For reprint permissions please email us the name of the requested post/article along with the publication name.
A special thanks to Jaymie’s mother, Shannon Salmons, for providing all the photos included here.
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 — whose autopsy report included a number of pathologic diagnoses — died Sunday, April 6, after being removed from life support. Jay died the following Wednesday, April 9, 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, whose mother, “Monica,” was in Mexico.
The 3755 H Ave. NE house sat at the end of a quiet dead-end street. Reed (who also went by Reed-Grahlman though the couple wasn’t married) 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 — cost 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, searching on hands and knees, found Jaymie alive but unconscious early Sunday morning in the home’s bathtub. She lay stretched out on her back, face up, almost as if she’d peacefully gone to sleep in the bathtub* and not heard the screams all around as Reed rushed others to safety.
Family friend and neighbor Brian Zirtzman — a 39-year-old man with an IQ of just 67 — was later charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson but acquitted by a Linn County District Court jury after testimony inferred Zirtzman had likely been coached before going to police with a memorized confession “too complex” to be made by a man with a 67 IQ.
* Problems with Posturing
The “posture” of how Jaymie’s body was found is in direct contrast to the posturing of a body exposed to great heat.
According to forensic pathologist Dr. Dinesh Rao (forensicpathologyonline.com), the posture of a body is referred to as Pugilistic Attitude (boxing, fencing, or defense attitude). When the body comes in contact with great heat, the legs become flexed at the hip and knees, the arms are flexed at elbows and wrists are held out in front of the body, all fingers are hooked like claws, and contraction of paraspinal muscles often cause a marked opisthotonus, an “attitude” commonly adopted by boxers.
This stiffening is due to the coagulation of proteins of the muscles and dehydration which cause contract; the flexor muscles, being bulkier than extensors, contract more.
This occurs whether the person was alive or dead at the time he or she sustained the burns.
The American Burn Association estimates that 75% of all burns in young children are scalding injuries.
The family had spent the day socializing and barbecuing with Jay Grahlman’s brother Duane Grahlman and the developmentally disabled Zirtzman.
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.
According to a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated April 8, 2003, Reed said the family of six had stayed up until just after 10 p.m. Saturday, enjoying each other’s company before heading to bed. (She would later testify it wasn’t until after 11 p.m. when she got the girls ready for bed.)
“About an hour later, I heard a crash and smelled smoke,” Reed told the Gazette. “The whole bedroom, hallway and house was filled with smoke.”
The fire was reported at 11:55 p.m.
Reed described to the Gazette how the series of events unfolded:
Reed said she looked under a bunk bed, broke out a window and moved furniture looking for the child but could not locate her.
“I couldn’t breathe anymore,” she said of her retreat.
Dave Koch, then-spokesman for the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, said that by the time fire officials arrived, flames were already shooting through the roof and from windows on three sides of the house.
Neighbor Orion Zirtzman — Brian Zirtzman’s mother — said her husband and others had to hold back Jay Grahlman to keep him from going back into the burning house to find Jaymie.
Once firefighters discovered Jaymie’s body in the bathtub, she immediately was flown by air ambulance to University Hospitals in Iowa City. Jay was transported to University Hospitals shortly after being admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital.
The Gazette said none of the other three girls or Reed suffered any injuries, though Reed was treated for smoke inhalation before being released.
Jaymie’s mother, Shannon Salmons of Logansport, Indiana, shared joint custody of Jaymie with Jay Grahlman, and told Iowa Cold Cases she was scheduled to pick up Jaymie on Sunday and bring her back to Indiana for an extended visit.
Instead of a fun Sunday where Jaymie would be laughing and joking with her two older brothers on the trip home, Salmons stood by her daughter’s hospital bedside as Jaymie was disconnected from life support at 9:34 p.m. that same Sunday evening.
Jay Grahlman died the following Wednesday morning at the Burn Treatment/Trauma Center at University Hospitals.
Reed said in the April 8 article she thought “Jaymie had gotten up and tried to wake her,” but there was no further explanation as to what she meant by the comment.
In a Gazette article published April 10, 2003, fire department spokesman Koch said investigators had determined the Grahlman fire started in a kitchen wastebasket. The investigation into the exact cause was continuing, he said.
