A neighborhood dispute turned deadly Monday after a 72-year-old scientist gunned down a well-known Carmel Valley attorney and his wife.

Monterey County sheriff's deputies said Melvin Noble Grimes, 58, and Elizabeth Ellington Grimes, 55, were shot to death after a bizarre incident in which their neighbor, John Franklin Kenney, placed a boulder at the base of the Grimes' driveway, blocking access to their house.

The shootings reportedly occurred while Melvin Grimes was attempting to move the boulder, which had been dropped off about 3 p.m. Monday, behind the Grimes' Volkswagen bus.

It was the final episode in a well-documented feud between Kenney and the Grimes, who shared a private driveway off Hitchcock Canyon Road, near Carmel Valley Village. Over the years, amid a dispute over whether the Grimes' carport was built legally and whose property it was on - accusations of disorderly conduct and harassment flew as the neighbors blamed each another for rattling windows, poisoning pets and dumping trash.

Kenney reportedly is an oil exploration specialist who has pushed a theory that oil is formed from inorganic material. He apparently maintains other households - in France and in Texas - but has been active in Carmel Valley land-use politics.

Melvin Grimes was a prominent defense attorney with an office in Salinas. An avid runner, bicyclist and surfer, Grimes recently joined the Monterey Blues Festival board. His wife, an artist, also volunteered with the festival.


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The couple were found in their carport about 15 minutes after Elizabeth Grimes called to 911 to report an altercation about 5:30 p.m. Monday. Mel Grimes was pronounced dead at the scene, while Elizabeth Grimes died en route to a trauma center in San Jose.

Sheriff Mike Kanalakis said deputies had been called to the scene earlier Monday after Kenney's attorney, Nicholas Cvietkovich, asked for a "civil standby" when the boulder was delivered. Cvietkovich wanted deputies on hand to keep the peace, Kanalakis said.

"With a civil standby, it is not for the sheriff's police to take a side in a civil matter," Kanalakis said during a news conference in Salinas on Tuesday. "Our role is to ensure and keep the peace - and not law enforcement."

Kanalakis said an investigation is ongoing. He also said Kenney did not possess a permit to carry the semiautomatic handgun that investigators believe was used in the crime. Kanalakis declined to say who owned the weapon.

According to deputies, a "hysterical" Elizabeth Grimes called 911 to report a dispute between her husband and Kenney. The woman made no mention of gunfire during that call, Kanalakis said.

Shortly after, dispatchers received a call from Kenney, who reported being harassed by his neighbor.

When deputies arrived at the Grimes residence about 15 minutes later, they found the couple on the ground in their carport, with wounds wounds from a semiautomatic handgun.

Deputies then spotted Kenney on his property and approached him. Kenney turned to enter his house but stopped when told he was under arrest.

Sheriff's Cmdr. Malcolm Gray said Kenney did not resist arrest, but declined to comment further.

Investigators secured a search warrant and found the weapon suspected in the slayings inside Kenney's house, Kanalakis said.

"We still have a lot of information we're sifting through," Kanalakis said. "In a double murder like this, there's a tremendous amount of evidence that needs to be analyzed and catalogued."

Kenney remains in Monterey County jail in lieu of $2 million bail. He is expected to be arraigned this week.

Contact Laith Agha at lagha@montereyherald.com or (831)646-4358.