Friday, August 8, 2014

The Summer of 1970: K.U.’s Kent State

The Summer of 1970: K.U.’s Kent State by Paul Fecteau is now available on Scribd.

This Cold Case Kansas special covers the political unrest in Lawrence, Kansas, that led to the deaths of Rick "Tiger" Dowdell and Nick Rice. Dowdell was shot by police on July 16, 1970. Rice was shot when patrolmen opened fire on a crowd outside the Gaslight Tavern four days later. Interviewed for this account were writer Jim Girard, historian Rusty Monhollon, and Rice's mother. The article appeared in the tmi Weekly in 2009.  View it in its original format for free on Scribd.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Iola's Darkest Days: The Murders of Betty Cantrell and Sally Hutton

by Susan Schmitz

On October 2, 1969, students were enjoying an Iola Junior High football game, and nobody could foresee the horror that was about to befall one of their own. Nobody expects tragedy to happen in a small town and definitely not twice within a week. This particular week started off with tragedy and would end with more tragedy than anyone in the town could have imagined.

A couple days before on September 30, 1969, Betty Cantrell reported to work around 2:00 am. She was opening the diner, getting ready for the morning to start. The last time Cantrell was seen alive was at 4:30 am at the Dine-Out CafĂ© when a police officer drove by the diner. Nobody else was scheduled to report to work until 5:00 am. At 5:00 am, co-workers found the lights in the diner shutoff and Cantrell’s car missing. Her car was found that morning at the south end of First Street, near the creek. There was no sign of Mrs. Cantrell, so the search for her continued.

On October 2, 1969, while the police were still searching for Mrs. Cantrell, Sally Hutton, a 14-year-old girl, was like any normal teenager who loved to hang out with friends and support her school football team. A friend recalls seeing Sally there that night, but there was no talk of what was going on after the game. Sally was not hanging out with anyone in particular that night. The friend was not able to recall anything strange or out of the ordinary.

After the game was over, sometime between 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm, two witnesses saw Sally leave the football game with a young man in his car. The witnesses were not able to give the name of the man, but they were able to provide a vague description of him and the vehicle he was driving. The two individuals saw the car drive away into the night, not knowing that it would be the very last time they would see Sally Hutton alive.

There is a lot of speculation about what went on after Sally left the football game, but nobody really knows for sure. The only thing certain is that Sally did not return home the next morning and that is when her family began to worry. They contacted all of her friends, but nobody had seen her since the football game. Shortly after noon on Friday, October 3, the body of Sally Ann Hutton was found in a ditch a mile north of the Allen County Country Club. The body was 100 yards east at the intersection of 2000th Street and North Dakota Road on an old dirt road, reputed to be a “lovers’ lane.” No attempt had been made to hide her body which was visible to any passerby.

Sally was severely beaten in the face and head with a tire iron or similar object. She also had a broken leg and an injury to her back. It looked as though Sally may have been run over by a car. Something was not right about where Sally’s body was found. There was very little blood at the site. It appeared that Sally may have been murdered in another spot and then thrown into the ditch later. The autopsy confirmed that the amount of blood lost during the murder was not consistent with the amount of blood in the ditch where she was found.

It did not appear that Sally had been sexually attacked and her clothes were still in place. The autopsy was able to show that Sally’s death was a result of severe blows to her face and head. The autopsy also showed that Sally suffered additional injuries that may have been caused from being run over by a car. It was confirmed during the autopsy that Sally had not had sexual intercourse prior to her death.

On the evening of October 3, 1969, around 5:00 pm, the body of Betty Cantrell was found. Joe Maloney, who lived on the south end of the Kentucky Street Bridge, saw the body floating in Elm creek and called police. Her body had been floating in the creek a couple days. Cantrell, a 28-year-old mother of two, had been beaten in the back of the head, possibly by a rock that was discovered by the creek covered in blood. The autopsy concluded that Mrs. Cantrell was killed by being drowned in Elm Creek.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation found no connection between the Betty Cantrell and Sally Hutton murders. Although the murders occurred days apart and make people wonder, a confession in the Cantrell case appears to put such speculation to rest. The police brought in a man named Shoemaker who was seen in the area where Cantrell’s body had been found. He confessed to the crime, but his confession got thrown out because he was drunk at the time he confessed.

Sally Hutton’s unsolved murder will haunt those who knew Sally or have heard about her murder. People will always wonder what actually happened that fateful night and who committed the crime? People will continue to thumb through old newspapers and yearbooks trying to find pieces to this unsolved murder that has everyone puzzled. Many may sit and look at old yearbooks and wonder if the person who killed Sally is staring right back at them.

