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Jonathan Brawner, Mastermind of One Failed Kidnapping, Claims He Hid John Glasgow’s Body

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A version of this article originally appeared in Arkansas Business on January 23, 2012. It is being republished as part of Arkansas Business’ 30th anniversary issue. You can access the digital edition for free here.

Jon Brawner masterminded the early morning kidnapping of a businessman with the intention of forcing him to transfer money from his company to offshore accounts. But things went wrong — fatally so.

This is not the story of John Glasgow, although Brawner now claims to have helped bury the body of the construction executive who vanished four years ago after leaving his Little Rock home before dawn.

This is the story of James M. Daven, a commodities broker and investment adviser who encouraged Brawner’s interest in becoming a stockbroker, hired Brawner when he failed elsewhere and called the cops when he discovered that Brawner had been writing himself checks from a company account.

This is a story pieced together from official documents and interviews.

On the last day of July 2009, 18 months after Glasgow disappeared, Jim Daven walked out of his home near Menifee (Conway County) at 7:30 a.m. Just like every other workday, he was going to get in his Toyota Tundra and drive to his commodities brokerage in Conway.

But on that Friday morning, two men who had been crouching by the driver’s side of his truck grabbed Daven and tried to cover his face with a cloth soaked in paint thinner.

Daven, pronounced “Day-ven,” teaches combat jujitsu, an extreme martial art that normally involves the use of weapons. He wasn’t armed when the two men — including 6-foot-4-inch, 296-pound David Newkirk — jumped him, but his training came in handy.

“I was used to more than one opponent at a time, and it kept me in a straight head,” Daven said last week. “I did not get excited and lose my head.”

While fighting off his attackers, Daven, then 58, yelled for his stepson, Tommy Mehlin, who was inside the house with his mother, Patricia Daven. After Mehlin yelled out a window that he had a gun, one of the attackers got off Jim and walked toward the house, raising a 9 mm handgun as he got close to the window. Mehlin fired one round blindly out the window as he ducked down below the sill.

He didn’t know it immediately, but Mehlin had killed Jeffrey Justin “J.C.” Chapman with a bullet that entered his left eye.

When the shooting started, Newkirk ran into nearby woods. Jim Daven retrieved his own .45-caliber pistol from his pickup, and he and Mehlin fired repeatedly after the giant man in gray coveralls.

Investigators from the Conway County Sheriff’s Office arrived promptly and called in help from the Arkansas State Police. As Special Agent Larry Carter was driving to the Daven house, he spotted a large white male walking down Bell Mountain Road. The nervous man identified himself as David Newkirk, and Carter called for a sheriff’s deputy, who came and got Newkirk and took him back to the scene of the shooting. Daven identified the man as the attacker who ran, and Newkirk promptly confessed his involvement to Sheriff Mike Smith.

By 9 a.m., one attacker was dead, one was on his way to the Conway County jail, and investigators had a real good idea who was responsible: Jonathan Edward Brawner.

Brawner’s Background

Jon Brawner was born in June 1968 and graduated from Wynne High School in 1986. He filed for bankruptcy in Joneboro before he was 30.

Daven said he first met the charismatic Brawner more than a decade ago at a social event, and Brawner chatted him up about wanting to get into the securities business.

Daven encouraged the younger man to get licensed and, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Brawner landed a trainee position at Merrill Lynch in Little Rock in September 2001. That job lasted only until February 2002, and he was hired by Morgan Stanley in Little Rock in June 2002.

While employed by Morgan Stanley, Brawner passed the Series 31 Futures Managed Funds Exam and the Series 66 State Securities Law Exam. He left Morgan Stanley in July 2003 to join Daven & Associates Inc., a tiny registered investment advisory ($800,000 in assets under management) that Jim Daven operated as a side business.

About 2005, Brawner married a speech pathologist who had treated his children from an earlier marriage. Renea Brawner is the daughter of Rick and Linda Keathley Hawkins of Conway and the granddaughter of Adell Keathley and her late husband, Roy O. Keathley.

