Murder in Oaklawn
This hub is an account of a brutal murder that happened near Wichita, KS almost twenty years ago. It is not embellished, but none-the-less contains some graphic descriptons. You may wish to consider this before reading. It is not meant to offend but to relay the story of a tragic incident, and some of the things that followed.
I thought twice before telling this story because the violent death of someone who lives in your neighborhood isn't the sort of topic a person blithely presents to a reading public. I thnk it must be, that being an observer of the obvious things, those things that did not include the investigation or the crime itself touched me in a way I had never experienced before. Relaying the account as I witnessed it allows the reader to witness it through my eyes, and hopefully see what I and others around me experienced.
Before I get into the story, let me give you a little bit of background on Oaklawn. Wichita Kansas is well known for their connection to aircraft manufacturing. Cessna, Beech Aircraft, and Learjet all have manufacturing facilities located there. And until a few years ago, Boeing did as well. Boeing sold their manufacturing plant to one of their subcontractors, recently, and left only a repair facility and some military operations as their last remaining stake in the air capitol.
But Boeing is the primary reason Oaklawn exists. Shortly after World War II, the jet engine began to be used in place of the old piston engines to power airplanes. Boeing made plans to enter the jet aircraft market, and needed a large workforce to make it happen. But Wichita, in the nineteen fifties wasn't large enough to have sufficient housing available for the number of people the company needed.
The answer, was to build a large number of homes for the necessary workers, and complete it in a relatively short time. Several thousand workers would translate into literally hundreds of additional homes for the region, and an undeveloped area just south of the city limits and near the Boeing facility was selected. MacArthur Road, which marks the city's boundary line made up the northern end of the area and it extended to the south for about a mile and a half to the fifty-two hundred block. The development was nestled about halfway between Kansas Highway K15 and the Arkansas River. The area was split in two by Forty-seventh Street South, and the suburb was named Oaklawn.
The homes weren't fancy, being built on concrete pads, and followed the same simple design throughout. Some were two bedroom, others were three bedrooms, and a few were small cottage types. On the north end, near MacArthur Road, a number of larger four bedroom structures were put up, probably for the better paid workers, while the rest lived in the smaller houses. According to people familiar with the area's history, Oaklawn was never meant to be a permanent sub-division. The housing was only temporary until the city's economy caught up with Boeing and more homes could be built and sold. The long term plan was to demolish the structures and return the area to its original condition.
Oaklawn on a personal level
I first learned of Oaklawn in nineteen eighty-six. The company I worked for had a habit of transferring employees from one city to another, and even to a different state if necessary, as needs dictated. I resisted the transfer to the Wichita location because I was nearly certain I wouldn't like the area.
We, meaning myself, wife, and three daughters were used to a slower laid back lifestyle in Emporia, Ks. It's a small town with less than twenty-five thousand people, and at the time was fairly low crime, and considered safe. This was before gangs were widespread, and drugs were limited mainly to marijuana and a few other small time highs.
Emporia also had a relatively low cost of living, and when the not totally voluntary transfer to Wichita was thrust upon us, our first concern was of a financial nature. We looked for several days for housing we knew we could afford, and finally settled on living in Oaklawn. Plans to raze and restore the temporary project had been furloughed. We knew nothing about Wichita in general, and the area to which we were moving in particular. But we adapted well, got to know our neighbors, and put our kids into the local school. We also discovered the greater amenities a larger city affords such as entertainment, dining or shopping and we learned to like it.
All this went on for over three years, and then one evening when I returned home, I noticed the street leading to our house was partially blocked with police cars. At least three vehicles were in the street, with lights flashing, and several uniformed officers were milling about. I noticed my daughters standing in the corner of out yard and as I passed by they told me a resident had been found murdered in her home.
Oaklawn was arranged a little bit unusual compared to most suburbs. The street I lived on was name Elmhurst. It ran from North to South in front of our house, and ended in it's juncture with Idlewild Street. The crime had occurred on Idlewild just around the corner from where I lived. The intersection formed a "T", and when one came to the corner, they had to turn either left or right. If they missed the turn, they would wind up in the driveway of a home owner by the name of Gene. I don't recall his last name, but he knew more about his neighborhood than anyone else around and this became significant later on.
So this "T" intersection was located at the corner of our yard, and we had Elmhurst running in front of the house, and Idlewild along the left or south side. The kids were in the yard at the corner when I came home. I parked in the driveway, and looked for my wife, whom I saw across the street at Gene's house talking with them and some other people.
The date was October fifth, nineteen eighty-nine. It was still warm and comfortable with temperatures in the upper seventies and the change back to standard time two weeks down the road. I joined my wife and friends to see what was going on, and was told the tragic story.
Scene of the crime
Kathy Horton age nineteen, had moved into her own home in Idelwild street in the Oaklawn area of Wichita a few weeks previously. Her parents actually owned the home according to the account I heard, and had provided it as a way for her to get established. Kathy worked as a waitress at a local restaurant and and was a single mother. Her parents lived about two blocks down the street, and kept a watch out for her.
