Derick Volner, 24, and Presley Winterberg, 17, both of West Plains, were arrested on March 22 by the Howell County Sheriff's Department for break-ins and vandalism in four southern Missouri counties. A 16- year-old juvenile is also being charged.
The investigation spread into Fulton and Izard Counties, as Howell County investigators questioned the suspects.
"People around here had about given up hope, and they really wanted justice," Viola Mayor Jackie Estes told The News. "People are pretty happy right now."
That happiness is over word that a Christmas Day burglary and vandalism at the Mount Calm Church, and vandalism in the cemetery across the street are believed solved, along with even worse vandalism at the Viola Cemetery and a break-in at the Viola First Baptist Church.
The Christmas Day spree continued as the culprits worked their way down Highway 223, breaking into a home and churches at Wild Cherry, Hebron and Mt. Pisgah. Equipment at a gravel pit in Mitchell was also damaged.
"I've been getting all the crimes and charges together, and plan to meet with prosecutors to get charges filed," Izard County Sheriff Tate Lawrence said.
Lawrence is still reviewing other unsolved cases but has, so far, connected the three Missouri residents with nine Izard County crimes, which began in December and continued into March. They include the destruction of grave markers at the Old Philadelphia Cemetery, the theft of copper wiring from a church off Guion Road, a break-in and theft at the Tally Ho Club outside of Melbourne, the theft of property from a home and farm on Highway 223, the theft of property at Wise's Chapel in Pineville, two break-ins involving theft at a City of Calico Rock warehouse, and another recent break-in at the Tally Ho Club, in which liquor was stolen.
One other Izard County crime was, perhaps, the most malicious -- vandalism at the Oxford Fire Department's Brockwell Substation, in which three fire trucks were disabled, hampering fire protection in southern Izard County.
Sheriff Lawrence says he was shocked to learn three youth from Missouri were responsible.
"When we investigated the Brockwell break-in, one of the first questions I asked was, 'Has the fire department made someone mad or run-off a firefighter?' Lawrence said. "It was a surprise that most of this was pure vandalism. I wish I had another motive that made more sense."
Lawrence provided an answer for one question -- how could three people from Missouri find isolated, rural Arkansas churches and cemeteries without someone from the local area to guide them?
"My investigator (who questioned the suspects) told me I would recognize the oldest one (Volner), because he's been at many funerals around here," Lawrence said. "He was the leader of the group, and worked for a monument and vault company, so he knew the whereabouts of the cemeteries in the area."
According to Lawrence, he will ask that the juveniles -- the 17-year- old female and the 16-year- old male -- be tried as adults because of the severity of the crimes.
"I am thrilled," Kathy Stone, a member of the Viola Cemetery board, said on Saturday, March 31, during a work day at the Viola Cemetery.
Stone was thrilled at news of the arrest of the vandals, and the big turn out for the work day.
"We usually have about 10 or so people for a cemetery clean up," Stone said. "Today, we have two or three times that. People want to see this cemetery get back to normal."
One of the workers was Viola resident Donald Montgomery, who called police on Christmas Eve after discovering the vandalism.
"My nephew, Adam, was over to my house Christmas Day, and left to visit his father's grave," Michael Montgomery recalled. "He called me when he got there and said the wind had blown over his father's tombstone."
By the time Montgomery arrived, it was dark but, when he shined a spotlight around the cemetery, he saw extensive damage. The marker for his brother, Steve (Adam's father), was among the worse damaged.
"That was a terrible way for Christmas Day to end," Montgomery said. "I'm just glad someone was finally arrested. Trouble is, they don't have any money for restitution, so I hope they at least get strong punishment by the courts."
Three months after the hurtful vandalism, the Viola Cemetery shows few signs of the damage. Monument companies in Mountain Home and West Plains came to the cemetery and righted tombstones and secured them to their bases with epoxy. Broken vases and figurines have been replaced by families.
"We're bouncing back," Montgomery said.
On March 31, there was activity all over the cemetery, as volunteers painted, raked and burned leaves, operated weed eaters and attended to graves, including adding dirt and grass to cover low spots.
"I was relieved that no one from Viola was involved," Janis Williams said as she raked leaves. "It would have made it even worse to know local people were involved in something like this."
Fulton and Izard County investigators, who interviewed the suspects at length, have recommended the charges they believe should be filed.
It is now up to prosecutors to make the final decisions, and put the charges on court documents.