In a separate Gazette story published that same day, fire officials said they initially believed the fire started in the kitchen, but that after further investigation had determined the fire started in a utility/laundry room and quickly spread to the kitchen and living room.
Reed called the deaths of Jay and Jaymie “a great loss to our family,” and said they’d always be loved and greatly missed. Reed told the Gazette she and Jay Grahlman had been companions for four years. The victims’ family members told Iowa Cold Cases Jay and Vickie had begun dating in late 2001 or early 2002 and been together as a couple only one year.
“Accidents happen and you can only accept them,” Reed said.
In the days following the fire, Brian Zirtzman helped organize a church drive to help the surviving family members replace clothing, beds, dressers, towels, dishes, and other household items.
A Coe College sorority organized a Hershey candy bar sale where proceeds would go toward medical bills and funeral costs.
Kaylee DeWitt, a 10-year-old student at Kenwood Elementary where Jaymie attended school, organized a car wash.
Other area organizations asked that donations be made to the Grahlman Family Memorial Fund at any US Bank in the Cedar Rapids area.
Large item pickup also was available by calling the Toddville Free Methodist Church or calling Zirtzman.
The press and community embraced Reed and applauded her heroic efforts for allegedly having saved four of six lives.
Lost in the fire’s aftermath was the close-knit relationship Jay and Shannon shared both before and after Jaymie’s birth — a friendship that ran so deep Shannon had not filed charges when Jay took Jaymie out of state and headed to Iowa a year before the fire. The joint custody legal agreement between Jay and Shannon — both of whom lived in Indiana when Jaymie was born — required that Jay receive written permission before leaving the state with Jaymie.
Jay and his new girlfriend, Vickie Reed, had taken Jaymie with them on the trip to Iowa, where the couple decided to stay and rented the H Ave. NE Cedar Rapids home.
Jay kept in close contact with Shannon, and because Jaymie hadn’t yet started kindergarten, the couple worked things out where Jaymie spent part of her time in Iowa with her father and Vickie, and part of the time in Indiana with her mother.
Two and one-half months after the fire, Zirtzman became a suspect when officials discovered he’d set two fires in his early teen years — once in 1977 when 13 years old and once in 1979 when 15.
According to a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated June 25, 2003:
On Sept. 26, 1979, Zirtzman was adjudicated as having committed two counts of second-degree arson. He was sent to the Mental Health Institute in Independence in October 1979, remaining there until September 1980, when he was transferred to the psychiatric unit of the Linn County Department of Mental Health Services, according to court documents.
Zirtzman’s juvenile record came as no surprise to Reed; she’d known about the two arson charges long before her own home went up in flames nearly 25 years after Zirtzman’s last arson attempt.
When fire department officials first questioned Zirtzman on June 19, 2003 about the Grahlman fire, Zirtzman — bizarrely articulate in what sounded like a recitation — confessed to starting the fire so he could save the family and become a hero.
Reed’s initial reports to police and fire officials did not indicate Zirtzman was in the home when she first awoke and smelled smoke, nor had she mentioned Zirtzman being present to help with any of the trips into the home to rescue family members.
In a Gazette article dated June 21, 2003, Kirk Hankins, vice president of the St. Louis-based International Association of Arson Investigators, said it is not uncommon for a person to set a fire so he or she can discover it and then warn or rescue others.
“That’s the hero-worship syndrome,” Hankins said.
It wasn’t Zirtzman, however, who discovered the fire, but Reed. Nor had Zirtzman warned or been credited for having made the rescues; the lavish praise for all heroic acts had gone to Reed, not Zirtzman.
Fire investigators recommended Zirtzman be charged with arson in the Grahlman deaths, 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.
Fire officials had yet to agree on where the fire started. An investigation by an insurance agency maintained the fire began in the home’s kitchen, while two other fire investigators stayed with their second theory that it began in the utility room.
No known other individuals were questioned as possible 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.
Before that interview, Zirtzman signed a Miranda statement waiving his right to silence, said Capt. Al Brockhohn, the Cedar Rapids Fire Department’s lead investigator, in a Gazette article published Feb. 14, 2004. After the session was transcribed, Zirtzman balked when Brockhohn reviewed the Miranda waiver.
