Kimberly J. Bunton does not rest in peace. Her remains are today covered in piles of garbage within an unknown landfill. That’s according to the confessions of the men who threw her body in an anonymous St. Louis dumpster. She died of a fentanyl overdose the same day she was released from jail Dec. 15, 2021.
Any more details of Bunton’s fate will likely never be known. The initial confessor himself also later died of a fentanyl overdose following release from incarceration.
“I hoped if we could find the dumpster, we would know which landfill she’s in,” says Julie Mayfield, Kim Bunton’s only sister. “There are organizations in St. Louis with cadaver dogs that say they can find people even 30 feet down. My mom really wants to find her. The idea of her laying out somewhere is exhausting. Regardless of what got her there, no one should put somebody's body in a dumpster.”
Aug. 26 would have been Bunton’s 56th birthday. With no body or prospect of proper burial, Bunton’s family held the closest thing she’ll have to a funeral in the form of a celebration of life at a Lions Club Park pavilion. The scene there that Friday was yet another snapshot of everyday hell in contemporary America.
“People need to know this stuff happens,” Mayfield says. “For those younger people out there doing drugs, just starting out, you should realize you may end up in a dumpster. You really can. I'm sure my sister never thought it would happen to her, but look at how it ended.”
Kim Bunton, her sister Julie Mayfield and mom Bonnie Duncan were originally from the St. Louis area. They moved to Licking in the early 1990s after a divorce and Bonnie wanting to be closer to her parents. Bunton then was a teenager. Mayfield was still a youngster.
There are some happy memories Mayfield can recall from those days. Although her older sister was nine years her senior, Mayfield remembers the two trading toys and swapping knickknacks during meetups in the house.
“Our childhood was good, but she had difficulties as she got older. She started drinking. That’s how it started,” Mayfield says. “When I was about five, I think I was in kindergarten, and I remember my mom getting a call from the school. Kim had gotten drunk at the bus stop. By the time she made it to school she’d thrown up all over the policeman’s shoes. She would have been 13 or 14 at the time. My mom had to work all the time, so she couldn’t be home to make sure that Kim was doing what she was supposed to be doing.”
Same mother, same economic background, same rural town; but two different lives for the sisters.
“I think she was self-medicating,” Mayfield said. “She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder several times over her life. Back then, when she was younger, they didn’t diagnose you with things like that. You really didn’t talk about mental health back then.”
Bunton in time gave birth to four children, her first child came when she was just 16. They endured many difficulties throughout their lives due to unimaginable family circumstances out of their control.
“I don’t think she got into hard drugs until she was in her 20s,” Mayfield said. “The drugs changed over the years. She did a lot of whatever. It gradually got worse.”
Youthful partying was replaced by mature abuse for Bunton. Optimism gave way to intoxication. On the street, she became known as “Sassy.”
“Finally, it was all just out of control,” Mayfield said. “If I could only make people understand the wake that drugs leave behind in a family.”
Domestic abuse, legal troubles, hospitalizations and struggling for money defined Bunton’s adult life. Mayfield says she put up emotional walls to manage her relationship with her sister through the cycles of recoveries and relapses.
“About two years ago she was clean for a little bit. She had an apartment, and she was working at Goodwill,” Mayfield says. “I was actually starting to interact with her a little bit more. Things were going well. Then, one day, she ran into somebody, and there it was again.”
Bunton’s last day of life began with getting out of the Pulaski County Jail on Dec. 15, 2021. Rolla Police Department case reports provided to Phelps County Focus by Mayfield document her final hours.
A friend told an RPD detective she brought Bunton to Rolla from Waynesville the day of her release and dropped her off at the McDonald’s on Kingshighway. Before being given a change of clothes Bunton had only long-john underpants to wear, an oversized t-shirt that fell to her knees and flip flops.
Bunton told her mother she’d contact a drug rehabilitation program when back in Phelps County to arrange a place to stay. She was no longer allowed to reside with family. Bunton and her mom did make plans to run errands together the next day, but Bunton never arrived. She was also not heard from on Christmas soon after.
The truth was, once in Rolla, Bunton actually called a companion who picked her up at a gas station. Security camera footage showing Bunton begging for a dollar to afford a fountain drink are the last known images of her alive.