On this day, they were concerned, because they hadn't heard from her for two days. She had dropped her toddler off then for them to babysit while she worked, and said she would be back the following day. Now it was day two and she hadn't shown up. This was out of character for Kathy, as she maintained a fairly close relationship with them. Her mother had come to the home earlier that afternoon and knocked on the door, but got no answer. Kathy's car was gone and it looked like she had left and not returned. The door was locked, so she went around the house to the back door, and found it ajar. That scared her so she went down the street a couple of houses to Gene's home, and asked for his help. He checked the door and advised her not to go inside, but rather call the police.
The police arrived a fairly short time before I returned home that day, and entered the home at the mother's request. Inside, they discovered a grisley scene, and a murder investigation was started. I stood mutely in a small group of people that included my wife, Gene, Gene's wife, a lady named Doris, and Kathy's mother. The distraught lady relayed what she had been told, and possibly a little of what she had seen. Her daughter, Kathy Horton had been found laying on the living room floor dead.
The cause of death was apparent, in spite of a large amount of blood. Kathy had been stabbed multiple times by someone weilding a large knife. Neither the perpetrator, nor the motive were known or even speculated during the initial investigation. Other than that the details were still a mystery.
It was a somber scene. By this time, the sun was setting and the gloom of twilight had settled across the area. People were standing around in small groups talking in muted tones From the west, toward the parents home, a small group of people were approaching. This huddle came closer, and when they neared us, a woman suddenly broke from the rest in an instant full speed run toward Kathy's house, screaming loudly. I hadn't noticed a stout young man wearing a ball cap turned backwards and displaying a sober face until he intercepted her, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist.
The collision turned him around one hundred, eighty degrees, and by the time he stopped her, her feet were off the ground. Still screaming, she demanded he let her go. She swore at him and called him names struggling all the time and insisting he turn her loose. To all her violent efforts, and pleas, he responded with a quiet grief laden, "I can't." His tone and expression reflected a grim resignation.
We learned a few moments later, the woman was Kathy's older sister, and she has her husband to thank for preventing her from seeing the gruesome death scene. The poor lady calmed somewhat but was still crying as was the rest of the family. By this time, I was beginning to feel a little detached from what was going on and I think my observations became more objective. Kathy's family, was clustered in the street next to the sidewalk, arms around one another. The siblings cried and wept, and in her own grief, their mother tried to comfort them. I still remember her Father, taller than the rest, standing straight and allowing tears to stream down his face without shame.
More people were starting to gather around as the news spread. Another family, a mom and daughter and two more young people appeared out of the dark. They joined Kathy's family, and by the conversation, it became clear, the daughter had been one of Kathy's closest friends. The mom, a tall heavyset formidable woman bore a grim expression the entire time they spoke. Kathy's friend wept and cried loudly, "No, no she's not dead. She's not dead Mom!" Over and over.
At some point, the police officers adjusted their flashing lights so that they were blinking a little less obviously. In the words of one of the men they would be "less of a beacon." By this time, most of the curiosity seekers had departed, and Kathy's family went someplace to mourn in private. My wife and I went into our house, the kids having previously gone inside, and wondered about the drama that had played out little more than a hundred feet away from our front door.
My and my family's home. A stone's throw away...
Waiting it out
Later that night or the following day, police in Wichita found Kathy's car at a car wash across town from the murder scene. It had been unaccounted for at the time her body was discovered, and the car wash where the cops found it was about eight or ten miles from her home. Three teenage boys were in possession of the vehicle, and were giving it a thorough cleaning. The part of town where the boys were at, was at the time, a higher crime neighborhood, so the police understandably wanted to know what was going on.
As it turned out, however, the three boys had bought the car earlier from someone else. They reported a guy had approached them and offered the car for sale for what seemed to them a bargain, but was in reality a ridiculously low price. They declined to ask the seller why the auto was so cheap, but under the police questioning, they managed to give the detectives a description of the man, so the investigation got a boost.
Back in Oaklawn, we who lived in the neighborhood pondered this development and discussed what it meant. Different scenarios were outlined and debated, but Gene dismissed all of them. He had a theory and he didn't sway from it. He told us when the case was solved, we would be surprised how close to home the murderer was.
Over the next two days, or so, things slowed down. The crime scene investigators had been inside and removed all the evidence they could find. They had pulled up the carpet where Kathy's body had been found and taken it in as well. The house was taped off with yellow crime scene tape, and two reserve officers were assigned to keep people out. Living as close as I did, I had opportunities to visit with the guards, but either nothing was new, or they weren't divulging it. We chatted for several minutes, passing the time, and I quelled the morbid desire to know more, waiting for the case to be solved. During our conversation, one of the other neighbors stopped by and visited as well. He seemed incredulous about the crime and found it hard to believe. We all visited randomly about different things, and as evening grew near, the subject turned to food. I decided to return home and eat. He offered the police detail some leftover pizza, asking them if they were hungry. They declined, saying they had plans already, and I went home.
