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ST. LOUIS – The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge closed to vehicle traffic more than 50 years ago, but it’s become a popular spot for bicyclists and trail-goers in the bi-state region.

The bridge has a famed 22-degree bend and was featured in John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York.” And in 2006, the bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

But recent St. Louis-area transplants and people of a certain age might not be aware of a sinister chapter in the bridge’s history.

THE CRIME

In the overnight hours of April 4-5, 1991, sisters Julie and Robin Kerry and their cousin, Thomas Cummins, were on the old bridge over the Mississippi River. The sisters wanted to show Cummins a poem they had spray-painted on the bridge itself. Two men and two teenagers—Reginald Clemons, Marlin Gray, 16-year-old Antonio Richardson, and 15-year-old Daniel Winfrey—went to the bridge a short time earlier to smoke marijuana.

Both parties met and had a brief discussion. One of the sisters gave Winfrey a cigarette and Gray showed the others a trick about climbing over the bridge railing and popping up through a manhole cover.

The two groups then split in opposite directions. What happened next would become a matter of public contention over the next decades.

The sisters were raped and thrown from the bridge. Cummins told police he was robbed and forced to jump from the bridge. He said he survived the fall but the Kerry sisters did not.

The body of 20-year-old Julie Kerry was found three weeks later near Caruthersville, Missouri; 19-year-old Robin Kerry’s body was never found.

THE FIRST SUSPECT

Homicide investigators with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department initially doubted Cummins’ story and suspected he was responsible for his cousins’ deaths and made up a story about the other men. According to police, Cummins was bone dry and had no apparent injuries despite his claims of jumping from the bridge and into the Mississippi River. He apparently changed his story while being questioned and also failed a polygraph test.

Police charged Cummins but quickly dropped those allegations when other suspects emerged. Cummins accused the department of police brutality and later won a $150,000 settlement against St. Louis Police for their tactics during the interrogation.

The view from the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. (Courtesy: Joe Millitzer)

POLICE KEY IN ON FOURSOME

Eventually, investigators came to suspect Clemons, Gray, Richardson, and Winfrey were responsible for the crimes.

Daniel Winfrey confessed to the rape and murder of Julie and Robin and testified against the other men, saying the other three took turns raping the young women. Winfrey was convicted of second-degree murder and forcible rape and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was released on parole in 2007 after serving 15 years but went back to prison in 2012 for parole violations.

Gray was convicted in Oct. 1992 and a jury recommended the death penalty. A jury convicted Clemons in Feb. 1993 and sentenced him to death. In March 1993, Richardson was found guilty but it was a judge—not a jury—that sentenced him to capital punishment.

The Missouri Supreme Court eventually reduced Richardson’s sentence in Oct. 2003 to life imprisonment because a judge had issued the death penalty.

Meanwhile, both Gray and Clemons maintained their innocence while on death row.

Gray was executed on Oct. 26, 2005, at a Missouri state prison in Bonne Terre via lethal injection. He was 38. Even at his death, Gray insisted he did not kill the Kerry sisters.

“I go forward now on wings built by the love and support of my family and friends. I go with a peace of mind that comes from never having taken a human life. I forgive those who have hardened their hearts to the truth and I pray they ask forgiveness for they know not what they do. This is not a death, it is a lynching.”

Marlin Gray’s final words before execution

Clemons sat on death row for more than two decades while the legal system churned. A federal appeals judge tossed his sentence in Aug. 2002 but it was reinstated in Sept. 2004. Five years later, another appearls court put a halt to the death sentence. In July 2009, the state supreme court called for a “special master” to review the case over claims Clemons was coerced into confessing.

In Sept. 2013, retired Judge Michael Manners determined prosecutors had supressed evidence in Clemons’ 1993 trial and police beat him into a confession, but that Clemons could not establish his own innocence.

In Nov. 2015, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the murder convictions in a 4-3 ruling and ordered a retrial for Clemons. The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office refiled the case and the trial kept getting delayed until a judge set a start date of Jan. 2018.

The trial would never take place.

Clemons instead admitted to his role in the rape and murder of the Kerry sisters in Dec. 2017. He pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, two counts rape, and one count of first-degree robbery.

The plea deal said DNA from both Clemons and Gray was found on the pants Gray had been wearing during the crime.

With his admission of guilt, prosecutors called for Clemons to be removed from death row. A judge imposed five consecutive life sentences, each calculated at 30 years.

For the victim’s families, it was a long-awaited end on the road to justice.

In an interview with FOX 2, Ginny Kerry, the girls’ mother, said Clemons apologized to her in court.

“It means a lot to me. It’s not going to bring my daughters back,” she said at the time. “He’s on a road to being sorry and that. I couldn’t even pray for the man before, now I can. He said, ‘I’m sorry Mrs. Kerry for all I’ve put you through.’”

A memorial plaque for Julie and Robin Kerry was placed on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. (Courtesy: Joe Millitzer)