Just before noon on December 18th, 2001, Randolph County Illinois dispatchers received a 911 call. The caller, a customer at Main Street Video in Sparta, explained that they had just found an employee injured at the video store. Upon arrival, it was clear that the victim had been shot once in the back of the head. She was transported to Sparta Community Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Her name was Randa Clarkson, and her murder devastated the local community.
Randa Clarkson (left with her daughter) was born July 24th, 1962. She married Richard Clarkson, but sadly lost her husband in 1988. A month later, she welcomed her only child, a daughter named Erica. Thirteen years later, Randa Clarkson was working at Main Street Video in Sparta, Illinois when her life was cut tragically short. She was thirty-nine years old and left behind a thirteen-year-old daughter. Who would kill her in broad daylight?
Although the police could not immediately identify the killer, witnesses gave a description of a possible suspect seen leaving the video store. He was a male in his early twenties, white, six feet tall, approximately 185 pounds, with short dark hair. He was wearing jeans, a khaki shirt, and a black jacket with some sort of reflective stripe on the back. Less than fifty dollars was missing from the cash register, but police believed that robbery was the likely motive in this crime. Sparta Police Chief Alan Young oversaw the investigation.
On January 5th, 2002, another murder occurred in Southern Illinois. Floral Original, a florist shop in Granite City, was the scene of the crime and the victim was one of the shop’s owners, Howard “Ed” Kirby. Ed and his partner Michael owned the store and were not expecting a ton of business that fateful Saturday. When Ed didn’t return Michael’s phone calls or come home around 2 pm as expected, Michael went to the shop. He found Ed lying face down with a single gunshot to the back of the head.
Howard “Ed” Kirby was born July 22nd, 1953. He was a 1971 graduate of Collinsville High School. He and his partner owned and operated Floral Original on Madison Avenue in Granite City. “He had several friends. When you were with him, you were the number one friend. He always made you feel special” friend Bonnie Riddings was quoted in the Belleville News Democrat (Buss, 2002).
Granite City police responded to the scene of the murder and initially suspected robbery was the motive. Ed’s wallet was missing as well as approximately forty dollars from the cash register. They also investigated Ed’s partner, Michael, including giving him a polygraph examination. Michael failed his polygraph, increasing the suspicion. However, phone records verified that Michael was at home at the time of the murder. Polygraph testing is not reliable enough to be admissible in court because severe emotions can trigger responses that register as deception, which was the case with Michael.
With a lack of leads, the Granite City Police Department called in the Major Case Squad, comprised of multiple officers from police departments in the St. Louis Metro Area. Another shop owner on Madison Avenue in Granite City explained that she saw a man the day of the murder carrying a dozen roses down the street. There was only one florist nearby, so she thought he may be linked to the crime. The description she gave was a man in his early twenties wearing a black jacket with reflective tape on the back.
Detectives in the Major Case Squad linked the Sparta murder of Randa Clarkson to the Granite City murder of Ed Kirby. Both victims were killed while working alone in a shop, both shops had been robbed of small amounts of money, and witnesses in both cases described a black jacket with a reflective stripe or tape on the back. Both were killed by a single shot to the back of the head. The similarities were chilling. However, the Major Case Squad was forced to disband due to a lack of leads in the case.
Ballistics evidence in the cases determined that both victims were shot by the same gun: a highpoint 9mm gun. The detectives now realized they were dealing with a serial killer. Police Chief Alan Young of Sparta and the authorities in Granite City had to work together to find the killer. Three weeks after Ed Kirby’s murder, Michael realized that someone had used Ed’s credit card after his murder. He notified the police and now they had something to go on.
Transaction statements were reviewed for Ed Kirby’s credit card and showed that someone was using Ed Kirby’s credit card at various gas stations between Southern Illinois and the St. Louis region of Missouri. Police started staking out the stations in which the card had been used frequently. In 2002, technology was not friendly to the detectives, and they had to wait until the cashier’s receipt printed out to know if the card used matched the victim's card number. Because of the delay, police missed the suspect at a station in Freeburg, Illinois. The suspect used the card but was able to drive away before the cashier realized it was the card in question. He always seemed to park in areas that the camera had trouble picking up an image. However, one image did show the black jacket with the reflective stripe on the back.
