Suicide or murder? Questions remain in Salina teen’s death

Boy’s father says investigators botched investigation
Updated: Nov. 13, 2022 at 10:00 PM CST
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SALINA, Kan. (KWCH) - A 17-year-old boy is found dead in a remote cabin and investigators rule it a suicide, never wavering from that decision, but the boy’s father says it was murder.

Those who reviewed the case for the boy’s father and experts who reviewed it for 12 News Factfinder say a failure in the investigation means some answers will never be known.

This story, at least the part we’ll tell here, starts at the Salina Smoky Hill River Festival. It’s an event that brings music, art and the people of Salina together and has for more than four decades. Each year volunteers flock to help set up the festival. Volunteers like 17-year-old Destry Allen.

On June 9, 2004, Destry was gearing up for the final summer before his senior year of high school, setting up tents for the festival’s various shows and events. Except this truly would be his final summer and this would be the final day of it, after a single gunshot at a remote cabin outside Salina resulted in the death of one young man, created enumerable questions and destroyed lives.

On June 10, Bart Allen learned his son Destry didn’t show up to work and couldn’t be located. Thinking his son had simply slept in, maybe at the family’s cabin, he drove out to see if that was the case.

“(I) walked up, noticed the door because it was broken,” Allen said. “It was a very distinctive one, two three process in my mind. Why is the gun on the table? Why is there a pool of blood? Second step: Maybe it’s not too bad. Third step: I see feet on the ground.”

Destry lay dead on the cabin floor. Allen says the Saline County Medical Examiner ruled it suicide almost immediately.

“He (the medical examiner) said, you know, ‘don’t worry, Mr. Allen. It was a pristine suicide. He was dead within a minute or two.’”

“A pristine suicide.” A phrase Bart Allen would later borrow for the title of a book he published about his son’s death. On the cover, he used a photo from the death scene that he says proves Destry was murdered. He also produced a one hour public access television program that aired in Salina for years saying just that.

“The leap to murder, I have found it’s just almost unfathomable,” Allen explained. “You find your son shot to death on the floor in a terrible mess to then look at trying to conceive of it as a murder is a huge thing.”

Allen believed at least some of the questions he had about the death of his son would be answered by any subsequent investigation by the Saline County Sheriff’s Office or possibly by the autopsy he assumed would be conducted by the medical examiner but, he says, that wouldn’t be the case.

“There was no autopsy,” Allen said. “They did not conduct an autopsy.”

Not only was there no autopsy ordered, it can’t even be known if the pistol found near Destry Allen was the gun that killed him. It was never tested.

Joe Schillaci, now a private investigator, served in law enforcement for 30 years. As a Miami homicide detective, his investigations were featured on the television show “The First 48.” He has no connection to the case but agreed to review it for 12 News Factfinder. He says it’s a mistake for investigators to assume an unattended death is a suicide without investigating first.

“Every case, every death investigation, even if it’s a natural death investigation, it needs the time, it needs the effort,” Schillaci said.

12 News Factfinder also spoke with pathologists, both connected to the case and not, who say it was unusual an autopsy wasn’t conducted. In Kansas, it’s the county coroner who makes that decision. After being told by investigators his son’s death was a suicide, Bart Allen was told he could pay for a private autopsy, but he and his family did what he thinks many would do. He believed the police.

“It is the worst time in your life, and you’re trusting these people to do what they’re supposed to do,” he said.

Records obtained by Allen and 12 News Factfinder show the sheriff’s department never even interviewed the last people to see and speak to Destry Allen before he died. So, what would the sheriff’s office have to say about that? We may never know. The Saline County Sheriff’s Office declined a request to be interviewed.

When asked if he, as a veteran homicide investigator, would want to speak to the last people to speak to or to see a person found dead from a gunshot wound, Joe Schillaci said there is no question.

“Absolutely. That would be one of the first people that I would want to talk to,” he said.

Having that conversation is a basic procedure, Schillaci says, but Saline County investigators did not do it. Schillaci also reviewed dozens of photos taken at the scene the morning Destry was found dead. He says they show items at the death scene were moved after Destry was shot but before the photos were taken.

“(There’s) zero doubt in my mind, no doubt whatsoever, that there are changes to that scene. There’s no doubt. I mean physical evidence will not lie,” he explained.

Another thing questioned by Schillaci. The photo from the scene was later used by Bart Allen on the cover of his book about Destry’s death. In it, a blood-covered revolver sits on a picture of Destry and his girlfriend. No blood can be seen in the picture of the young couple, but the picture itself appears to be sitting on top of a blood trail. Bart Allen questions how the picture could be sitting in blood with the gun on top of it if his son shot himself. He believes it’s proof the scene was staged to look like suicide.

“It’s (the gun) on top of the picture, but it’s (the picture) on top of the trail of blood,” Allen said. “It’s a small clue but we think it’s kind of relevant to what happened.”

“The body has been moved, the gun has been moved. You can see patterns. I can be very, very specific where you can see the pattern of the grip of the gun in one location and then moved to another location,” Schillaci continued.

A private pathologist, a firearms expert and Schillaci all claim there are other perceived anomalies they noted in their reviews of the case.

“In this case, there’s a pretty well-defined projectile hole that is on his head, and I don’t see the powder burns that I would normally see if it were like maybe a couple of inches away from his head,” Schillaci said. You know, where that explosion comes out, you see the stippling burns on his face...you would think (it) was fired from a distance.”

A failure to investigate further by detectives at the time means whether the gun was fired from close range or from a distance remains a question. Bart Allen, though, says there is no question that he believes his son was murdered. Allen also believes he knows who killed him.

The person he believes is responsible, and another Allen believes may have been involved, agreed to take a polygraph given by an examiner hired by the Allen family. Both denied any involvement in Destry’s death and both were found to be truthful by the polygraph examiner.

According to Bart Allen, the answers given during that polygraph exam may be the only answers the Allens get because investigators immediately ruled his son’s death suicide, failed to test the weapon that killed him and never ordered an autopsy. At one point, Allen says this was a mystery that could have been solved. A tragic puzzle that still had all the pieces. Nearly twenty years later, he says that is no longer the case.

“At this point, it’s just not only an embarrassment, but it’s a non-salvageable case,” he said.

And a case that left many unanswered questions. Answers to how or why a young man, just beginning his life, ended up dead on the floor of a remote cabin in Saline County, Kansas.

“Destry was just a good kid,” Allen said of his son. “He was just a real good kid. He was a man. I think I wrote that in my book, that I know 50 year old people that aren’t half the man he was...all of a sudden he’s dead and that’s it.”

The medical examiner at the time of Destry’s death no longer works for Saline County and could not be reached for this story. The sheriff at the time passed away in 2019.