Every article, video, book, or tribute to Julie and Robin Kerry described these two young women as exceptional youth. In 1991 Julie was twenty years old and her younger sister Robin nineteen. They were both college students who did significant volunteer work. Julie was an inspiring writer and poet. The girls were both very idealistic and forward thinking with brilliantly bright futures. That all changed on the night of April 4th, 1991.
[Photo of Robin Kerry (left) and Julie Kerry (right) from St. Louis Post Dispatch]
Murder on the Chain of Rocks Bridge
Julie Kerry was born December 16th, 1970 to Rick and Ginny Kerry. On January 27th, 1972, her younger sister Robin was born. The two girls also had an older and younger sister. They lived in St. Louis, Missouri where they were successful students, and both eventually enrolled at The University of Missouri in St. Louis. A St. Louis Post Dispatch article from 1991 described the girls’ desire to work against inequality and promote justice (Hernon, 1991). In the spring of 1991, the girls spend spring break with their cousins from Maryland who were visiting St. Louis. The final night of this visit would prove tragic and life changing for the family.
On April 4th, 1991, Julie and Robin wanted to take their nineteen-year-old cousin Thomas Cummins to see a poem they had written on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in graffiti. The bridge, which was no longer in service to vehicles, ran between St. Louis, Missouri, and Madison, Illinois. No longer open to traffic, but before it was transformed to a bike and pedestrian path, the bridge was a common hang out place for St. Louis youth and graffiti artists. The three, Robin, Julie, and Tom, headed out to the bridge and began to walk towards Illinois, searching for the poem.
They eventually found the poem but continued walking the length of the bridge. It was very dark, and the bridge contained several uncovered manholes. During the day, the bridge is scenic, but must have been a little eerie in the middle of the night. The three heard noises that scared them a little, but quickly realized it was four young men coming towards Missouri from the Illinois side of the bridge. The men stopped and chatted with the group of three for a brief moment, even sort of flirting with the girls. It wasn’t long before the men continued walking west and the Kerry sisters and Tom walking east. As the groups spread apart, one of the men asked Julie, Robin, and Tom to keep a look out for a lost flashlight. (Cummins, 2004).
After reaching the Illinois end of the bridge, the group began walking back towards Missouri, only to be met by the four men once again. According to Tom Cummin’s testimony, one of the men forced him to lay down on his stomach and keep his head down while he listened to the cries of Robin and Julie as they were sexually assaulted by the other three men (State V. Clemons, 1997). The men sat on top of his back and used their feet to hold him down. Tom heard one of the men say “You stupid bitch, do you want to die? I’ll throw you off this bridge if you don’t stop fighting” (State V. Clemons, 1997).
Tom later described that the men robbed him of his wallet and watch before forcing him down a manhole where he found a nude Robin and Julie scared to death. The three were then ordered to stand on the concrete pier below the bridge. Moments later, one of the assailants pushed Julie off the bridge into the Mississippi River. Robin was pushed second. One assailant told Tom to jump in or they would shoot him. He complied and jumped into the river. (Cummins, 2004)
The Mississippi River is a powerful river with strong currents unsuitable to swimmers. Tom states he found Julie and swam with her a bit, but eventually he lost connection to her. He never did see Robin in the water. Against all odds, Tom was able to make it to the Missouri bank a few miles down from the bridge. Julie and Robin were not so lucky.
Tom, after flagging down a trucker, was able to explain to first responders and officers the horror he and his cousins had endured. From every source I’ve found, Thomas Cummins was eager to save his cousins and provide any information the authorities needed. In the book written by Cummins sister, Jeanine Cummins, entitled A Rip From Heaven, Tom was limping and covered in mud and river silt. She also states he, unknowingly, had a fractured hip. (Cummins, 2004). My first thought when reading about this case was to wonder why Thomas Cummins was not immediately taken to the hospital since he was clearly in the cold river. His hands were pruned, indicating prolonged time in the river. I would think it would be standard procedure to ensure he was medically stable as he was likely in shock. I found no evidence that this occurred.
