PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Twenty-five years and five days ago, Staff Sgt. Ronald Parkhurst, originally from Peoria, did not show up for work in Irvine, California. Twenty-five years ago Tuesday, his body was found floating in the water at Nevada’s Saddle Island Cove with a bullet hole in the back of his head. His family in Central Illinois continues their search for answers.

United States Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ron Parkhurst did not show up to his scheduled shift as a Marine recruiter on Monday, June 16, 1997. His commanding officers found this unusual, they later shared with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD).

Gunnery Sgt. Rene Robles described Parkhurst as dependable, honest, and never late for a shift. Staff Sgt. William Higgins said that while Parkhurst did not enjoy recruiting, he was the first one in the office in the morning and the last one out at night.

Parkhurst had even indicated to coworker Sgt. Alex Brooks over the previous weekend that he would see him at work on Monday. So where was Ron?

Ron Parkhurst was a Peoria native, and his sister Diane Garrett still lives there. She reached out to WMBD with her own writings about her brother as the 25th anniversary of his death approached.

“My memories of this tragic chapter in my life start with when I received a call at work from my older brother, indicating he received a call from the USMC Recruiting Office in Huntington Beach, CA. They advised him our brother, Ronnie, did not show up for work, and wanted to know if he had heard from him. That phone call with my older brother kicked me into action. I called the police, I called the manager of the apartment complex, I called hospitals, I called my brother’s recruiting office. I talked to the local police who told me he probably just ‘ran away.’ Really? A 36-year-old man with a promising career in the Marine Corps just up and ran away? I don’t think so.” 

Diane Garrett

Parkhurst’s body was found at 9:12 a.m. on June 21, 1997, by scuba divers at Saddle Cove in Lake Mead. Per the LVMPD report, Saddle Cove was very rocky and generally only accessible by boat. It was possible to hike, but not easy. Police searched the area but did not find the murder weapon or any related evidence, nor was there evidence of any unusual boat rentals in the area.

Garrett said that when the body was found, it was estimated to have been floating in the water for three days. At that point, Garrett said, visual confirmation of identity was no longer an option. Dental records were used to confirm that Garrett’s brother, Ron Parkhurst was indeed the body police had found.

Armed with the name of the victim, investigators began to piece together Ron Parkhurst’s final week. The following details come from the LVMPD’s original 1997 report.

Ron’s father, Leonard contacted LVMPD to report a suspicious transfer of funds between Ron’s bank in Peoria and his USMC account, for which he had listed a false number as the contact phone number. The phone number, when Leonard called, was a fax number for the Motel 6 in Las Vegas.

A clerk at the Motel 6 confirmed that Ron had checked in on June 15 and checked out on June 16, before checking in again later that day. He left Motel 6 on June 17 and did not return.

This transfer reported by Leonard was not the only suspicious transaction traced back to Ron during these five days. By following coworkers’ tips that Ron liked to gamble, police followed the money to trace Ron’s movements throughout Las Vegas:

  • June 16: $200 withdrawn at an ATM at Las Vegas’ MGM Hotel
  • June 17: $200 withdrawn at the Las Vegas Bank of American
  • June 17: $80 withdrawn from an ATM at Las Vegas’ MGM Hotel
  • June 18: $140 withdrawn from an ATM at Las Vegas’ MGM Hotel
  • June 18: $60 withdrawn from an ATM at Las Vegas’ MGM Hotel

Police were unable to obtain security tapes at any of these locations.

Meanwhile, Parkhurst’s car was found abandoned outside of the Lake Mead Marina, within two miles of Saddle Island, on June 18. The black Ford Mustang was unlocked with the keys in the ignition. Rangers left a note on the car to let the owner know the keys had been taken to the police station. The next day, an investigation was launched to return the car to the owner–later discovered to be Parkhurst.

Because Ron was missing at the time, the car was not reported stolen. The contents were inventoried by police: a wallet, registration information, and a very small amount of gas in the tank–and the car was towed.

Later, an interview with Sgt. Alex Brooks would reveal one oddity about the car’s inventory. According to Brooks, Parkhurst was meticulous about always having CDs in his car’s center console. Brooks said Parkhurst always kept CDs in his car, and it would be unusual for him to drive without his music.

On June 22, Clark County coroner Dr. R. Sheldon Green ruled Parkhurst’s death a homicide with a deadly weapon. Ron had been one week away from taking leave to see his family.

“This tragic event disrupted and forever changed our family dynamics. It felt as if someone reached in and torn a piece of my heart out of my chest. My entire family was devastated. I’d like to say one experienced devastation far greater than the other, but that’s not true. Everyone was suffering.”

Diane Garrett

Interviews with fellow Marines and recruiters revealed pieces of Parkhurst’s life to the LVMPD, but not enough to determine where he went that week or how he died.

For example, police learned that Parkhurst did not own a gun; however, he had borrowed Sgt. Brooks’ Norinco .45 automatic pistol several months prior to his death. Brooks told police that he believed Ron hadn’t purchased any ammo for the weapon. The gun was not recovered.

Sgt. Robles told the police that Ron had gotten angry with her once, but never violent. She said he was a gambler, but not an addict–something corroborated in police interview of Sgt. Brooks. His peers acknowledged that Parkhurst enjoyed trips to Las Vegas, but none had ever traveled with him.

Fingers were pointed in all sorts of directions during these interviews: several interviewees brought up Ron’s estranged ex-wife, whom they said had a drug addiction problem. One brought up a coworker of Parkhurst’s who lived in Las Vegas. The police report does not include details as to whether these suggestions by interviewees were investigated further.

In the 25 years since Ron’s death, however, Garrett said there have not been any promising leads in her brother’s case. She told WMBD there was one person of interest identified by the police, but no information has been shared beyond that in order not to jeopardize the case if someone were to be convicted in the future.

“So what is the current status on this? The case is at a dead end. Will someone come forward with information after 25 years? And where is the person of interest today? Do I need to request donations for a reward? Will people donate? I don’t know.”

Diane Garrett

Those with any information on the case of Ron Parkhurst’s murder are encouraged to reach out to WMBD to be put in touch with Diane Garrett, or contact Las Vegas Metro Homicide Cold Case Detective Terri Miller at t5113m@lvmpd.co or 702-828-3509.