After staking out the frequented stations in Illinois and Missouri for a few weeks, the police caught a break on February 9th, 2002. The detectives figured out an override on the cash registers so that the credit card number would be displayed while the customer was pumping gas. This time, when the suspect used the card, police were able to stop him immediately.
At first, the officers thought there must have been another mistake when they apprehended the suspect. There was a police uniform hanging in the back of the car. The man exited the vehicle wearing a black jacket with a reflective stripe on the back. He looked very similar to the sketch from the Sparta witness. His identity shocked the community.
Twenty-four-year-old Ryan Parker confessed that night to the murders of Randa Clarkson and Ed Kirby. Ryan was a fellow law enforcement officer, previously working for the Okawville Police Department, Randolph County Sherriff’s Department, and the Illinois Department of Corrections. He was also the stepson of Sparta Police Chief Alan Young, who had been working tirelessly to find the killer for the past two months. Alan had raised Ryan since age four.
Ryan offered very little explanation for the murders. He said that on December 18th, 2001, he was in Main Street Video in Sparta looking to rent a movie. He mentioned he wanted to rent “Bed of Roses” because it was his girlfriend’s favorite movie. He said Randa began to look for the movie and mentioned that it was one of her favorite movies too. Ryan said he was having trouble in his relationship with his girlfriend and the comment about the movie set him off, so he shot Randa in the back of the head.
Ryan said that he was in Granite City looking to buy roses for the same girlfriend. He entered Floral Original and asked Ed Kirby for a dozen peach roses. He said he was aggravated because Ed was on the phone before helping him and didn’t help him timely. He got more frustrated when Ed told him that he didn’t have any peach roses but could give him a dozen red roses. When he couldn’t get the color roses he wanted, he “snapped” and shot Ed Kirby in the back of the head. He robbed Ed of his wallet and took off with the dozen red roses.
“I’m sorry about all the grief caused by my actions” Ryan Parker (above) said later (Howard, 2002). Ryan Parker was originally facing the death penalty for the murders. However, he pled guilty to both murders in exchange for a life sentence. Because Parker was a previous law enforcement and corrections officer, he is being housed out of state in an undisclosed location. Alan Young was devastated that the son he raised committed such horrendous crimes and said, “I just hope that someday someone tells me why” (Sorren, 2018).
Bean, S. (2001) Witness describes murder suspect; The Southern Illinoisan; 20 Dec 2001; Retrieved at: 20 Dec 2001, Page 1 - Southern Illinoisan at Newspapers.com
Bean, S. (2001) Murder suspect’s sketch released; The Southern Illinoisan; 21 Dec 2001; Retrieved at: 21 Dec 2001, Page 12 - Southern Illinoisan at Newspapers.com
Obituary (2002) Ed Kirby Jr.; Belleville News Democrat; Retrieved at: 10 Jan 2002, 10 - The Belleville News-Democrat at Newspapers.com
Buss, W. (2002) Suspects lacking in slaying; Belleville News Democrat; 11 Jan 2002; Retrieved at: 11 Jan 2002, 1 - The Belleville News-Democrat at Newspapers.com
To Catch a Killer (2018) To Catch a Killer: In Broad Daylight; Investigation Discovery, Season 1 Episode 6
Sorren, M. (2018) This true crime finale has a particularly creepy ending; Bustle; Retrieved at: Where Is Ryan Parker In 2018? The 'To Catch A Killer' Finale Explores A Complicated Murder Case (bustle.com)
Howard, T. (2002) Man apologizes as he pleads guilty to murdering Granite City florist; St. Louis Post Dispatch; 18 Jun 2002; Retrieved at: 18 Jun 2002, Page 12 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch at Newspapers.com
FindAGrave (2021) Howard Edwin “Ed” Kirby; Retrieved at: Howard Edwin “Ed” Kirby (1953-2002) - Find A Grave Memorial
FindAGrave (2021) Randa Lynn “Randi” Rapp Clarkson; Retrieved at: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/154265137/randa-lynn-clarkson