I'm not sure when the investigation concluded and an arrest was made. I was working that day, and when I arrived home that afternoon I learned charges were pending against a suspect. I also learned more than I had known previously about my neighborhood.
Gene was retired, and to put it bluntly, quite nosy. He had plenty of time and an inquiring mind and he used both freely. I learned that day, that in the midst of this quiet lower end neighborhood, a thriving drug business was running out of a number of homes. One of these was located on the corner across the street from my home. As the intersection was a "T", it was also across the street from Gene's home, and between he and Doris, we learned the place displayed all the classic signs of drug activity. There were four adults living in the home, presumably two couples, and they rotated shifts so someone was awake at all times. The also had a pair of pit bulls and one lady threatened to turn them loose on errant neighborhood kids who strayed into the yard. Doris also mentioned they had a large number of visitors who didn't stay long enough to shut their engines off.
In addition, another reputed supplier lived a half block down the street the other way. This guy was super friendly, and covered his business by working as a building contractor. I might have suspected the people across the street, but I would have never guessed the other guy. He didn't seem to fit the mold as I visualized it. Gene told the story, though about how he watched one day when Kathy got a visitor.
The individual stopped at her house, and went to the door. She invited the person in, and then left, leaving her visitor at the house. Gene watched her drive down the street to the home of the nice guy and go inside briefly. She came back out carrying something, and drove back to her own home. Shortly after going back inside, her visitor came out, got in the car and left. Gene was sure he had watched a deal go down.
All of this happened before the murder was solved and had no bearing on it, other than to provide some insight about the place we lived. The investigation determined that a day or so before Kathy's body was found, she had dropped her baby off at her mother's home and told her she would pick her up the following day. She then met up with a neighbor and they made plans to buy some crack cocaine. The neighbor drove into a area not far from where Kathy's car was recovered and made a purchase. He told police, he had held his thumb next to the number five on a five dollar bill, making the dealer believe it was a fifty. He had then brought the crack to Kathy's place where they smoked it.
Crack has a reputation for dropping people hard when they come down. A lot of people experience a huge let down, and all they can think of is getting high again. In his confession, the suspect told police he had gone through that, and asked Kathy for money to buy more. She didn't have any money, and in a crack induced rage, he killed her. He sold her car for enough to buy some more drugs and took her VCR to make it look like a robbery. He then watched the authorities conduct an investigation, pretended to be innocent, and offered two reserve officers some leftover pizza. Gene was right; it was a lot closer to home than we believed.
A mother's story.
After the murderer was arrested and taken into custody, the local papers and TV stations were abuzz with the news. A trial date was set, and the cops had a confession. It would be a slam dunk.
Kathy's mother revealed the details that the news people didn't have and probably wouldn't have if the suspect entered a guilty plea. He confessed, and told the police the details concerning the attack. His description and the details described an incredibly vicious assault and the evidence at the scene supported that determination. Being on the down side of the drugs influence, he requested the money, and she refused, He became quite angry and threatened her. Kathy was only a fraction of an inch over five feet tall, and probably weighed around a hundred pounds. Her attacker was well over six feet tall and would have tipped the scales at around two hundred and fifty. She was understandably scared and grabbed a small knife to defend herself.
According to Kathy's mom, she had been hit in the side of the face hard enough to knock one of her eyes out of its socket. But the cause of death was multiple stab wounds. She had been stabbed by a nine or ten inch butcher knife between twenty and thirty times. Three of those stabs were in the chest area and had exit wounds in her back where the knife had come through. Directly below the body, beneath these three wounds, were matching holes in the carpet and chipped spots in the concrete floor. The degree of her suffering and horror will never be known.
Verdict: Guilty. Sentence: Fifteen years in prison.
Twenty years later.
I moved away from Oaklawn the following year, and lost touch with the people I knew there. According to the Kansas Penal System website, the murderer served his time, with a minimum of misconduct, and is currently free. He had only one prior conviction for something less severe than murder and seems to have straightened out some. Records indicate he lives in a neighboring city about forty miles away.
The last time I visited with anyone who lives there, I learned that Gene had died. Doris, I was told, moved to Missouri to be closer to family. And with all the resources of the Internet, I have been unable to find out anything about Kathy's family, or whether her parents are still alive or not. Oaklawn continues, and is known as a place where less qualified or affluient people can find housing. As such a lot of the social ills that are associated with these types of neighborhoods continue.
I will never return to that area, having found a new home and contentment where I currently live. At the same time, I know that the things I saw during this brief illustration of the evils mankind commits against his own will always be a part of me. And having experienced this I think I'm a different person than I would have been otherwise. I hope it's a change for the better.