I always know this day is coming long before it arrives. With a list of unsolved cases now at 615, one would think it would be difficult to keep them all straight. With some — where few details are available — the answer would be yes. But with others — the ones where I’ve had the opportunity to review autopsy reports and other documentation and even gotten to know the victim’s family members — I not only know the cases intimately, but feel the unsettled rustling deep down inside as an anniversary date approaches.
On a day like today — the 9th anniversary since the arson fire in their home that would claim both their lives — my mind plays out different scenarios in my head: What Shannon Salmons (Jaymie’s mother) might be doing at this very moment … is she looking through photo albums? Putting flowers on Jaymie’s grave? Writing in a journal or somewhere else about how another year has passed with no answers?
And what about Steve and Lori Salmons, Shannon’s brother and sister-in-law, who sat at Jaymie’s hospital bedside until Shannon arrived and hospital personnel eventually turned off the life support once they’d had the chance to say their final goodbyes? Or what about Duane Grahlman, who’d spent that last day with his brother Jay, barbecuing outside despite the chilly weather?
Courtesy photo Shannon Salmons
Jay Grahlman with his children Leanna and Boseck (back row) and in front, Ida Mae and Jaymie.
This case is one of the tough ones. There are still more questions than answers when it comes down to who started the fire. Or how Jaymie ended up lying in the bathtub in a supine position, stretched out full length, as if simply taking a nap. Or why the burns were confined solely to the front of her six-year-old body. And why were there no burns on her feet? Why no singeing to her beautiful long brown hair?
This case did not end when neighbor Brian Zirtzman — charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson — was acquitted on all three charges. The double homicide remains an open case — one that continues to baffle authorities, who still aren’t convinced Zirtzman started the fire. Like nearly all arson cases where a body is discovered after the fire, this one also has the presupposition that the fire was set to cover up another more heinous crime.
This case is far from over.
Answers will be exhumed from the smoke and mirrors that once reflected and furthered fiery lies. This time, though, when the flames wane and weaken to all but crackling cinders, truth will find a backdraft and burst forth justice in a mighty blaze.
Today’s guest blog is written by Shannon Salmons, mother to 6-year-old cold case victim Jaymie Grahlman. Today, Jaymie — called ‘sis’ by her brothers and her mother — would have celebrated her 15th birthday. Below is a letter Shannon wrote to her daughter, followed by a poem chosen as a memorial.
If You Were Still With Us
By Shannon Salmons
I can’t believe that you’re 15 now; I often sit here and imagine how your life would be if you were still with us… how beautiful you would have been. Would you have been the cheerleader that you always talked about?
I miss you sis, and as every day goes by I think of you. I look at your pictures and often wonder how you would look now. Would you still be tiny, or would you be tall like your brothers?
Your brothers miss you and have been talking more about you lately. It’s hard for big bubby because he loved you so much, and he still isn’t quite sure why God took you away from us. He tells the story of when you got real mad at him for not wanting to play dolls with you, and you and your temper. You shut the closet door on his head; I guess I should say slammed the door on his head, and Jesse, well, he was young when you left us but he remembers everything about you. He talks about you and asks if you’re here with us when the crazy little things happen. Or, when something he likes goes missing, of course he blames you. But that’s just what brothers do. Your Uncle Steve and Scott still blame me for things!
Grandma always tells the story of you and the marshmallows, when you got so mad and dumped the whole bag on the floor, and daddy came in and you thought that daddy was going to save you but you found out that he was on Grandma’s side. She smiles and laughs about how mad you got, the short time that you were here with us baby you left such a big impression on all of us. And even though you are in heaven and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of you, I thank God for letting you be a part of my life — most of all for being my daughter.
I love you so much it hurts, and I know I will be with you again one day, but until that day comes I will cherish all the memories I have because of you … the memories of you climbing into my bed and curling up … the only way that you would go to sleep … the way you smiled and said good morning … everything that you did, my beautiful daughter, is in my heart and will never leave.
But on this day, your 15th birthday, I hope you know that I love you more than anything, and I hope that your birthday is a beautiful day in Heaven for you!!
Jaymie, I Love You Baby Girl.
When Tomorrow Starts Without Me
When tomorrow starts without me
And I’m not there to see;
If the sun should rise and find your eyes
All filled with tears for me.
I wish so much you wouldn’t cry
The way you did today;
While thinking of the many things
We didn’t get to say.
I know how much you love me
As much as I love you;
And each time that you think of me,
I know you’ll miss me too.
But when tomorrow starts without me
Please try to understand,
That an angel came and called my name
And took me by the hand.
She said my place was ready
In heaven far above;
And that I’d have to leave behind,
All those I dearly love.
But as I turned to walk away,
A tear fell from my eye;
For all my life, I’d always thought
I didn’t want to die.
