Archive for September, 2016

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.

juliannaObvious 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 saidhe 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!

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Like Pegasus, the winged stallion of Greek mythology, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is a hybrid. In Koster’s case, the cross-pollination is in his political rather than his genetic make-up.

Let’s start with the fact that Koster is the Democratic nominee for governor. He has been attorney general for eight years. Before that, he was a state senator for four years and Cass County prosecutor for ten. So, he’s well known and has wide name identity. His opponent, on the other hand, Eric Greitens, is a political newcomer who won the Republican primary partly by asserting his opposition to any tightening of gun-control legislation.

Today, however, in a move that has been expected, the National Rifle Association endorsed Koster, the Democrat, over Greitens, the Republican.

Expected, as I said, but extremely unusual. Probably unprecedented in Missouri.


Chris Koster (left) and Eric Greitens

And this development comes a few weeks on the heels of Koster becoming the first Democrat running for statewide office to get the endorsement of the Missouri Farm Bureau, another very conservative organization.

In actuality, Koster, an erstwhile Republican, is part Republican and part Democrat. And if you’re a Democrat living in Missouri, like I am, you’ve got to be wondering if you have anywhere to turn in the governor’s race. (More on that later, now back to Koster.)


To be sure, Koster has earned his hybrid status, and, if you look at his political background at arm’s length, you have to say he might be one of the shrewdest politicians to come along since Lyndon Johnson.

Here’s his “pre-political life” bio box:

Born and raised in St. Louis. Attended St. Louis University High School. Got a bachelor of arts degree from MU in Columbia in 1987. Got his law degree from MU four years later. Later got an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis. Worked as an assistant attorney general in the Attorney General’s Office from 1991 to 1993. Practiced law with the Kansas City firm Blackwell Sanders from 1993 to 1994.

In 1994, he was a registered Republican, and ran for and won the race for Cass County prosecutor. He was re-elected by wide margins in 1998 and 2002. In 2004, he ran for a state senate seat and won.

Three years later he began the metamorphosis that has positioned him, in all likelihood, to win the governor’s race in November.

In 2007, he switched parties, saying the Missouri Republican Party had become “toxic” and too beholden to the extreme right-wing. “Today, Republican moderates are all but extinct,” he said.

The very next year, 2008, he announced he was running for Attorney General, and it was in that race that he showed just how cagey he can be. His main opponent for the Democratic nomination was state Rep. Margaret Donnelly. Another formidable candidate in the race was another state senator named Jeff Harris. But, out of the blue, another candidate entered the race — a total unknown — an eighth-grade teacher at St. Elizabeth Catholic School in Kansas City named Molly Williams.

Molly Williams, it turned out, was a plant. She was a friend and golf partner of a former Circuit Court judge named Joe Dandurand, a man who just happened to be a close associate and supporter of Koster.


Molly Williams wasn’t the first decoy candidate in politics by any means, but she might well have been one of the most effective.

When the votes were counted the night of Aug. 21, 2008, Koster had defeated Donnelly by a count of 118,934 to 118,105. Harris had 86,550 votes. And Molly Williams? The unknown candidate out of Kansas City — she didn’t lift a finger campaigning — drew a surprising 23,140 votes.

Had Molly Williams not been in the race, I think it’s safe to say enough of her votes would have gone to Donnelly to turn the race her way. After all, Molly Williams was the only other woman in the race.

In the general election, Koster sailed by Republican Mike Gibbons, with 53 percent of the vote.

Koster’s camp would not confirm or deny that Molly Williams was a plant, but five months before the primary, a Pitch writer named David Martin wrote a long story about the situationIn one of the more entertaining paragraphs in his story, Martin said:

Admittedly, the evidence against Koster wouldn’t hold up in court. But Molly Williams’ candidacy is too cheesy and appalling to ignore. Stunts like these are politicians’ ways of thrusting their middle fingers at the democratic process they claim, through capped teeth, to cherish.


I said earlier that Koster might be one of the shrewdest politicians since Lyndon Johnson. Like Johnson, however, Koster falls far short of my ideal politician — one who is truthful and genuine and puts the public interest above his (or her) personal aspirations and above special interests.

Such politicians, as we all know, are hard to find. Far too many are like Koster, an opportunist who seems to be willing to do or say whatever it takes to get elected to the office he’s eyeing. (In his Pitch story, Martin said at one point that some observers wondered if Koster “would have joined the Monarch Party if it increased his chances of being elected to a higher office.”)