Investigators and reporters, however, noted that Tom’s hair was very neat, lending doubt to his story of being in the river. The police did not believe Thomas Cummins could have survived the fall, stating it was ninety feet, without more serious injuries (Cummins, 2004). However, it was later determined the fall was closer to fifty feet. That being said, it doesn’t appear he was given medical treatment at a hospital that could have assisted in gathering the evidence of injuries. Instead, Tom was taken to the police station and interviewed for several hours. Despite being exhausted to the point of falling asleep between questions, he was given a polygraph test. (Cummins, 2004).
The reliability of polygraph examinations has been proven poor multiple times, leading them to be inadmissible in most courts (APA, 2004). The test measures such things as changes in blood pressure, pulse, breathing, and perspiration to detect deception. Imagine falling asleep form pure physical and emotional exhaustion and then being jolted awake to answer a question. A similar situation would be drifting off in a class and then being called on by the teacher. You jolt awake, causing rapid changes in your body. This was the case for Tom Cummins according to A Rip From Heaven, which led Thomas Cummins to fail his polygraph examination. (Cummins, 2004).
According to Thomas Cummins, he maintained his innocence and told the same harrowing story over and over to each and every investigator, never wavering. After being awake more than twenty-four hours, surviving a brutal attack, withstanding the unforgiving current of the river, and being emotionally assaulted by law enforcement, Tom Cummins was giving up all hope of being believed. He finally made a statement to the effect of “You won’t believe me anyway, so if you say I did it then fine” (Cummins, 2004). However, he refused to sign a written confession or provide a video tapped confession, once again protesting his innocence. The police theorized that he made a sexual advance at his cousin Julie and she fell trying to resist him. They believed Robin jumped in after Julie in an ill-fated attempt to save her sister. They arrested Tom Cummins for murder on April 5th, 1991.
When the District Attorney’s office was presented the case the following day, however, they declined to arraign Mr. Cummins and told investigators to cut him loose due to lack of evidence (Cummins, 2004). Tom was still considered the prime suspect, however. Police were quick to try to gather evidence. This included a used condom and a flashlight with some hand engraving labeling it. (McClellan, 2012). They wanted to find the owner of the flashlight, as they may have witnessed what happened on the bridge.
The flashlight was quickly identified as being stolen by Antonio Richardson, a sixteen-year-old with a checkered past. Antonio Richardson was born September 3rd, 1974. He grew up as the middle son of three boys to a single mother. He lived in poverty while his mother suffered from drug abuse. Antonio had difficulty in school and behavioral problems. He eventually dropped out of school and had substance abuse issues by the time he was fifteen. (Murderpedia).
Antonio Richardson was brought to police headquarters to be interviewed, presumably as a witness. However, he told authorities that he and two other men were on the bridge that night. He eventually confessed to raping Julie and Robin Kerry. (Cummins, 2004) He eventually confessed to the murders too, although he later recanted. He implicated his cousin, Reginald Clemons, and another man, Marlin Gray in the crime.
Marlin Gray was born September 26th. 1967 (Murderpedia) Marlin was described as being charismatic and charming (Cummins, 2004). He was the oldest of the group and thought to be the “ringleader”. Reginal Clemons was born August 30th, 1971 and was a cousin to Antonio Richardson (Murderpedia). Reggie was raised with a solid home life filled with morals, values, and religion. However, he tended to be a follower (Cummins, 2004). The two implicated men further implicated a fourth person, Daniel Winfrey. Daniel Winfrey was just fifteen years old, and the only white man of the group.
The men all confess to being on the bridge and seeing the Kerry sisters and their cousin Tom. (Cummins, 2004). Daniel Winfrey confessed to police the entire chain of events including the rapes and murders of the girls but denied participation in the rapes. He testified that as the group headed back towards Missouri, he stated that Clemons said “Let’s rob them”, Marlin Gray said “Yeah, I feel like hurting somebody”, and that Richardson suggested they rape the girls (State V. Clemons, 1997). Daniel Winfrey made a deal with prosecution to testify against the others in exchange for a thirty-year sentence. (Cummins, 2004). Reginald Clemmons and Antonio Richardson confessed to the rape and to being the two men who forced the girls off the bridge. Thomas Cummins was able to identify all four assailants successfully. (Cummins, 2004).