There has been a lot of speculation about the murder of Sally Hutton. Sitting around, everyone has a theory on who committed the murder. Could it have been an individual whose family was wealthy, one of the town bad boys, or someone close to Sally? Why would someone murder Sally? Did Sally hang out with the wrong crowd, was she a little promiscuous and things got out of control or was it a stranger who she ran into late that night? Those questions run through the minds of those who have heard about Sally’s murder and the stories that have been spread around town over the years. Without answers, all people have is speculation. After all the speculation, people then sit around wondering if in fact any of the stories are true and what really happened to Sally Hutton. Maybe one day we will know the truth, but for now we are left with speculation.

It has been over 40 years since Sally Ann Hutton was murdered, but the investigation is still ongoing. Sally’s family wants justice, and no matter how long it takes, they will continue to search for the truth. Someone out there knows what happened that fateful night. Others may have what seem inconsequential recollections. Any information may shed light on the case and help bring justice for Sally and her family. If you know anything regarding the murder of Sally Ann Hutton, please contact the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at 785-296-8200.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cold Case Kansas Yahoo Discussion Group

Susan Schmitz is moderating the Cold Case Kansas Yahoo! Group at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coldcasekansas/

Comments related to cases featured on this 'blog as well as other Kansas unsolveds may be posted there.

You may also contact Susan directly at raven@coldcasekansas.com with any suggestions, corrections, or comments regarding Cold Case Kansas.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mother Clings to Memories of Murdered Son While his Killer Continues to Escape Justice

by Paul Fecteau

This article originally appeared in the February 4, 2009, issue of tmiWeekly.

Mattie Anderson makes fried chicken on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her family--including her mother, Willia Mae, and her brother, former Topeka Mayor James McClinton--would be satisfied with the turkey and dressing which she also serves, but they know why the chicken is included: it is for Damon, her eldest son. Fried chicken was his favorite dish, and he always asked Mattie and his aunt Bobbie Jean to make it for him on holidays. Mattie and Bobbie Jean keep up the tradition despite the sad fact that this latest holidayseason marked the family’s ninth without
Damon. He was gunned down in front of his home on Valentine’s Day, 2000, and his murderer remains at large.

A Topeka native, Damon Anderson graduated from Highland Park High School and attended Highland Community College. He was star baseball player. Although he appeared imposing and would not let himself be pushed around, he was known around town for his good humor and kindness. He was only twenty-five years old and full of plans for the future. He had a five-year-old daughter.

On Valentine’s Day, 2000, Damon worked at his job with Great Plains Locating Services and in the evening drove his work truck home to the house in the 900 block of S.E. 11th where he
was staying with his Aunt Bobbie Jean. Her three children shared a room with a window facing the street, and one of them, who was only eight at the time, recalls cousin Damon looking in on them that night. Damon told them to be sure and get to bed on time because it was a school night. Damon then left in his work truck, headed to Sonic to pick up some dinner.

Future mayor, then city councilman, James McClinton was home that evening. He glanced out a window and was surprised to see his nephew Damon’s truck outside, but before he could make it to the door, Damon drove away. Damon did not usually drop by his uncle’s house unless he had something important to discuss. To this day, McClinton wonders if Damon knew he was in danger and had come to ask for his help, only to change his mind.

Damon returned to the house on 11th Street, and tragedy unfolded.

His eight-year-old cousin heard Damon’s truck pull into the drive. Moments later, a car playing loud music drove up followed by another car. The cousin looked out the window and saw a small yellow car in the street and in the drive Damon talking to three men. The cousin did not think much of it and looked away from the window. He then heard Damon exclaim, “Come on, Man,”
in a frantically dismayed voice. Before the cousin could look out the window again, a burst of gunfire ripped through the night.

When Damon had walked away from the men, one of them had opened fire. Several bullets missed, striking the house, but one hit Damon in the back of the head. Damon collapsed on the front porch. Police and an ambulance responded at about 10:00 p.m. Damon was rushed to Stormont-Veil where he died.

Years have passed, but Mattie and Willia Mae Anderson continue to grieve for Damon, grief made worse by the likelihood that his killer remains in their community. “I wonder,” Mattie says, “if I’ve stood near him.”

The rumor persists that the identity of the murderer remains widely known in Topeka but that no one will come forward due to fear of possible retribution.

