On April 1, 2018 Jenni McGruder was celebrating her birthday with her husband and some friends. When leaving the Seminary Street Pub in Galesburg, Jenni was shot and killed by a stray bullet from the gun of Jonathan Kelly. Michael McGruder was suddenly left as a single dad raising their two kids Ryleigh and Ryker, who are now 4 and 2.
Three weeks later a tattoo artist in the Peoria are wanted to host a benefit for the McGruder family. Mario Davis owns InkCapital in the Sunnyland area decided to hold a two-day fundraiser offering small 3×3 tattoos for $50 each. All the proceeds were to be given to the McGruder family. Davis called on other tattoo artists including Billy Albert from Sin in Skin Ink in Bartonville. “I was all in right away,” Albert said when asked to help out with the benefit. Albert brought three artists plus himself and equipment to Sunnyland where they worked for two days straight with Davis and his artists to raise thousands for the McGruders.
The total amount raised varies depending on who you ask. Mario Davis says it was between six and seven thousand. Billy Albert says he was told they raised just under ten thousand. Still others like Michael McGruder claim they were told it was up to 13 thousand dollars. A week after the fundraiser McGruder said he was contacted by Davis about getting him the money. According to McGruder, at first Davis offered to write a check and present it to him and his kids. Then McGruder says Davis told him they didn’t raise as much as they wanted, but he would deposit it into the Go Fund Me account already established. McGruder said that was the last he heard from Davis. A quick check of the Go Fund Me account history, the highest donations are $1395 and $1000 from anonymous sources. Well below what was collected over April 21-22, 2018 at InkCapital.
Several months after the benefit, Billy Albert began hearing some whispers. He was being told the family they raised the money for never received it. So he began doing some digging. He asked Michael McGruder if he got the money. He said no. He asked the founder of the Go Fund Me if they received the money. He said no. He checked with McGruder about any other funds it may have gone into. He said the Jenni Howe Memorial Fund never got a donation from Davis or the event. “We worked really hard for that family. The whole point was to raise the money for these kids. It’s a betrayal of you, the public, the industry, my artists, his artists,” explained Albert.
Finally, 8 months after the benefit, Albert and another one of his artists decided to file a police report in East Peoria. They thought the money was stolen. They filed the report on December 3, 2018. That day Michael McGruder was at work, teaching Elementary P.E. when he got a call from the police. They asked him if he ever got the money and if he could provide screenshots of conversations with Davis.
McGruder said that was the last he heard from the police and didn’t think much about the whole thing until recently. Mario Davis was visited by the police also. He showed them his point-of-sale records and showed them screenshots of messages between him and Michael McGruder. He said he handed McGruder the money personally. All cash in a bank envelope type bag.
That’s where the two stories don’t add up. And where McGruder says Davis created an imposter Facebook account to act like Michael McGruder and send messages to himself, claiming to having received the money. Screenshots of that conversation he says were used to post on social media as a record of innocence by Davis.
That conversation that McGruder says is fabricated can be seen below.
Davis insists he did not make a fake account to impersonate McGruder and that he did not take the money. He said, “I gave the money to the family member..Michael McGruder, the husband.”
Davis also said the whole situation was buried for over a year, and now due to flagrant posts on social media it’s resurfacing. Jealousy. That’s the reason he says other tattoo artists in the greater Peoria area are spreading these “lies” about him, his business, and his family. He says they have received death threats from people online and his business is suffering because the court of public opinion has deemed him guilty, when he assures us he is innocent.
The East Peoria police department did respond to an interview request. They are still investigating the incident and collecting evidence to determine where the money went, who is telling the truth, and who is telling lies.
This story will be updated as the investigation unfolds to find the missing money.