Carrie Rengers

Former Twigs owners shocked, relieved by arson arrest

Jim Dobson-Kelley, left, and his husband, Iven Kelley-Dobson, on the highest terrace at their San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, home on Thursday morning, hours after learning that an arrest has been made in the 2005 fire at their former Wichita store, Twigs.
Jim Dobson-Kelley, left, and his husband, Iven Kelley-Dobson, on the highest terrace at their San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, home on Thursday morning, hours after learning that an arrest has been made in the 2005 fire at their former Wichita store, Twigs. Courtesy photo

Iven Kelley-Dobson and his husband, Jim Dobson-Kelley, have a morning routine at their home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

They have coffee, watch CNN and check The Wichita Eagle’s website, Kansas.com, for news from their former Wichita home.

Thursday was no different, except when Kelley-Dobson checked the website, he started screaming.

“I screamed and just started crying,” he says.

Dobson-Kelley quickly replied in Spanish with a word that means “tell me.”

“Dime, dime, dime!” he said.

Kelley-Dobson said Jason Stever was arrested in connection with the Dec. 28, 2005, blaze that burned down Twigs, their former floral and retail shop on East Douglas just east of Grove.

“We just kind of both started crying, because we didn’t think this was ever going to happen,” Kelley-Dobson says.

“Since 7:30 this morning, I have just been shaking,” Dobson-Kelley says.

He says he’s been “just reliving every moment” from the 3:30 a.m. call he and Kelley-Dobson received on that December day.

It’s a day they marked each year until the 10th anniversary, last year, when they say they forgot until a day or two later.

“That’s when we realized that it was finally, finally just getting behind us,” Dobson-Kelley says.

It’s been a lot to overcome, say the two, who were under investigation after the fire. Even once they were officially cleared, Dobson-Kelley says they were unofficially implicated by many in the community. Part of the reason is Kelley-Dobson was about $200,000 behind in taxes.

Dobson-Kelley likes to paraphrase actress Elizabeth Taylor when thinking about the situation.

“Everybody needs to have something controversial happen in their life, because that’s when they learn who their true friends are,” he says.

“So many people that we thought were friends totally abandoned us.”

The two were told prosecutors had filed a case against Stever in 2010 but that he couldn’t be located. They then started a Facebook page in an attempt to help authorities track down Stever after sightings around the country.

Kelley-Dobson reopened Twigs near Central and Woodlawn, and Dobson-Kelley went to work there, too, to help him with accounting, among other things.

“We mutually decided that for us, we needed to rebuild,” Dobson-Kelley says. “We needed to show that we were strong.”

Kelley-Dobson says he paid back the taxes in three years and kept the store for two more. When his lease was up, he and Dobson-Kelley moved to Mexico.

They’re now trying to contact Wichita officials for information about the arrest and what the next steps are. They want to return to face Stever, they say.

“I would like to ask, ‘Why?’” Kelley-Dobson says.

He says he and and his husband didn’t know Stever, though they did see him about twice a week at Uptown Bistro, a former Old Town restaurant where he says Stever once worked.

“I guess it will be interesting to see what he has to say.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers

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