A variety of theories also circulate regarding the reason behind the slaying. Many of these stories tie the killing to the drug trade, but the Andersons maintain that Damon had no involvement whatsoever in illegal drugs, and they chalk up such suggestions to the kind of stereotyping that causes the media and even the authorities to write off all black-on-black crime as due to drugs.

The Andersons do think it possible that a fi ght Damon was in two weeks before had something to do with his murder. The altercation took place at a local barber shop, and Damon got the
better of it. What spurred Damon and an unknown man to violence remains unknown.

Perhaps someone who knows or who has other information will have the courage to come forward. Mattie, Willa Mae, and the rest of the family cling to hope that a break in the case will
come, and they continue to cling to their memories of Damon.

If you can in any way shed light on who killed Damon Anderson, please contact the detectives at the Topeka Police Department at 368-9400.

UPDATE: January 9, 2014: Monroe Lockhart III is charged with Damon Anderson's murder, see http://cjonline.com/news/2014-01-09/da-death-penalty-not-option-lockharts-two-homicide-cases

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Mysterious Death of Alonzo Brooks


by Susan Schmitz and Paul Fecteau

On a remote back road in Linn County, a desolate farm house and the woods and creek that surround it hold a secret about the death of a young man. On an April night in 2004, this remote setting may have witnessed the foulest of deeds. A group of young people probably know what happened but to this day remain as silent as the trees that flank that forlorn creek.

Those young people came together at that rural home a couple miles outside of La Cygne in east central Kansas on the night of April 3 for a party. Quite a few of the guests came from out of town, including two carloads that made the trek down from the Kansas City suburb of Gardner. One of the young men in one of those cars was a 23-year-old African-American named Alonzo Brooks. He was one of only a few blacks at the party.

Brooks had graduated from Topeka High and moved to Gardner to work for his stepfather’s janitorial company. He had a reputation for being mild-mannered and good humored. He often babysat his nieces and nephews. He occasionally spoke of one day owning a farm.

On the night of the party, he dressed in a short-sleeved dress shirt, jeans, boots and a hat. His ride pulled up around eight. A white kid named Edward Smith, who accompanied Brooks that night, had long been a close and trusted friend.

At the party, Smith and Brooks remained together most of the time. Smith recalls nothing out of the ordinary. He and Alonzo talked, drank, danced a little, and got high.

Some time between midnight and one, Smith decided he wanted to go home. He called Brooks over and the two huddled beneath a tree, talking about what to do. Brooks decided he wanted to stay and could get a ride back with the other car that had come down from Gardner. Smith told him to have fun then drove home.

The next morning, Smith phoned Brooks and was shocked to hear his mother say that her son had not returned. Staying out all night was out of character for Alonzo. Worried, Smith immediately drove back to La Cygne. He walked into the farm house and quizzed the party’s hosts. They had not seen Alonzo, they said. When Smith returned to Gardner, he continued to try to contact kids who had been at the party. The owner of the other car that had gone to the party from Gardner confirmed that he had promised Alonzo a ride home--a promise he was unable to fulfill because he had left the party to get cigarettes and gotten into an accident.

Alonzo’s family notified the Linn County Sheriff’s Department, and in the days that followed their investigation did little to settle anyone’s fears. Party-goers provided sketchy information regarding a fight that may have taken place around 3 or 4 a.m. Some said racial slurs were hurled. Deputies visited the party house and nearby found Alonzo’s hat and boots. In the ensuing weeks, the F.B.I. joined the investigation because of the implications that Alonzo had been targeted because he was black. Kansas City Star reporter John Dvorak went to La Cygne and found the townspeople reluctant to believe that any of that hatred could be homegrown. They pointed to a rumor circulating that the authorities had a suspect who came from Nebraska.

Smith learned little else from the kids who had stayed at the party that night and turned his attention to helping the family in its efforts to keep Alonzo’s disappearance in the public eye. Kansas City mayor pro-tem Alvin Brooks, no relation to Alonzo, and his anti-crime group Move Up got involved. Family members circulated T-shirts and posters that bore Alonzo’s picture and the phrase “Lost but NOT Forgotten.”

The authorities conducted six searches of the land surrounding the party house. Low-flying helicopters buzzed the tree tops. Sherriff’s deputies marched through the brush shoulder to shoulder. Cadaver-sniffing dogs were brought in. Divers from Lee’s Summit Underwater Rescue and Recovery explored the muddy bottom nearby of Middle Creek. These efforts produced nothing. No more searches were planned.

