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Custody Battle from Hell: The Karyn Slover Story

Karyn Gail Hearn was born October 27th, 1972, in central Illinois to Larry and Donna Hearn. Karyn was beautiful, smart, and well-liked by most who knew her. She married Michael Slover Jr. in the early 1990’s. Michael, born in 1970, was the son of Michael Sr. and Jeannette Slover. The Slover’s ran a used car lot which was basically a junk yard. The Slover’s had several zoning violations and kept their property in subpar condition.

Jeannette didn’t seem to like her daughter-in-law very much, but she was thrilled in 1993 when Karyn gave birth to a son. Kolton Slover was the apple of his grandmother’s eye, and she nurtured a very close relationship. In fact, some people found the relationship weird and unhealthy, stating that Jeannette claimed to breastfeed her grandson as an infant. She was very possessive of her grandson, leading to further friction with her daughter-in-law.

Michael Slover Jr. also had a temper. In 1992 he was arrested for battery, and friends of Karyn Slover claim he often physically abused her during their marriage. Eventually, Karyn had enough and filed for divorce in May of 1996. By the end of May, the couple’s divorce was finalized with Karyn having primary physical custody of Kolton. The judge determined, however, that both Michael Jr. and his parents had visitation rights. In fact, Kolton’s paternal grandparents were granted the right to babysit Kolton while Karyn worked as an advertising sales rep for the Decatur newspaper Herald and Review.

Jeannette’s possessiveness over her grandson grew more concerning once her son’s divorce was finalized. “Karyn sometimes had to physically pry Kolton away from Jeannette” (Forensic Files Now, 2020) friends told police later. In fact, Jeannette even once allegedly told the three-year-old boy that “one day you’ll be mine” (Forensic Files Now, 2020).

Despite the drama in Karyn’s life, she was moving on by the fall of 1996 from her divorce. She had met a man at work, David Swann, and the two were dating. Additionally, the young pretty blond began seeking a career in modeling. In fact, in September of 1996, Karyn was considering an opportunity in Atlanta, Georgia that would jump start her modeling career. This meant, however, moving Kolton away from his father and paternal grandparents.

On September 27th, 1996, an abandoned car was found along the interstate near Champaign, Illinois. Although a purse was found in the vehicle, the vehicle was determined to belong to David Swann. David told police that his girlfriend, Karyn Slover, was borrowing the car and had gone to pick up her son from his grandparents’ home. Jeannette and Michael Slover Sr. claimed that Karyn never showed up that night. She was listed as a missing person.

It didn’t take long, only two days, for authorities to find Karyn Slover. A fisherman found a gray trash bag floating in Lake Shelbyville. Upon inspection, it was determined to be a human head with blond hair. The woman had been shot six times in the head. Other bags were quickly recovered form the lake including the rest of the woman’s body parts as well as chunks of concrete. Dental records positively identified the dismembered body as that of Karyn Slover. Karyn was just twenty-three years old.

Karyn’s ex-husband, Michael Jr., had a history of physical abuse towards her. Police quickly looked at him as a potential suspect. Michael had an alibi as he was at work during the time when Karyn was known to have disappeared. He was quickly eliminated as a suspect. Her boyfriend, David Swann, however, was not so easily eliminated.

David had a criminal history which included impersonating a police officer and aggravated battery. What further raised suspicions was David’s lack of an alibi. He claimed he was at a wedding rehearsal the night Karyn disappeared, but other guests told police David was forty-five minutes late to the event in which he was the best man. After intense interrogations, David stated he was at the ATM, which is why he was late to the rehearsal. Camera footage from the ATM confirmed this.

By the end of 1996, Karyn’s murder case had grown cold. However, the courts were busy with a bitter custody battle between Michael Slover Jr. and Larry and Donna Hearn. Karyn’s parents petitioned the court for grandparents’ rights, which Michael contested. The courts eventually agreed to a visitation arrangement for the Hearn’s but that didn’t stop the constant filing of motions to the family court. The court stated in 1997 that “Both the defendant (Michael Slover Jr.) and petitioners (The Hearns) in this case demonstrated that they are more interested in standing up for their “rights” and controlling the situation than looking out for Kolton’s best interest” (Judici, 1997).

Despite a lack of leads, the investigators continued to search for clues in this case. In 1998, investigators wanted to search the car lot that Michael Sr. and Jeannette Slover owned. They knew Karyn had been killed and dismembered outdoors based on the concrete and dirt found on the body parts. Authorities thought that the junk yard may have been a perfect spot for a murder to occur. Upon investigation, concrete blocks similar to the chunks found with Karyn’s body parts were discovered.

