For most of last year, the death of 78-year-old George Graham in a house fire was counted as Kansas City’s 36th homicide.
But police pulled Graham’s name from their list in late December after they received independent lab results that confirmed the fire was not intentionally set, as they originally thought.
Police now think the April 18 fire in the 4100 block of Wayne Avenue was accidental. They think it may have ignited from an extension cord jury-rigged into an electrical box near Graham’s television.
The fire was reported shortly before 5 a.m. When firefighters arrived, the home was already engulfed in flames. They found Graham — a father of six who retired from the General Motors Fairfax plant after 33 years — unconscious in a chair. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Detectives initially investigated Graham’s death as a homicide after a trained arson dog indicated the presence of an accelerant in the area where the fire apparently started. Arson investigators also thought the burn patterns on the floor were consistent with possible accelerant use.
Homicide detectives interviewed Graham’s relatives and friends, asked for alibis and examined possible motives. But their investigation yielded solid alibis and no possible motives.
“There was no reason to kill him,” said Sgt. Richard Sharp, who supervised the investigation. “There was nothing to gain from his death.”
Physical evidence also didn’t support a finding of homicide. All the doors in the home were locked, an indication that Graham was alone when the fire started. Police confirmed that a relative who lived with Graham was at a casino at the time. After the blaze, that relative had no place to live.
Meanwhile, experts at the police crime lab tested samples taken from the home. The tests showed no accelerants.
The final blow to the homicide investigation came when a second, independent lab hired by the insurance company confirmed the police lab results.
“There is no evidence to show this was a homicide or arson,” Sharp said.
The city ended 2012 with 108 homicides.
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