Brawner left Daven’s employment in November 2005 for a stint at Edward Jones in Conway. That lasted only about six months, but it was an eventful period. The Brawners were behind on the payments on their Vilonia house — technically, Renea had bought the house with her previous husband, Michael Young — and Regions Bank had scheduled a foreclosure sale on May 22, 2006.

The Brawners would later deny knowing that their house was the subject of a nonjudicial foreclosure; instead, they said they were planning to sell it to an acquaintance of Jon’s named Ben Eagles on May 19.

But neither sale happened. Instead, on May 18, 2006, the house burned.

Allstate Indemnity Co. denied the Brawners’ claim because its investigators concluded that the fire was arson, that the Brawners were responsible for the fire and that they had made material misrepresentations to the company.

The Brawners sued, and a federal court jury returned a split decision: No, the Brawners weren’t responsible for the arson, but yes, they had lied to the insurance company. The Brawners were granted a second trial, at which Allstate concentrated solely on the misrepresentations. The second jury also ruled in Allstate’s favor, and so did the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis. The Brawners received no insurance settlement, but neither were they charged with any crime.

Jon Brawner went back to work for Daven at his commodities brokerage, Commercial Grain Inc.

In late 2008, Daven discovered that Brawner had stolen company checks and written them to himself, pocketing about $6,000. Daven called in the police, but Brawner “walked,” Daven said, by coming up with money for restitution.

Shortly after that, about six months before the attack, Conway police informed Daven that Brawner had allegedly offered an acquaintance money — a mere $1,300 — to kill Daven. The acquaintance instead went to the police, but no charges were filed.

Brawner left the securities industry for good, landing a job as an explosives technician fracking for natural gas for Cudd Energy Services in Conway.

The Right to Remain Silent

David Newkirk, Daven’s 300-pound attacker, had the right to remain silent, but he didn’t. He told Conway County investigators that J.C. Chapman, a co-worker at Cudd, had approached him about doing a job for another co-worker, Jon Brawner.

Newkirk said Brawner and Chapman had planned the attack, and Brawner had promised to pay off Newkirk’s bills if he would help abduct Jim Daven.

J.C. Chapman’s widow, Donan, told investigators that her husband was expecting to be paid at least $1,800 — enough to get caught up on their car payments — for doing a job for a co-worker named Jon. Donan Chapman said her husband, a Mormon, was considered an outcast at work because he didn’t drink or smoke, but pay cuts at Cudd had left them in such financial straits that even his wife believed he was capable of doing something illegal for money.

According to Newkirk’s account, Brawner expected to get $3 million from Daven after Newkirk and Chapman delivered him and his pickup to a cabin in Van Buren County.

The plan was laid out over several weeks, and Daven remembered that Chapman, a total stranger, had come to his house about three weeks before the attack and asked questions about property for sale nearby.

Newkirk’s wife, Tiffany, then 22, had driven him and Chapman from their homes in Vilonia to a drop-off spot near the Daven house at 4:45 a.m., and they laid in wait for almost three hours before Daven came out to get in his truck.

Donan Chapman confirmed that her husband had set the alarm for 4 a.m. that morning, but she thought it was because he needed to pick up a pump from a work site. Mrs. Chapman would not be charged with any crime.

But Mrs. Newkirk was. By 10 a.m., she was in custody, found sitting in the driver’s seat of her husband’s Nissan pickup, which was parked at a gas station a few miles west on Interstate 40 at Plumerville.

She started talking too, and all of the stories led to Jon Brawner.

The Other Woman

Late in the afternoon, after David Newkirk spilled his guts, Sheriff Smith gave him a phone and recorded the conversation as Newkirk called Brawner.

Newkirk told Brawner that “everything went south,” that he’d been hiding in the woods all day and that he needed a ride. Brawner said he was in Little Rock and couldn’t help, and Newkirk warned Brawner that if he got caught he was going to tell the police what happened. Which, of course, he had already done.