Police questioned Michael Sr. and Jeannette about their whereabouts the day Karyn was murdered. Jeannette was at home alone she said, but that could not be verified nor disputed. Michael Sr. claimed that he had taken Kolton to K-mart and bought him a specific PlayDoh toy. However, K-Mart told authorities they never sold that toy. Michael Sr’s alibi was not substantiated.

A forensic geologist was brought in to examine the concrete blocks found at the motor lot. The geologist found that the concrete chunks were consistent with those found with Karyn’s body parts. Additionally, loose pieces of gravel found on the floorboards of the abandoned car were determined to be consistent with gravel found on the Slover’s property. After learning the Slover’s cleaned up the property shortly after Karyn’s death, something they never did any other time, they knew they had to further investigate the car lot.

The United States Army was brought in to assist in the search of the car lot. The entire 5,000-square-foot lot was being searched and all the soil sifted. Six months after the search began, buttons and rivets matching those from Karyn’s jeans and fabric buttons matching her blouse were found in the soil at the car lot. Authorities were pretty sure at this point they had found the murderers.

Phone records were obtained from Michael Sr. and Jeannette as well as from Michael Slover Jr. Police found several calls from Michael Slover Jr. to his parents and vice versa during the time in which Karyn disappeared. Authorities believed that this was evidence that Michael Jr. was plotting with his parents to murder Karyn. He added suspicion to himself when he allowed his sister to adopt Kolton and then relocated out of state.

Investigators wanted a little more evidence. They found dog hairs in the duct tape used to seal off the garbage bags with Karyn’s body parts. Two dogs were noted on the car lot and so authorities decided to take hair samples from both dogs. Shortly after evidence was collected, the Slover’s euthanized both dogs. However, the DNA test was already done and matched one of the dogs. This was the first time in Illinois that dog DNA was used in a murder trial.

In January 2000, Michael Slover Sr., Jeannette Slover, and Michael Slover Jr. are arrested and charged with first degree murder. The prosecutors believe that when Karyn showed up at the car lot to pick up Kolton, Jeannette shot her in the back of the head. They believe Jeannette continued shooting Karyn in the head in front of her son, which a psychologist that saw Kolton after the murder substantiated by stating she believed the boy had watched his mother be murdered. They then planted Karyn’s car along the interstate. Michael Sr. returned to the car lot where he dismembered Karyn with an electric saw and placed her body parts in bags with concrete, believing the concrete would sink the bags. He threw the bags in Lake Shelbyville, but the bloating that occurred after death caused her body parts to float to surface despite the concrete. Michael Jr. is believed to have been a part of the plot as evidenced by the numerous phone calls that night with his parents.

All three defendants were found guilty of first-degree murder in 2002 and sentenced to sixty years in prison each. So far, all appeals in this case have been denied. After another bitter custody battle, Kolton was placed in the custody of his maternal grandparents. There has been some interest in this case from the Illinois Innocence Project, but no credible evidence has been brought forward to overturn the convictions.

Michael Slover Jr. is currently housed at Illinois River Correctional Facility and is expected to be paroled in 2031. Michael Slover Sr. is currently housed at Pontiac Correctional Center and expected to be paroled in 2032. Jeannette Slover is currently housed at Decatur Correctional Facility and expected to be paroled in 2029.


Pictured Above: (Left to Right) Michael Slover Jr., Michael Slover Sr., Jeanette Slover


References

Cold Blood (2010) Cold Blood: Ties that Bind; Season 3 Episode 4; Available on discovery+

Wikipedia (Accessed 2021) Murder of Karyn Hearn Slover; Retrieved at: Murder of Karyn Hearn Slover - Wikipedia

Forensic Files (2006) Concrete Alibi: The Karen Slover Case; Season 11; Episode 8; Available on YouTube

Forensic Files Now (2020) Karyn Slover’s Killers: An Update; Retrieved at: Karyn Slover’s Killers: An Update – Forensic Files Now

Tyus, B. (1997) Slover search turns to in-laws; Herald & Review: Retrieved at: 07 Feb 1997, Page 1 - Herald and Review at Newspapers.com

FindAGrave (Accessed 2021) Karen Gail Hearn; Retrieved at: Karyn Gail Hearn (1972-1996) - Find A Grave Memorial

Judici (Accessed 2021) 1996D291 Slover, Karyn G.; Retrieved at: Macon County, IL | Case History (judici.com)

IDOC (Accessed 2021) Slover, Jeannette; Slover, Michael K. JR; Slover, Michael K. SR; Retrieved at: Individuals in Custody (illinois.gov)

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