David Graves, 44, of Bloomington, Calif. has had two years of misery beyond the trials of Job. His wife left him, he lost a fight and, most recently, he was convicted of malicious mischief. His crime: killing 15 million bees that belonged to a neighbor he despised.
Graves’s woes began in September 1974, when Joan, his wife for 11 years, walked out with their children, Aaron, now 9, and Becky, 7, and sued for divorce. Soon after her divorce from Graves, Joan, 34, married the neighbor, Harold Knoefler, 41, whom Graves had known for 19 years. Both men kept bees in Bloomington, a dusty desert town on the outskirts of San Bernardino. Knoefler had 10,000 to 12,000 hives. Graves’s operation was more modest, involving 800 to 1,000 hives and a small honey-packing plant called Cucamonga.
Relations between the two apiarists went from bad to worse, partly, Graves says, because of a dispute over his visitation rights. Knoefler, he claims, broke his windshield in May 1975, and he retaliated by smashing a window in Knoefler’s pickup truck.
That night, according to Graves, the two men fought. “He nearly beat me to a pulp,” moans Graves, adding that he needed 11 stitches in his head. He caused Knoefler to be charged with assault with a deadly weapon (a metal pipe), but a jury acquitted Knoefler.
Last October, some seven million bees died mysteriously at three apiaries owned by Knoefler in Nebraska, and he accused Graves of the deed. The Nebraska case is pending. In December 1975 and early this year, according to court testimony, Graves and one of his employees, David Allred, slithered among Knoefler’s white-painted Ventura County, Calif. hives, spraying Cyanogas, a cyanide-like fumigant, and wiping out the 15 million bees. A jury, influenced by the testimony of Allred, who admitted his complicity, found Graves guilty. He was ordered to pay Knoefler $20,000 and serve 120 days in jail. Now out on bail, Graves is appealing. He also faces a $4 million civil suit brought by Knoefler.
Fees paid to the seven lawyers who have handled his various legal entanglements already have cost Graves $20,000. Appeals could drag on for six years and eventually cost him three times that much. Graves stoutly proclaims his innocence. “I think I’m going to win,” he says bravely. “I don’t think the real story has been brought out. Besides, even if I lose, I can always start again. After all, it’s only money.”