I had so much to live for,
So much yet to do;
It seemed almost impossible,
That I was leaving you.
I thought of all the yesterdays,
The good ones and the bad;
I thought of all the love we shared,
And all the fun we had.
If I could relive yesterday
Just even for awhile,
I’d say goodbye and kiss you
And maybe see you smile.
But then I fully realized
That this could never be;
For emptiness and memories
Would take the place of me.
And when I thought of worldly things
I might miss come tomorrow;
I thought of you, and when I did,
My heart was filled with sorrow.
But when I walked through heaven’s gates
I felt so much at home;
When God looked down and smiled at me
From His great golden throne.
He said, “This is eternity
And all I’ve promised you;
Today your life on earth is past,
But here it all starts anew.”
“I promise no tomorrow,
But today will always last;
And since each day’s the same day,
There’s no longing for the past.”
“But you have been so faithful,
So trusting and so true;
Though at times you did do things,
You knew you shouldn’t do.”
“But you have been forgiven
And now at last you’re free;
So won’t you take my hand
And share my life with me?”
So when tomorrow starts without me,
Don’t think we’re far apart
For every time you think of me,
I’m right here in your heart.
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.
I asked Shannon Salmons — the mother of 6-year-old murder victim Jaymie Grahlman — if she’d like to write a guest blog on the anniversary of the fire that claimed her only daughter’s life. The following is Shannon’s post.
Remembering My Daughter, Jaymie Grahlman by Shannon Salmons
Jaymie Grahlman with her brothers Jarrod (top) and Jesse, whom she called big bubby and little bubby.
Jaymie was the sweetest little girl that anyone could ever ask for. I was so blessed to have her in my life. There was never a dull moment when she was around, whether it be when she was singing and dancing, trying to beat up her older brother Jarrod for not wanting to play “Barbies” with her, or trying to dress up little baby Jesse in her baby doll clothes. Her brothers were so important to her…
When Jaymie would call from her father’s house, she would always want to talk to her brothers before she did me. It was always so sweet; she would tell them how much she missed them and then would always tell them ‘I’ll get you when Mommy comes to get me.’ I still laugh when I think about that.
But one of the many memories I have of Jaymie is that every morning when we woke up, she would always climb up on my lap and give me my morning love. She would grab my face with her little hands and tell me, “You are my most beautiful mommy,” and then go on to sing Good Morning Beautiful. Even when she sat on Grandma’s lap, she would hold Grandma’s face the same way as she did mine and tell her that she was almost as pretty as her mommy.
Jaymie Grahlman at age 4
Jaymie is still making us smile when we think about everything she did or loved, or even when we remember how she got mad so easily — it must have been the red hair she got from her Grandma Lahoma. Even Jay, her father, said that at one point he told Lahoma, “Well, now I know where Jaymie got her temper,” and they would laugh.
She was Jaymie to many, but to me, my daughter was always known as “Sissy.” She loved her chocolate milk and her goldfish crackers, though I think her most favorite meals were biscuits and gravy and meatloaf. She always wanted biscuits and gravy in the morning and meatloaf at night. If there was gravy left from the morning biscuits, she’d put that over her meatloaf. I’d first thought it was gross until I tried hers one day. It tasted so good, I still eat it like that to this day.
She also loved her mustard sardines. That was one of the things she shared with her father, for she knew her mommy would not each such a thing.
As her uncle and aunt said, she loved the pink and purple sunsets, but that wasn’t all. She was a true little girl, and when with me she would not even wear clothes that weren’t pink or purple. She even tried to get her “bubbies” to wear those colors.
Jaymie at 5
She loved the outdoors… swimming… and just getting downright dirty with everything she did. She even had a pet slug at one time. She named it ‘Sally the Slug,’ and then one day I was washing clothes and didn’t discover Sally was still in her shorts pocket until it was too late. When she realized Sally was gone, we had to have a funeral for her and buried Sally in the yard.
Jaymie was truly one of the best creations that God could ever have given me, and I’m so blessed to have had her as my daughter. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and miss her terribly. She was always mommy’s baby girl. I hold the memories of my little girl deeply close to my heart, and neither she nor the memories will ever be forgotten.
Jaymie celebrates her 6th, and final, birthday.
I just know Jaymie is up in heaven and sitting on Jesus’ lap, loving on him as she would me, and asking him to look after her mommy and brothers. That was just the type of little girl she was, always thinking of how to make others happy and how to make them smile.
Though it has been terrible for us to lose such a beautiful little girl, I have kept myself strong by thinking that Jaymie would not want me upset and that she would want her brothers taken care of and looked after.
It is with that strength — Jaymie’s strength — that I have gone on, but she is always and will forever be my little girl who is deeply missed and loved so very much.