“Maybe I should do that, have an attorney,” Zirtzman said in a videotape made to corroborate the interview. “I want to have an attorney, I guess.”
At that point Brockhohn said he ended the session and placed Zirtzman under arrest. Zirtzman was held at the Linn County jail under a $500,000 bond.
Six men and eight women served as jurors and alternates for Zirtzman’s trial. Testimony began Wednesday, July 7, 2004.
In his opening statement, County Attorney Harold Denton said that during a police interview in June 2003, Zirtzman confessed to setting the fire by placing clothes over the furnace.
Zirtzman’s 67 IQ “makes the confession suspect,” co-defense attorney Julie Trachta said in her opening statement.
According to a Gazette article published Thursday, July 8, 2004, Vickie Reed, who’d moved to Sioux City after the fire, was the first to testify in the Linn County District Court trial.
Crying on the witness stand, Reed maintained she pulled her husband [sic]and three of four children out of the house before firefighters arrived, but had been unable to find Jaymie. The Gazette reported:
The day of the fire, a Saturday, had been a family day, Reed-Grahlman said. While her husband [sic], his brother and Zirtzman hung out, the children played in the yard. In the evening they grilled out and played cards.
Play ended about 11 p.m. at the conclusion of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a favorite TV show of Reed-Grahlman and Kylie Reed, then 9.
Reed-Grahlman said she tidied up the house and prepared the kids for bed. “You know, brushed teeth, pottied, hugs and kisses and tucked in,” she said.
Kylie and Ida Mae Grahlman, 3, climbed into bed with Reed-Grahlman in the master bedroom. Jay Grahlman, who had been drinking beer for much of the day, moved from the card game to a recliner in the living room for the night.
Reed told the jury that Zirtzman, who didn’t drink, was the last one awake, but didn’t explain how she knew that or why she wouldn’t have asked him to go home once everyone else went to bed.
Reed also testified that after she’d pulled Kylie, Ida Mae, Jay and Nicole out of the house to safety, she saw Brian Zirtzman on his porch across the street and called to him for help.
Zirtzman, Reed testified, helped her move a small garden table to the window of Jaymie’s bedroom, where she and Zirtzman broke out the window and she tried to enter the house again to search for Jaymie.
In Reed’s initial reports to police and the press, she’d spoken of breaking out the window, but never credited Zirtzman with helping her. Reed said she’d already searched the house for Jaymie — even looking under furniture — so it wasn’t clear why she directed Zirtzman to place the garden table beneath the (most obvious) room Reed already would have checked.
Dr. Dan Rogers of Fort Dodge — a psychologist hired by Zirtzman’s defense team — said Brian Zirtzman’s IQ of 67 placed him in the bottom 1 percent of adults. Rogers had interviewed Zirtzman at the Linn County Jail in December 2003, and testified that the words allegedly used by Zirtzman in his confession were well beyond his ability to use them correctly.
Zirtzman, 40, could read at only a second- or third-grade level and scored “very poorly” — in the bottom 0.5 percent — in a standard Miranda comprehension test, Rogers testified.
“That’s as low as the norms go,” Rogers said. “He clearly did not understand there is a right to remain silent. He thought he’d be arrested if he didn’t talk.”
Zirtzman was unable to understand his rights when interviewed by investigators, said Rogers, who also testified in support of a defense motion to suppress Zirtzman’s [confession] to Capt. Al Brockhohn.
“[Zirtzman] said something to the effect of, he didn’t want to hurt anyone” in the June 19 interview at the fire department, Brockhohn testified.
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.
In each of the two cases when Zirtzman was a teen — both of which were set in the same neighborhood where Zirtzman and his family still lived — neither fire had been set with anyone present in the home. One neighbor said the then-teen had actually waited until he knew no one was home before lighting the fires.
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.
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.
More than two decades later when Jay and Vickie moved into the last house on the dead-end street, McNamara testified she’d warned Vickie Reed to be careful of Zirtzman — and that she’d told Reed about his juvenile arson record.
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.
Prosecutors said Zirtzman set the fire so he could save the family, whom he visited frequently. That plan went awry when the flames spread too quickly, they told the court.
