Murder charges have been filed in the death of Matthew Eldenburg, who died in a fire at his South Grand Avenue home June 23.
Aran T. Cantrell, 22, of the 300 block of East Second Street, and Cody Harvey, 23, of the 1500 block of South Vermont Avenue, were arrested June 29, each on charges of first degree arson. As of Thursday, charges of first degree murder have been filed against both suspects.
Sedalia Police Department Sgt. Kelley Casto, Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney Phillip Sawyer and Pettis County Coroner Robert “Skip” Smith all repeatedly told the Democrat over the last two months they were waiting on autopsy results, conducted at the Boone County Medical Examiner’s Office in early July, before Smith would issue an official cause of death and before Casto or Sawyer would consider additional charges. Autopsy results were returned Aug. 16.
“We needed to wait for autopsy results to show (Eldenburg) was alive to show he was murdered,” Smith explained Wednesday afternoon. “If he was not alive at the time of the house fire, then there’s not a homicide. We had to prove he was alive at the time of the fire, that’s why that was so critical having (those results) back.
“The autopsy showed he was alive,” Smith added. “Results showed he had soot in his airways and his blood levels showed carbon monoxide in his blood.”
“My office was waiting until we received the official report of autopsy and we received that report. It provides information that Mr. Eldenburg was alive at the time of the fire,” Sawyer told the Democrat Wednesday morning. “After receiving that information a grand jury was convened last week to consider the charges that are now filed. They returned an indictment, and I filed charges late Thursday afternoon.”
“According to Medical Examiner Dr. Deiter Duff, M.D., Matthew Eldenburg had soot present in the larynx, trachea, bronchi, and within the intraparenchymal airways in the lungs. There was also soot on the tongue,” court documents state. “In addition, Dr. Duff, M.D., stated that the cause of death was inhalation of products of combustion due to a fire.”
Around 1:15 p.m. June 23, Sedalia Fire Department crews responded to a house fire at 1903 S. Grand Ave., after a SPD officer on patrol called in a report of flames at the residence. Upon arrival, crews found “heavy smoke and fire” coming from the single-story residence, according to SFD Chief Mike Ditzfeld.
The victim, Matthew Eldenburg, 30, of the residence, was found by firefighters on primary search of the residence in the kitchen area. After paramedics tried to resuscitate him, Eldenburg was pronounced dead at Bothwell Regional Health Center around 3 p.m.
The Missouri Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire was arson and accelerants were used, according to court documents.
According to court documents, several witnesses identified Cantrell as a suspect and he was located June 29, arrested on a no-bond Benton County warrant and brought to SPD for questioning.
Cantrell told detectives Eldenburg was unconscious on the couch, admitting to getting gasoline from the garage and pouring it on Eldenburg. He said an accomplice, identified as Harvey, lit Eldenburg on fire. Cantrell said he poured gas throughout the house and that Harvey lit the fire with the stove’s natural gas turned on, both leaving the house once the fire began.
Harvey was then questioned by detectives, but he maintained he was not involved in the fire. However, he was unable to give an explanation as to where he was from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 23, and admitted to being in an argument with Eldenburg the night before.
Both Cantrell and Harvey are still at the Pettis County Jail on $250,000 bonds, cash or surety. Both suspects were arraigned Friday. They both appeared in court again Monday before Judge Robert Kauffman. Harvey’s attorney requested a change of judge, which was granted, but a new judge has yet to be assigned. Cantrell’s attorney also requested a change of judge, which was granted. Sawyer said he was not aware of “any particular reason” why the two parties requested a change of judge.
Since a judge has not been assigned to either case, a venue and future court dates have not been set.
Range of punishment for a first degree murder charge is life imprisonment without the possibility of probation or parole, or the death penalty. Sawyer said he had no comment at this time about which punishment his office will be seeking.
“I hope everyone will respect (the Eldenburgs’) privacy and everything they’re going through right now,” Sawyer said. “Any questions, concerns or thoughts regarding this case, whether it’s individuals or media, they should direct their requests to my office and please allow the Eldenburgs to go through this as peacefully as possible.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.