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A Surprising Suspect Emerges In Death of Openly Gay Coal Miner
As an openly gay man working in an Ohio coal mine, Brad McGarry may have rubbed his more conservative coworkers the wrong way, but was his homicide a hate crime or was the surprising killer closer to home?
Just minutes after Brad McGarry’s lifeless body was discovered in the basement of his Bellaire, Ohio home, McGarry’s distraught best friend David Kinney broke down outside his home.
“I’m trying not to freak out, I’m sorry,” David told officers through tears, according to Oxygen’s Killer Relationship with Faith Jenkins. “I can’t not stop seeing that. I’m not supposed to see that, man.”
David, his wife Cheri, and the couple’s young daughter stumbled upon the body after David told officers that the family had gone to McGarry’s home to drop off a weed whacker and noticed the front door slightly ajar. They searched the house and found McGarry shot to death in the basement of his home.
“There’s blood everywhere,” Cheri screamed in a panicked 911 call. “Oh my God, I’m going to throw up. My friend is dead!”
It was hard to imagine who could have wanted to kill the affable 43-year-old, but when investigators dove into McGarry’s complicated small-town life they discovered a shocking secret that ultimately cost him his life.
Growing up as an openly gay man in a small village of Lewisville, Ohio, McGarry had a difficult childhood.
“Being called the f-ggot or being called the fairy, it was something that he just dealt with. People just didn’t understand,” friend Dan Ignatious said in the show. “He walked around and he made it apparent that he was gay. He didn’t hide it. He wasn’t going to live a lie.”
Despite the harassment, McGarry found a close group of friends who accepted him for who he was. He worked as a hairdresser, but made a radical career change, becoming a coal miner after deciding he couldn’t make enough money in the salon.
"It’s a different culture from hairdresser to coal miner and it’s a rough job. I was like you know, be careful,” Ignatious recalled. “But he showed that you can be an openly gay man and still be able to do physical labor like straight guys and that’s kind of what he was wanting to do is change the stereotype.”
While on the job, he befriended David, then a 20-year-old newly married rookie. David introduced McGarry to his wife and children and soon “Uncle Brad,” as he was called by David’s children, became a regular fixture during holidays, vacations and family events.
“Brad and David just became best friends. They would do everything together,” friend Abby Milliken said. “They were always telling jokes, just playing pranks on each other all the time.”
Detectives initially considered the possibility that McGarry had been killed in a home invasion after noting that several of the rooms appeared to be ransacked, but the home had no signs of forced entry.
Casting the possibility aside, investigators turned their focus to those closest to the 43-year-old.
According to David and Cheri, McGarry had recently ended an unhealthy relationship with a man named Scotty.
McGarry’s friend Wendy Newbaur wasn’t a fan of the relationship either, telling investigators that McGarry had gotten “too wrapped up into that boy” and had “started getting really weird” as the relationship continued.
Detectives set out to find Scotty and learned that at the time of the murder he had been in a West Virginia jail — but that didn’t entirely rule him out as a suspect yet.
Ryan Allar, the chief of detectives for the Belmont County Sheriff’s Office, paid Scotty a jailhouse visit to deliver the news about his ex’s death and noted that Scotty appeared to be “very upset” over the news.
“Scotty was a bit of a bad seed. Didn’t have the best reputation but didn’t have the reputation of going and killing people either,” Allar said. “So at the conclusion of that interview, we pretty much closed the door on Scotty.”
Detectives also had to consider whether McGarry’s sexuality had made him a target by one of his coworkers. When asked whether anyone could have had a motive to kill him, Newbaur pointed to his workplace. “He was having a hard trouble at work,” she told Allar in an interview.
“With anybody in particular?” the detective asked.
“All of ‘em. With all, all the people,” she replied.
But Allar said authorities found that McGarry was actually well-liked at work and while he admitted there was some prejudice everywhere, there had been no notable incidents to suggest anyone had a grudge against him.
The case appeared to be hitting a dead end, but detectives got the break they needed two days after McGarry’s death during an interview with McGarry’s cousin Schuyler Strawser.
Just hours before his death, McGarry told Strawser that a man he referred to as “DJ” was coming over that afternoon. "“He was insinuating that they were having sex. It was romantic," she told detectives.
Strawser went on to say the relationship had been going on for years and then provided investigators with a shocking clue: “DJ” was none other than McGarry’s best friend David, the same man who reported finding the body.
“It was kind of just in shock,” Allar said. “David Kinney did not tell us that he’s in this long-term sexual relationship with Brad.”
Armed with the new information, investigators brought David into the station for questioning and got permission to search his cell phone. The phone — and David himself — confirmed the romantic nature of the relationship. David then admitted he had been keeping the affair a secret from his wife.
He told Allar that on the afternoon McGarry was killed, he went to lunch at a Chinese restaurant with his wife and then went on a solo trip to look at trailers before returning home around 3 p.m. Once again, however, David’s phone told a different story and put him at McGarry’s home at the time of the murder.
When confronted with the damaging cell phone data, David admitted to being at the house but insisted there had been a third unidentified man there who shot McGarry during a heated argument. This unidentified man let David walk away after threatening him to ensure his silence.
When Allar didn’t buy the story, David revised his account again, insisting this time he killed McGarry in self-defense. He claimed he tried to end the romantic aspect of their relationship and McGarry got angry and pulled out a gun, which David said he grabbed from him and used to shoot him.
Allar was quick to point out the “rudimentary laws of physics” made that version of events impossible, because McGarry had been shot twice in the back of the head by someone who was standing behind him.
Investigators were convinced they had their killer, but before leading David back to jail, they allowed him to speak to his wife.
“Cheri there’s a lot I wish I could have done that I just can’t take back now,” David said, while admitting the affair to his stunned wife in footage showed in Killer Relationship. “I went to Brad’s house to meet up with him. I went to his house and I told him, I said, ‘Listen, from here on out it’s just friends, you and me, it can’t be anything more.’ He flipped out on me. He slapped me around a little bit after I told him this was it.”
David continued to insist he killed his best friend because he felt threatened.
“Are you f-cking kidding me?” Cheri said through sobs. “I can’t even look at you right now.”
Her anguished response to the revelation was enough to convince investigators that she had played no role in the killing.
“Cheri finds out her husband was betraying her with this man that she considered family. She finds out her husband willingly brought her daughter to discover a body and she finds out that her husband killed this man. All this stuff, all at once. Just thrown at her feet,” Allar said. “Our hearts really went out to her. You know, her entire world gets blown up.”
Investigators believe McGarry had likely grown frustrated with hiding the relationship and threatened to reveal the true nature of their relationship to Cheri, giving David the motive he needed to kill his friend to keep the double life secret.
“I believe that David Kinney made up his mind that Brad McGarry had to die so he lured him there with the promise of sex, killed him and then covered it up the best he could,” Allar said.
A jury would agree and in February of 2018, David was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
McGarry’s friends, however, still mourn for the man they lost.
“I will miss the fun, loving, caring spirit that he had,” Milliken said. “I can’t believe David took that away from me.”