On May 1, with Alonzo gone nearly a month, more than fifty family members and friends, many from Topeka, arrived to conduct their own search. They outfitted themselves in orange vests, passed out walkie-talkies, and prepared for a long day. It took less than an hour, however, before they discovered Alonzo’s body.

A group approached Middle Creek and saw the body lying on a tangle of brush.

The remains were transported to Shawnee County where seasoned pathologist Dr. Erik Mitchell performed the autopsy. He found nothing indicating that Brooks had suffered any fatal wounds. His report listed the cause of death as undefined. Not all aspects of his findings have been made public.

Linn County Sheriff Marvin Sites initially declared that Brooks had been murdered, but a few days later retracted that statement and stipulated that his office was conducting a death investigation. The location where the body was found had been previously searched numerous times, Sites acknowledged. His account of how the body wound up where it did was a little cryptic: “Nature had to take its course,” he said.

The subsequent investigation seemed to stall quickly. The F.B.I. ceased its involvement due to lack of evidence that a hate crime had been committed. The case slipped from the headlines. Edward Smith was left to muse over what might have happened to his best friend, and Alonzo’s family had to go on with a hole in their lives where their loved one had been.

Now, over six years later, their loss remains as painful as ever, but Alonzo’s friends and family have not given up hope. Neither has current Linn County Sheriff Barry Walker. The investigation remains active and buoyed by the chance that someone who was at the party that terrible night will put aside whatever fear or misplaced loyalty might be preventing him or her from coming forward. If you have any information that could help, please contact the Linn County Sheriff’s Department at (913) 795-2665.

Editor’s Note: The name “Edward Smith” has been used to conceal the privacy of the individual to whom it refers.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

35 Years Later, Coldest Case Not Forgotten

by Paul Fecteau
This article originally appeared in the November 13, 2008, issue of tmiWeekly.

On a mild, mid-August night, the lazy drone of traffic that settled upon the edges of Kansas City like fog was split by the cry of sirens. Flashing lights warped the shadows as they surrounded a single, stationary vehicle on the side of Antioch Road. Neighbors and motorists told a ghastly tale.

A woman was driving north on Antioch. A red car followed, suddenly pulling up along side the woman’s car. The woman accelerated, but the red car caught up with her. As the two vehicles approached the stop sign at Merriam Drive, a gun shot rang out. The red car sped away.

The witnesses who raced to the woman’s car at about 11:15 p.m. on the night of August 14, 1973, found the woman slumped to the passenger seat. She had been shot in the head.

The woman was 20-year-old Dana Whisler. An ambulance rushed her to Shawnee Mission Hospital and then another to K.U. Medical Center where she died. The bullet had entered her left temple and exited the right. She had no other injuries.

At about 1:30 a.m., a man phoned the Shawnee Mission Hospital and asked a nurse if a woman had been admitted with a gunshot wound to the head, neck, or shoulder. The nurse said she couldn’t give out information, and the man hung up. He has never been identified.

Back at the scene of the shooting, Overland Park Police Patrolman Steve Denton had been the fi rst member of law enforcement to arrive. He found the victim’s driver’s side window partially rolled down. The passenger’s side window was up, and both doors were locked. Denton discovered a bullet from a large-caliber revolver in the front seat. Other officers arrived, canvassed the area around the car, but discovered no more evidence.

The red car described by witnesses had vanished. The area seemed tailor-made for such a getaway. The intersection was on the edge of Overland Park, and if the vehicle continued heading north, as onlookers indicated it did, it would slip into the dense residential neighborhoods of Kansas City, Kansas. If the car turned around, I-35 was just three blocks south. In the ensuing days, police put out an alert for a red 1965 or 1966 Ford with square taillights.

Captain Ronald Jackson, Overland Park’s Chief of Detectives, worked the case in conjunction with the Kansas City Metro Squad. A team of 34 detectives conducted 675 interviews, mostly with Dana Whisler’s co-workers, friends, and family.

As the investigators profiled the victim, the press was not far behind. Kansas City Kansan reporter Gloria Vobejda interviewed her parents. Kansas City Star reporter O.D. Smith interviewed her boyfriend. The portrait of Dana Whisler that emerged made it clear that Kansas City was all the poorer for her loss.

Dana had graduated in 1971 from Turner High School where she had been on the honor roll and a member of the student council. She resided with her parents and worked as a bookkeeper for the Public Finance Corporation. Everyone she had contact with liked her. Detectives began to suspect that Dana had not known her killer, that she had been chosen primarily because she was young and beautiful.