Brawner called back and gave Newkirk another phone number to call. Sheriff Smith recorded as Newkirk called the number and talked to a woman named Michelle, who said she would pick him up at Menifee.

Just after 6 p.m., less than 11 hours after the attack on Jim Daven, a third suspect was picked up: 38-year-old Michelle Sharpe of Little Rock, with whom Brawner had been having an on-again, off-again affair that persisted through several years.

Sharpe told Smith new details about Brawner’s plan to abduct his former employer and force him to make transactions. The money, she said, was supposed to be turned into bearer bonds that Brawner would cash at banks in the Cayman Islands or elsewhere in the Caribbean.

And Brawner had told her that “there was nothing like watching someone die.”

Brawner had told several of his running buddies that he had already embezzled $7 million from Daven, but Daven told Arkansas Business that may have been what Brawner hoped to do.

“His intent was to kidnap me … and he had in his head that I would liquidate 10 or 12 million dollars from client accounts,” Daven said.

The Conway County Sheriff’s Office secured search warrants for the Chapman, Newkirk and Brawner homes in Vilonia. Jon Brawner was arrested while his home was being searched about 8 p.m. on the night of the attack on Jim Daven.

202 Days

The women, Michelle Sharpe and Tiffany Newkirk, were initially charged with aggravated robbery, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and conspiracy to commit capital murder, and David Newkirk faced the same charges plus second-degree battery because he had actually attacked Jim Daven.

Brawner, who was not in the vicinity on the day of the crime, was charged only with aggravated robbery and conspiracy to kidnap.

All four initially pleaded not guilty, but in November 2009, Brawner and his Conway defense attorney, Frank Shaw, made a deal: He would plead guilty to robbery and agree to testify against the rest in exchange for a 20-year sentence, of which 10 was suspended.

He entered the Arkansas Department of Correction on Nov. 25, 2009, was transferred to a boot camp for nonviolent offenders on Feb. 19, 2010, and was paroled on June 14 of that year, having served 202 days.

With Brawner lined up as a witness against them, the Newkirks and Sharpe all subsequently made plea deals as well.

Tiffany Newkirk drew a 24-month sentence for theft of property, served eight months in the Community Corrections program in 2010 and was discharged from parole on July 31, 2011, exactly two years after the crime. Sharpe got a 36-month sentence and was confined from November 2010 to August 2013.

David Newkirk, who ran when the bullets started flying, went down hardest. He drew a 20-year sentence for attempted capital murder and attempted kidnapping. He’s in the Varner Unit and won’t be eligible for parole until 2020.

Where the Body’s Buried

The first time Frank Shaw interviewed his client to prepare his defense in the Daven kidnapping case, Jon Brawner mentioned in passing that he knew where a body was buried. But it didn’t have anything to do with the charges against him, so Shaw said he concentrated on the job at hand.

Shaw’s defense strategy resulted in Brawner being the first of the four co-defendants to get out of prison, but he wasn’t free for long. In October 2010, he was arrested and charged with stalking Renea, who had divorced him by then.

Brawner couldn’t raise $50,000 bail and was held in the Faulkner County jail pending his trial in April, and he’s been there since the jury convicted him. On the witness stand against her former husband, Renea Brawner said, “He told me that he had helped a friend of his in Little Rock bury a body before.”

“That was said in open court,” Shaw said last week, “so he decided he was ready to talk to law enforcement” about his knowledge of the unsolved disappearance of John Glasgow.

And yes, he expects some consideration in return for his help; Brawner’s sentencing on the stalking charge has been postponed until March. “There’s no firm deal in place, but nobody gives something for nothing,” Shaw said.

According to Shaw, Brawner told Little Rock police detectives that acquaintances to whom he owed money had pressed him into helping bury the body of John Glasgow in a bean field near England in Lonoke County. During the summer growing season, Shaw said, a small portion of the field was searched, but a thorough search using soil-penetrating sonar-type equipment is planned now that the field has been harvested.