Bunton’s whereabouts remained unknown to her family three weeks before she was officially reported missing Jan. 6, 2022. Her mother told RPD detectives that although substance abuse dominated Bunton’s life something must be wrong because her daughter always called home for the holidays. Missing person bulletins were subsequently sent and shared across Missouri.
Rolla’s Edward D. Jones became a person of interest in the disappearance when his phone number was discovered as the one Bunton called right before being dropped off at McDonalds.
When first contacted by Bunton’s mother, Jones told her Kim stayed with him the night of her release but left his Rolla residence the next day without saying a word. Jones repeated the same story when contacted via telephone by law enforcement Jan. 11. However, upon his vehicle being searched during a traffic stop later that day, a total of 75 fentanyl capsules were found within the 2016 Kia Forte. Court documents detail Jones worked as a DoorDash driver and quote him as afterwards admitting to selling drugs while making food deliveries. He was charged with drug trafficking in connection to the discovery.
On the subject of Bunton’s disappearance, Jones also admitted after his arrest he and Bunton had both used fentanyl the night she got out of jail. He said Kenneth Allen was also there. He is father-in-law to one of Bunton’s children. When contacted, Allen corroborated Jones story during a Jan. 12 interview by admitting the three used fentanyl together while sitting around a kitchen table. Allen said he didn’t know what happened to Bunton. He claimed no one was home when he woke up the next day.
Bunton’s final hours
Jones began confessing more Jan. 25 from the Phelps County Jail’s interview room.
“Stop, it’s eatin’ me alive,” he said to an RPD detective.
Jones now said he’d found Bunton passed out in his home’s bathroom breathing raspy after they’d taken fentanyl the night of her release. He said he “worked on her” for hours trying to resuscitate Bunton, but eventually left to make DoorDash deliveries.
Jones said Bunton was on her side lying in the frame of a bedroom door with her legs sticking into the hallway. He covered her with a multicolored red and gray blanket. By the time he returned, Bunton was no longer breathing. Jones said upon finding her dead he called Allen for help, who came along with his friend Benjamin Graham. Together, the three loaded Bunton’s body into the Kia Forte, drove her to St. Louis and threw her in a dumpster.
Which dumpster, and where, Jones could not recall; only that he thought the dumpster was black and in an urban alleyway.
Allen and Graham told similar stories when sitting for interviews the next day.
Allen said he covered Bunton’s face with a towel and they got high before removing her from the hallway. He said Jones agreed to give him drugs in exchange for his help. As for the dumpster, Allen said he thought it was green and somewhere near a Schnucks grocery store around where Interstate 170 intersects with Interstate 270.
Graham said he thought the dumpster was near a big park, around housing units and nearby a car lot or auto repair shop. He added Jones wanted to keep the blanket he’d wrapped Bunton in and instead used plastic drop cloth he found discarded in the alleyway to conceal her body in the dumpster. Afterwards, Graham remembered Jones stopped to buy some more drugs in St. Louis before they all left for Rolla.
Witness accounts are also included in the evidence file. They document confessions from Allen and Jones were heard saying they’d dumped Bunton’s body in a St. Louis dumpster.
Hard evidence obtained by officers confirms details of the stories told by Jones, Allen and Graham. Cellphone records show phones for Jones and Allen were taken to St. Louis and returned to Rolla on Dec. 15, 2021.
Strands of light brown hair were additionally found on the black carpet in the trunk of Jones’ Kia Forte. They’d been treated with red-brown hair coloring. A multicolored blanket was also found in the car.
The final quotes from Jones in the RPD case file are from a Feb. 1 interview. He told a detective what he did to Bunton was “tearing him apart” and he wanted to help find her remains, but that he also wanted an attorney. There was no further discussion.
Jones was dead two months later. Phelps County Coroner Ernie Coverdell reports he was killed April 18 by a fentanyl overdose after spending two days brain dead in the Phelps Health ICU. Jones’ death came less than a month after bonding out of jail.
