I’ve had hundreds of “views” in recent days on my Sept. 2 post about the rape and murder last month of 46-year-old Julianna Pappas of Overland Park — allegedly killed by 23-year-old Korrey Rinke of Ottawa.
The level of interest in that post confirms at least one thing: sex sells.
But I’m not trying to sell sex here, or this blog would look a whole lot different…As most of you know, my abiding interest is how The Star and other local news outlets cover the news and what prompts them to delve deeply into some stories and pay lip service to others.
My motivation for writing about the Pappas case was to express my frustration at The Star’s decision to not aggressively pursue details of the Pappas case early on.
Today, readers got a better picture of why The Star decided to proceed slowly when the back story was a muddle. It appears now that Pappas demonstrated extremely poor judgment and that her character might not have been, shall we say, at the saintly level.
As for Korrey Rinke, he’s a cold-blooded killer who took advantage of a woman’s ill-placed trust, and he could end up getting the death sentence.
But briefly, let’s go back to the beginning…Here you had what appeared to be — from a grainy photo, anyway — an attractive woman possibly hooking up with a creepy-looking, tattooed guy who was young enough to be her son. Then her body turns up near Indian Creek Trail in south Overland Park.
Obvious questions included: If these two knew each other, where did they make contact? How long had they known each other? If they were “dating,” why would Pappas be going out with a man of such an age difference? It seemed to have the makings of an intriguing story.
Nevertheless, The Star stuck to bare-bones facts, such as names, ages, when and where the body was found, and the filing of charges.
I faulted The Star for not delving into the case more deeply to try to satisfy reader curiosity. I also applauded Fox 4 News for putting on the full-court press, at least initially.
Citing sources, Fox 4 reporters provided at least two key insights:
— Rinke and Pappas went out “on a date” around Aug. 22, the last day Pappas was seen alive.
— After Pappas disappeared, Rinke was caught on video surveillance at work “going through Pappas’ belongings.” Questioned by police, he broke down and said “he did something bad and told investigators where they should look for Pappas’ body.”
KMBC-TV Channel 9 reported another valuable fact: Pappas had recently moved to Overland Park from Texas.
One point that puzzled me about The Star’s kid-glove approach was the fact that the lead reporter on the story was Tony Rizzo. Rizzo is The Star’s lead police reporter and a Star veteran of about 30 years. If anybody could get the back story on the Pappas case, it is Rizzo. (He was in the Johnson County bureau when I headed that bureau for parts of 2014 and 2015.)
In my Sept. 2 blog post, I surmised that the editors had decided, for whatever reason, not to devote a lot of time and effort to the story. Court documents released today — and reported by The Star, Fox 4 and maybe other TV stations — shed light on why The Star chose to handle the case delicately.
In a nutshell, the court documents say Rinke told police he forced Pappas to have sex and then beat her and dumped her body.
Apparently, she had agreed to have sex (and may have done so with him earlier in the day) but changed her mind because Rinke didn’t have a condom. Video taken the morning of the crime shows Pappas arriving at Quintiles, a clinical research company, in a vehicle resembling one that Rinke owned. The video also shows her leaving in the same vehicle a few hours later.
It is unclear if they met at Quintiles, although a person who simply went by the initial “S” posted a comment on my Sept. 2 post saying that Pappas “did not know this man, other than meeting him informally while doing a medical study in Quintiles (not far from the crime scene).”
You have to take that for what it’s worth, of course — an anonymous comment from someone who claims to know something — but it sounded credible to me.
From my own experience in the news business — just short of 36 years as a reporter and editor at The Star — I believe The Star’s handling of the story may have evolved like this:
From his police sources, Rizzo culls the essential facts of the story, including that Pappas willingly accompanied Rinke that fateful morning. He presents them to his supervisor; the editors mull it over and ultimately decide, “Let’s sit tight.”
I haven’t spoken with Rizzo or anyone at The Star — and rarely do so. (Management doesn’t like reporters and others talking with bloggers.) I’m just speculating and offering an educated guess, based on personal experience. If this had been a case of stranger abduction, or even if Pappas had simply been a longtime Kansas City area resident with deep family roots, The Star would have gone on the offensive, I feel sure.
Yet, it continues to bother me that KC Star readers had to wait a week before getting the back story. In retrospect, I wish the editors would have charged Rizzo with verifying enough facts to give readers a good idea of what was going on, without going into great depth. In my view, the paper could have answered, early on, most readers’ basic curiosity without delving into the very unseemly elements that emerged today.
There’s one other thing about this case that raised questions about Pappas and her background. It’s that grainy photo. I wondered about it the day I saw it. But its poor quality really struck a chord with a good friend of mine, Kate Corwin, a fellow blogger.
Just a few minutes after I hit “publish” on Sept. 2, Kate sent me an email. Here’s what it said…
“I just saw your latest blog. I actually thought it was odd in this day and age that the only picture of a 46-year-old was grainy. Which leads me to think she might not have family, was a bit of a drifter, not from this area, maybe even living on the fringes — because it looks like a picture where someone just pulled her out of the background at a company picnic or concert. Not a picture the family would provide. So she might have come from the same type of background as the guy. Who knows? It’s just a gut reaction.”
…Ah, Kate, you would have been a great reporter!