Before the murder trials began, the body of Julie Kerry was found in Caruthersville, Missouri on the bank of the Mississippi River about three weeks after the murder (The Charley Project). The body of Robin was never found. The Kerry family held a memorial service for the girls in May 1991 in which loved ones celebrated their lives with bubbles and fond memories (Hernon, 1991). The girls share a headstone Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis Missouri. (Find a Grave)
The first trial was that of Marlin Gray, who denied involvement in the crimes. Gray claimed to be in his car at the time the girls were assaulted and murdered. However, evidence was presented that he was in possession of Thomas Cummins’ watch after the crime and told friends he committed the murders (Cummins, 2004). Thomas Cummins and Daniel Winfrey gave damning testimony that lead to the conviction of Marlin Gray in 1992. He was sentenced to death. (Murderpedia)
Reginald Clemons’ trial played out similarly, with the evidence of the flashlight, witness testimony of Winfrey and Cummins, and his own confession being used against him. However, Reggie had since recanted his confession, claiming police brutality caused him to give the confession (State V. Clemons, 1997). There was some evidence of swelling to Clemon’s face, but this was found to be unreliable evidence of police brutality at the time of the trial so was not allowed to be presented (State V. Clemons, 1997). Reginald Clemons was found guilty and sentenced to death. (Murderpedia)
Antonio Richardson, one of the two men under eighteen at the time of the crime, was offered a plea deal but declined it (Hartman, 2001). Instead he faced trial, also recanting his confession. He too was found guilty in 1993. Jurors, however, were unable to decide on the death penalty. The judge sentenced Richardson to death. (Murderpedia). He was the first to be given an execution date, March 7th, 2001. (Murderpedia)
However, before the State of Missouri could execute Antonio Richardson, he received a stay pending the outcome of another case to determine the constitutionality of executing mentally impaired. (Cummins, 2004). Some sources claim Richardson’s IQ was in the low seventies, borderline, while others suggest it is much higher. Nevertheless, Richardson’s execution was eventually commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2003 (Murderpedia). The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that it was unconstitutional to sentence someone who was under eighteen at the time of the crime to death. (NPR, 2005).
Marlin Gray appealed his conviction and death sentence but was unsuccessful in doing so. He continually professed his innocence in the case, and claimed he was sitting in the car when Clemmons said “Man, I just robbed that guy and threw the girls in the river” (Patrick, 2005). His appeals were unsuccessful. Marlin Gray was executed by the State of Missouri on October 26th, 2005. (Murderpedia) DNA evidence from the condom found at the scene would later link Gray to the rape of the Kerry sisters. (Currier, 2018)
Reginald Clemons repeatedly appealed his case and death sentence and was eventually successful at staying his execution in 2009 and overturning his entire conviction in 2015. (Kohler, 2015). The new trial was won based on evidence that the prosecutor suppressed evidence from the defense in the original trial. (Kohler, 2015) Apparently, evidence was suppressed that may have proven Clemons was a victim of police brutality and this caused him to give a coerced confession. (Clemons V. Larkins, 2015).
Clemons was not released, however, as he was also sentenced to fifteen years for a 2007 attack on a correctional officer. (Donald, 2017). Possibly provided credibility to his claim of a coerced confession and police brutality was victim Thomas Cummins himself. Thomas Cummins filed and settled a lawsuit against the St. Louis Police Department for the abuse and coercion he experienced leading to what authorities considered a confession from Cummins the day following the murders. (Cummins V. Robe).
However, despite decades of professing his innocence in the case, Reginal Clemons eventually admitted his guilt and plead guilty in 2017. (Donald, 2017). He was sentenced to five life sentences. During his sentencing, Ginny Kerry, the girls’ mother, stated that Clemons admitted to the crimes and apologized to her twice. (Madden, 2017). Ginny said “It means a lot to me. It’s not going to bring my daughters back. He’s on the 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” (Madden, 2017). The DNA from the condom that liked Gray also linked Clemons (Currier, 2018).
Despite being sentenced to five life sentences, it was reported in 2018 that Clemons does have the possibility for parole as his crimes were committed under laws that have since changed. Apparently, in 1991 there were no minimum sentences for violent crimes. He was eligible for parole in 2020. (Currier, 2018). I could not find an article about the parole hearing, but to the best of my research Clemons remains in prison. Several support groups and civil rights groups continue to support Reggie Clemons and advocate for his release.
