatric unit of the Linn County Department of Mental Health Services.
In the following years and those leading up to the Grahlman fire, Zirtzman’s criminal record in Linn County included one assault, one interference with official acts and one contempt of court charge, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette. There’d been no other arson attempts since the 1979 incident.
Fire investigators recommended Zirtzman be charged with arson in the Jay and Jaymie Grahlman case, but the prosecutor — Linn County Attorney Harold Denton — opted to increase the charges to first-degree murder, saying the charges applied because Zirtzman [allegedly] killed the Grahlmans while committing first-degree arson — a forcible felony.
Despite a number of incongruities and conflicting details that didn’t add up, officials looked at no other individuals as suspects.
On June 20, 2003, Brian Zirtzman was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson. If found guilty, he faced life in prison.
Defense attorney Casey Jones asked the jury to consider that Jay Grahlman may have accidentally started the fire himself — perhaps by dropping a cigarette in the laundry room while going back to light the furnace — but even that possible scenario raised more questions than answers.
Jaymie’s brother Jesse drew this picture of Jaymie as part of Iowa Cold Cases’ art tribute to the victims.
Information from Zirtzman’s juvenile record was not given to the jury during the six-day trial; the court ruled the two and one half decades-old arson convictions far too distant to even be considered relevant.
Throughout his trial, Zirtzman’s inattentive behavior and carefree demeanor depicted more that of a distracted, bored child than a man on trial for murder.
On Wednesday, July 14, 2004, a Linn County District Court jury found Brian Zirtzman not guilty on all three charges.
The arson case is now closed. Jay and Jaymie’s murders remain unsolved.
About Jay and Jaymie
Jay Grahlman was born May 16, 1964, in Sumner, Iowa to Dale and Marilyn (Pett) Grahlman. He was survived by his two other daughters, Leanna of Bettendorf and Ida Mae of Cedar Rapids; a son, Boseck of Bettendorf; his father and step-mother, Dale and Marilyn of Fredericksburg; two brothers, Michael of Macon, Mo., and Duane of North Liberty; three sisters, Carolyn Ohrt of Lee’s Summit, Mo., Cheryl Ackerman of Waterloo and Diane Mendicino of Salem, Wis.; girlfriend Vickie Reed and her two daughters, Kylie and Nicole; and his special friend, Shannon Salmons of Indiana and her two sons, Jarrod and Jesse.
Jaymie Chantelle Grahlman was born October 30, 1996. She was survived by her mother, Shannon Salmons of Indiana; two brothers, Jarrod and Jesse of Indiana; two half sisters, Leanna of Bettendorf and Ida Mae of Cedar Rapids; a half brother, Boseck, of Bettendorf; two uncles, Steve Salmons and his wife Lori Mae of Des Moines, and Scott Salmons of Martensdale, Ia.; her Grandmother Lahoma Salmons and her Grandfather Calvin Salmons of Indiana.
Services for both Jay and Jaymie were held at the Rettig Funeral home in Tripoli, Iowa, and then both caskets taken to Rose Hill Cemetery in Fredericksburg, Iowa in Chickasaw County where Jay was buried next to his brother, Chuck, and his mother, Ida Mae.
Following the graveside services, Jaymie’s casket was returned to the Rettig Funeral Home, where her mother Shannon Salmons — who’d secured permission to bury Jaymie in Indiana — picked up her daughter for their final trip home. Jaymie Grahlman was buried in Logansport, Ind., on April 14, 2003.