On the night of the murder, she had worked late, covering the duties of a coworker who was on vacation. She left at about 7 p.m. and, as was her routine, went to the home of her boyfriend. The twenty-one year old worked the late shift as a switchman for Santa Fe.

The two had been dating for over a year and a half. Dana also had a high school sweetheart with whom she stayed in touch. Both men said they wanted to marry her. Both were initially considered suspects but were cleared.

Dana and her boyfriend dined out that night and then returned to his apartment. Just before 11 p.m. they drove separate cars to an ice cream parlor where they drank Cokes. They left, driving side by side down Johnson Drive until they came to Broadmoor where her boyfriend turned on his way to work. Dana presumably drove on until she turned north on Antioch, and some minutes later lost her life in the bizarre shooting.

The killer likely used some ruse that caused her to roll down her window. According to her parents, Dana usually drove with her windows up--particularly her driver’s side window which had a damaged handle that made it tough to raise and lower.

After the initial investigation, the Metro Squad discontinued its involvement. The Overland Park detectives worked on. Nothing developed since has challenged the theory that the killer was a stranger acting at random.

Thirty-five years later, the case is the oldest unsolved homicide in Overland Park, but the detectives have not quit. Police Department spokesman Jim Weaver, though he would not comment on specifics of the investigation, did note that the case file “has been reviewed within the last six months.”

Any one with any information that might help bring Dana’s killer to justice can contact Major Al Sneller with the Investigation Division of the Overland Park Police at 913-344-8711 or the Kansas City TIPS HOTLINE at 816-474-TIPS.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Father Fights for Justice

by Paul Fecteau

This article originally appeared in the April 1, 2009, issue of tmiWeekly.

Fanning out through Topeka’s Central Park neighborhood, a family tacks posters on light poles and trees. The photocopied image of a young black man, holding an infant and hugging a little girl, appears on the letter-sized white sheets. A circle is drawn around the man’s face with magic marker. Below the photo, a caption, handwritten with the same black marker, reads “Murdered.” The fliers are obviously homemade, the product of a budget far less than America’s Most Wanted, but they remind thecommunity that the family of Michael Holley has not given up on justice.

The family hopes that the photo, which shows Michael with two of his three children, might stir the emotions, motivating someone with information about the murder to come forward. If that strategy falls short, the flier also prominently notes that a $2000 reward is offered.

The family distributed the fliers in the days leading up to the one-year anniversary of Michael’s murder. The 24-year-old Topeka native had walked out of Deep Pockets Pool Hall on 21st Street shortly before 2 a.m. on February 23, 2008. He got into his car. A man approached, pulled a gun, and opened fire. Michael was hit several times and died at a hospital about 40 minutes later.

After shooting Michael, the killer walked to a dark four-door sedan parked nearby and began to drive away. Before he left, however, he fired his gun into the air, sending the witnesses who had gathered around Michael’s car fleeing for cover.

Henry Holley, Michael’s father, believes that that the second round of shots served as a message to the witnesses not to cooperate with police. In fact, Henry thinks many people in the community know who murdered his son but are too frightened to reveal the killer’s identity. That conviction has spurred him to tirelessly publicize his son’s case.

Aside from imploring witnesses to be forthcoming, Henry has also shared with reporters his theory that his son’s murder is connected to the deaths of a series of black men slain in the city last year: 25-year-old David Wakes, a relative of Michael’s, who was shot in late April and 17-year-old Farrell Sanders who was shot in early May.

The Holley family even created a My Space page on the Internet dedicated to Michael. The police ultimately asked that the page be taken down due to concerns regarding information that could jeopardize a prosecution. The most inflammatory material on the site appeared in comments posted by anonymous visitors. These posts included some that named a particular individual as the killer. Even with the My Space page no longer online, comments posted on stories on the sites of local television stations continue to accuse this local man, including some posts which call him a serial killer, claiming he is also responsible for the murders of Wakes and Sanders.

Despite these accusations leveled anonymously on the Web, the Holley family worries that the witnesses who could really provide useful information are afraid. The fliers that the family circulated last month acknowledge as much, concluding with a handwritten couplet that may, at first, appear contradictory: “Don’t be afraid! / It could happen to you!” The fear in the community is, in fact, certain to allow further violence which may reach those withholding information.

If you know something that can help Michael’s family find justice, please contact Topeka Police Detectives at 368-9022. You may also call Crime Stoppers at 234-0007 or toll free 1-800-222- tips(8477). Tips may also be submitted online at http://topekacrimestoppers.com/ or via a text message to “crimes” or 274637; enter “tip 128” in the first part of the message.