Julie and Robin Kerry went to the Chain of Rocks Bridge that April night to show their cousin a poem. A poem that was against racism and violence.This was a highly publicized case in which there exists a lot of conflicting information and claims. Many people passionately argue that police misconduct, racism, and civil rights violations caused innocent men to be harshly punished. Others, however, argue that the right people were convicted after the same police misconduct first led the investigation down a fruitless rabbit hole. Regardless of any belief of innocence or guilt, this case demonstrates the importance of professionalism and anti-bias training in police departments.We must also never get so passionately fixated on the defendants that we forget the victims. Robin and Julie Kerry could have changed the world, had they had the chance. Daniel Winfrey, who accepted the plea bargain for thirty years, was eventually paroled and then returned to prison for parole violations. (Donald, 2017). His confession, as well as the recanted confessions from the other assailants, were very similar to the story of Thomas Cummins. Despite this, some people continue to believe that Thomas Cummins was the assailant and the four convicted were innocent and a target of a racial police force. An article written by Jeanine Cummins stated “Yes, the police likely did beat Reginald Clemons” and “When those cops put their hands on Reginald Clemons, they didn’t just violate him; they violated the justice that Julie and Robin deserve” (Cummins, 2015).
Cummins, J. (2004) A Rip in Heaven; Berkley. Available for purchase at: A Rip in Heaven: Cummins, Jeanine: 0767685540039: Amazon.com: Books
The Charley Project (2019) Robin Ann Kerry; Retrieved at: Robin Ann Kerry – The Charley Project
NPR (2005) Supreme Court Ends Death Penalty for Juveniles; Nina Totenberg, NPR; Retrieved at: Supreme Court Ends Death Penalty for Juveniles : NPR
Donald, E. (2017) Twenty-six years later, last of four Chain of Rocks Bridge killers plead guilty; Belleville News Democrat; Retrieved at: Man sentenced for raping teen girls in 1991 near St Louis MO | Belleville News-Democrat (bnd.com)
Murderpedia (2021) Antonio Richardson; Retrieved at: Antonio Richardson | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers; Reginald Clemons; Retrieved at: Reginald Clemons | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers; Marlin Gray; Retrieved at: Marlin Gray | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers
McClellan, B. (2012) McClellan: No place for innocence in Chain of Rocks case; Retrieved at: McClellan: No place for innocence in Chain of Rocks case | Bill McClellan | stltoday.com
Cummins, J. (2015) Murder Isn’t Black or White; The New York Times; Retrieved at: Opinion | Murder Isn’t Black or White - The New York Times (nytimes.com)
Hartman, R. (2001) They’ve got the wrong martyr; River Front Times; Retrieved at: They've Got the Wrong Martyr | Hartmann | St. Louis | St. Louis News and Events | Riverfront Times
Clemons V. Larkin (2015) Supreme Court of Missouri; Retrieved at: Read the Supreme Court opinion vacating Reginald Clemons' convictions and death sentences | | stltoday.com
Find a Grave (Accessed 2021) Julie Ann Kerry; Retrieved at: Julie Ann Kerry (1970-1991) - Find A Grave Memorial
Hernon, P (2001) Kerry Sisters Remembered as Crusaders for Justice; St. Louis Post Dispatch; Retrieved at: Kerry Sisters - Newspapers.com
Kohler, J. (2015) Missouri Supreme Court throws out Reginald Clemons murder conviction; Retrieved at: Missouri Supreme Court throws out Reginald Clemons murder conviction | Law and order | stltoday.com
State V. Clemons (1997) Appellate Court Ruling; Retrieved at: State v. Clemons :: 1997 :: Supreme Court of Missouri Decisions :: Missouri Case Law :: Missouri Law :: US Law :: Justia
Madden R. (2017) Mother of murdered Kerry sisters reveals what Clemons said to her in court; Fox2Now; Retrieved at: Mother of murdered Kerry sisters reveals what Clemons said to her in court | FOX 2 (fox2now.com)
Currier, J. (2018) Reginald Clemons got 5 consecutive life terms for Old Chain of Rocks double murder. He could be free by 2020; St. Louis Post Dispatch; Retrieved at: Reginald Clemons got 5 consecutive life terms for Old Chain of Rocks double murder. He could be free by 2020. | Law and order | stltoday.com