The last development in Bunton’s case came May 6 when Allen traveled to St. Louis with an RPD detective to find the dumpster where they put her body. Metro law enforcement helped in searches within the cities of Berkeley, Ferguson, and Kinloch. Bunton was not found. Allen also couldn’t remember the exact location of the dumpster.
The whereabouts of Bunton’s body today remains unknown.
Didn’t have to happened
The circumstances of Bunton’s fate are even more frustrating for her family given Missouri’s Good Samaritan Law. In cases where a person is actively seeking emergency medical help for someone overdosing, they and the overdose victim will not face prosecution for minor drug offenses. They include for crimes such as violating probation or parole, possession of a controlled substance, unlawful use of drug paraphernalia and others. The Good Samaritan Law also extends protections for minors seeking help for someone suffering from alcohol poisoning.
In Bunton’s case, Jones could have taken her to the emergency room, or called first responders to administer Narcan or Naloxone when she was first found overdosing. Given his own overdose death, we’ll never know whether Jones’ decision was due to malice or desperate fear of getting in trouble.
“Part of me wants to believe this happened out of ignorance and he just didn’t know about the Good Samaritan Law, but I don’t know,” Mayfield says. “If you leave someone to die, and you know they may die, you’re no longer good. You’re bad. Then to let the rest of us continue to worry when you know the truth. I don’t know how you do all that and keep your soul.”
Bunton’s family thanks the Rolla Police Department for obtaining the confessions of what happened. Benjamin Graham and Kenneth Allen are now incarcerated, but not for the offense of abandoning Bunton’s body. Bunton’s family has been told charges for that are unlikely to be filed. Mayfield says whenever both are considered for release for their drug charges she plans to share Bunton’s story.
“I do not want them on the street,” Mayfield says. “If they can let someone die, they'll do it again. If they can treat someone else’s body like that, what else can they do? It is still unimaginable to us that people can put a body in a dumpster, admit to what they did and still not be charged with at least abandonment of a corpse.”
Kimberly Bunton has no grave for her family to mourn at, and no ashes for them to scatter. There are only memories. On her birthday, Aug. 26, friends and family gathered in a Lions Club Park pavilion to try to find closure.
The ceremony got off to a late start. Bunton’s family waited in hopes they’d all be together, but a 20-minute delay revealed not every one of Kim’s children would make it. Twenty-two people were present. Mayfield opened the ceremony with Bunton’s eldest daughter, Crystal Allen.
“It really warms our hearts to know that people care enough for us and for Kim to come spend time with us and to celebrate her life,” Mayfield said. “In Crystal’s words, she would say that we know that she's in a better place now, but somehow…”
Mayfield’s voice broke as her eyes teared up unable to continue. Allen, her niece, finished her thought.
“In her life, there were a lot of battles, and she tried her best to make it through that,” Allen said. “Even though we will never be able to bring her home, we need to just acknowledge that she lived her life as best she could aside from anything that she might have battled. … She was a Christian and she is with God now. We can all take comfort in knowing that's where she's at even if physically we're not going to be able to bring her home.”
Personal memories of Bunton’s life were then shared. Her celebration of life ended with a balloon release. It was an appropriate gesture. Bunton too was held, rolling with life’s each step and gust, then discarded to a mysterious end.
By the end of Bunton’s celebration of life it was also clear there were more balloons than people. The extras were given as toys to the kids present.
With her death now memorialized, all those who loved Bunton can do is simply share the facts of her life and death. Some days that’s easier than others. Bunton’s mother lives in a senior apartment facing the complex’s dumpsters. Each week is hard.
“You know what she thinks of whenever she sees them come to empty the trash,” Mayfield says.
Although known to be dead, Bunton today remains missing. Her fate is one of countless lives thrown away each year to strife as we all harden to the shared struggles of our neighbors and nation.
“I have a child and know that strong overwhelming feeling to protect them, and that makes me realize just how strong drugs and addiction must be to make my sister and others lose that part of themselves,” Mayfield later concluded. “They have to be completely broken to put themselves and their families through this. … I don’t think people understand, if they’re willing to think about it or care at all. Addiction can happen to anyone and in any family. It’s doesn’t discriminate. All kinds of people can find themselves in these situations. I wish it didn’t take you having to live through it to really understand.”