Brawner has told his lawyer and investigators the names of the people he allegedly helped to bury Glasgow on the day he was last seen leaving his Little Rock home, Jan. 28, 2008.

No one that Arkansas Business has talked to — not Shaw, not Daven, not Glasgow’s brother Roger — knows of any connection between Brawner and John Glasgow. But Jim Daven doesn’t believe Brawner’s claim that he was only involved after the fact.

“If I were a betting man, I’d lay money on the table that he’s a major player,” Daven said last week.

The only thing surprising about Brawner’s alleged involvement in one of the most high-profile cases in Arkansas, Daven said, is how long Glasgow’s disappearance has remained a mystery.

“I didn’t think he was the caliber who could do anything like this — or not as successfully as it was done,” he said.

‘There Are Similarities’

After KARK-TV, Channel 4, broke the news Jan. 11, 2012, that a Faulkner County jail inmate named Jon Brawner claimed to have helped bury missing CDI Contractors executive John Glasgow, Jim Daven started comparing his experience with Brawner to the few facts known about Glasgow’s disappearance.

“The more I think about it and the more detail I see, there are similarities,” Daven said last week.

Although very little is known about Glasgow’s disappearance, it is easy to overlay the outline of the Daven plot onto the sketchy timeline and general geography of the Glasgow case.

Glasgow, as chief financial officer, would have had access to CDI accounts, and his car was seen pulling away from his Little Rock home early on a weekday morning. Cellphone signals indicate that, within two hours after his car left home, Glasgow’s phone was in the area roughly bounded by Lake Conway in Faulkner County on the east and Wye Mountain on the Perry/Pulaski County line in the west.

Where Glasgow was during those hours is part of the mystery.

By late morning, the phone was near a tower on Petit Jean Mountain in Conway County. When Glasgow’s car was discovered the next day — at Mather Lodge in Petit Jean State Park, 30 miles from the Daven home — his phone and laptop computer were inside.

Tracking dogs could never pick up Glasgow’s scent outside his Volvo SUV, which may indicate that he was not in it by the time it arrived at Petit Jean. And that would fit with the broad outline of Brawner’s story: that he helped people to whom he owed money bury Glasgow’s body someplace completely different, near England in Lonoke County southeast of Little Rock.

There are differences, of course. Daven had employed Brawner and then fired him for stealing some $6,000 from the company. There is no known connection between Brawner and Glasgow — although there may have been one between the unknown people Brawner claims killed Glasgow.

If Glasgow was abducted in an attempt to get money out of him, that part failed utterly, just as the attempted kidnapping of Daven would 18 months later. No money was ever missing, personal or corporate.

Daven, however, puts little stock in anything Brawner says.

“He will lie to your face even when he doesn’t have to,” he said.

Since Then …

2014: John Glasgow has not been found nor has his disappearance been explained.

In 2011, Pulaski County Circuit Judge H. Vann Smith granted Melinda Glasgow’s petition to have her husband declared dead. “John has been missing for three years without any credible information surfacing in that period that would suggest he might be alive somewhere,” Smith wrote.

Jon Brawner, who confessed to the attempted kidnapping of Conway County businessman Jim Daven in 2009, is the only person who has ever publicly claimed to have any knowledge about Glasgow’s fate. But intensive searches of the Lonoke County beanfield where he said he helped dig a grave turned up nothing.

“I have just resigned myself that I may never know. I’ve turned it over to the universe and moved forward,” Melinda Glasgow told Arkansas Business in 2013.

CDI Contractors, where John was CFO, is now wholly owned by Dillard’s Inc. William Clark left in 2009 to start Clark Contractors, which topped $100 million in revenue in 2012.

Brawner was convicted of stalking his ex-wife, which also violated his parole in the Daven kidnapping case. He is currently an inmate of the Arkansas Department of Correction’s Tucker Unit, with an anticipated release date of Dec. 5 of this year.

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