The details weren’t adding up for jurors. If the flames had spread so quickly and kept Zirtzman from making any of the planned rescues, how did Vickie Reed later manage to make three or four trips back into the home to rescue the others … and emerge with no burns of any kind and only minor smoke inhalation?
Two separate firefighter crews had risked their own lives searching for Jaymie, conducting the first search in Jaymie’s bedroom per Reed’s expectations. The first team searched until their oxygen supply ran out, and a three-man replacement crew then entered the home. They crawled from room to room, yelling out to each other to identify their locations in the smoke-filled house.
Within minutes the second team found Jaymie, not in her bedroom as Reed had indicated, but lying face up in the bathtub, said Capt. Daniel Peck.
In the July 8, 2004 Gazette story, Reed said it was difficult to determine everyone’s injuries at the scene because “we were all black, covered with soot.”
Everyone, except Jaymie.
The court seemed less concerned with Reed’s initial claims of being Jay Grahlman’s wife and then changing her story to say they’d only been married one year, and then finally admitting the two were never married. Reed was then referred to as Grahlman’s common-law wife, though the couple had lived together only one year and Jay was making plans to reunite with the mother his youngest daughter, Ida Mae.
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; no proof existed that the furnace had gone out, and Reed herself had already told authorities Jay was passed out in the living room when she went to bed.
According to Jaymie Grahlman’s official autopsy report, her last day of life — and the weeks preceding it — were likely anything but fun-filled family barbecues.
Conducted at Broadlawns Hospital Morgue on April 8, 2003 at 9 a.m. by Deputy State Medical Examiner Dennis F. Klein, Jaymie’s pathological diagnoses revealed other disturbing evidence in addition to the second- and third-degree burns.
The 6-year-old lay on the examining table, nail polish on her fingernails, and a tag on her left big toe bearing the name, “Grahlman, Jaymie.” A hospital bracelet around the right ankle read, “Grahlman, Jamie, 99283877.”
The autopsy report included the following diagnoses:
The only soot deposits present on Jaymie’s body were on the top of her left foot, the tops of her hands, and a 6-by-3-inch area on her back’s left side.
The coroner’s report made no mention of singed hair or singeing anywhere on Jaymie’s body.
According to Forensic Pathologist Rao, burns produced by flame may or may not produce vesication (blisters), but singeing of the hair and blackening of the skin are always present.
CAUSE OF DEATH: Complications of smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.
MANNER OF DEATH: Homicide.
Almost all burns were confined to the front of Jaymie’s body. Only two burns were found on the backside — both just above her knee area — and consistent with circumferential burns.
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, though there is no statute of limitations on murder and the possibility exists that another suspect could still be charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
Jay and Jaymie’s murders remain unsolved.
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, the daughter of Jay Ernest Grahlman and Shannon Christine Salmons.
She was survived by her mother, Shannon Salmons of Logansport, Indiana; two brothers, Jarrod Thomas Salmons and Jesse Stephens Salmons of Logansport; two half sisters, Leanna of Bettendorf and Ida Mae of Cedar Rapids; a half brother, Boseck, of Bettendorf; her maternal grandmother, Lahoma Salmons of Logansport, Indiana; maternal great-grandmother, Edna Clay, North Lewisburg, Ohio; two uncles, Scott Salmons and his wife, Angie of Martensdale, Iowa and Steve Salmons and his wife, Lori of Des Moines; one aunt, Cheryl Schroder, Logansport; four cousins, Calvin Salmons, Stephen Salmons and Brandon Shephard, all of Logansport, and Heather Salmons, Monticello.
In addition to her father’s death three days after her own, Jaymie was preceded in death by her maternal grandfather, Calvin Salmons, and one sister, Katie Christine Salmons.
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 for burial next to Jay’s brother, Chuck, and his mother, Ida Mae.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department currently has two Cold Case Unit volunteer investigators who work exclusively on unsolved homicides. These investigators work closely with other investigators from both the Cedar Rapids Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.
The current investigator assigned to the Cold Case Unit is J.D. Smith, a retired Agent for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
Anyone with any information about Jay and Jaymie Grahlman’s case is asked to contact one of the following individuals or agencies:
Linn County Crime Stoppers accepts anonymous tips, and rewards for information may be available.
A Special Tribute to Jay and Jaymie Grahlman, compiled by Jody Ewing