In addition to being wily, Koster has been lucky: He has weathered several allegations of political impropriety, including that in one of his campaigns he laundered donations to avoid contribution limits. And, as I have written several times, he was a central figure in a 2014 New York Times investigation about several state attorneys general who were in the pockets of special interests. (If Greitens has any sense, he will spend several million dollars familiarizing voters with that story.)

So, where does this leave me, as well as other members of a shrinking group I’ll call “Genuine Missouri Democrats”?

Well, like a Pegasus, I’m going to wing it on Election Day. I’ll vote for whichever minor-party candidate on the ballot has the most appealing name…If there’s somebody named Williams on the ballot, I’ll definitely vote for him, or her.

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It being Labor Day and nowhere to go and nothing to do this morning, I sat down with my ice tea for a good reading of The Kansas City Star.

Now, you’d think that with a 16-page paper — yes, 16 pages, front to back, side to side, top to bottom — it wouldn’t take long to blow through Kansas City’s paper of record.

Ah, but that was not the case, at least for me. About an hour later I had come the closest in years to reading the paper from front to back. And if you didn’t read it yourself, I’m here to report that the paper contained news that was interesting; news that was uplifting; news that was deflating; and news that was just plain strange.

Let’s review…

Interesting and/or uplifting

:: The intersection of 27th and Prospect, historically one of Kansas City’s most dangerous and low down, has been undergoing radical change for the better. Among other things, the KCPD’s crime lab and new East Patrol station have been built on one corner, and the ATA is planning to start a new MAX route on Prospect. Then Sunday came the ceremonial opening of the Morningstar Youth & Family Outreach and Career Development Center. The center was the brainchild of the Rev. John Modest Miles of the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, next door at 27th Street and Wabash Avenue.” Congratulations to Rev. Miles, as well as the late banker and civic leader Bill Nelson, for this invaluable contribution to a part of town that had to get better.        

:: One of the two front-page stories was about the canonization of Mother Teresa in Vatican City yesterday. The woman spent the majority of her life working with and helping people in the slums of India. (She died in 1997 at age 87.) How does a person do that? Sometimes I toy with the idea of working at a soup kitchen for a few hours, and I have actually put in a couple of shifts sorting food at Harvesters. But dedicating your life to working with the poor? How do you do that? Thank you, St. Teresa, for the an inspiration you are and will always continue to be. 

:: How many of you felt the Saturday morning earthquake? I didn’t learn about it ’til I got to the barbershop and my barber said, “Where were you at 7:02?” Of course, the quake was not on the front page today, but a story on A-5 (second to last page of the “A” section) said 37 wastewater disposal wells would be shut down in north-central Oklahoma, epicenter of the quake. With about 4,200 wells statewide — for holding wastewater from oil and natural gas production — closing 37 wells probably won’t make much of a difference. But you know what the official sentiment is in Oklahoma: Frack on!


Midnight withdraw 083116 JAT 016x

:: Reporter Joe Robertson had an eye-opening story about people who line up at northeast Kansa City convenience stores to draw cash on their freshly banked Social Security benefits. A lot of these down-and-out people spend the cash in a matter of days, sometimes splurging by renting motel rooms before heading back to the streets and shelters. Some are preyed upon. Robertson quoted the program director at a nearby social services ministry as saying, “Nothing really good happens at 12 a.m. or 1 a.m.” Didn’t we all learn that in our 20s and 30s? 

:: The Royals…Oh, fuck it. Suffice it to say, the magic is gone.


:: Thirty-year-old Brandon Johnson, a father of two young children, was shot and killed Friday morning in the 2800 block of Mersington. Police received a report of gunshots about 5:45 a.m. It seems that Brandon, his fiancee and a few friends had tailgated at Arrowhead and attended the Kansas City Chiefs’ exhibition game Thursday night. So, what the hell was he doing out at 5:45 a.m.? To quote from the aforementioned social services director, “Nothing really good happens at 12 a.m. or 1 a.m.” Or later.

:: An “in brief” item on A-4 said two people were shot — apparently late Saturday or early Sunday — at the Empire Room, 334 E. 31st Street. A shooting at 31st and Gillham is not that common, but even stranger is that the victims showed up at Shawnee Mission Medical Center about 2 a.m. Sunday. Shawnee Mission Medical Center is 12 miles away from 31st and Gillham. My advice to the victims: Next time consider Truman Medical Center, a five-minute walk from 31st and Gillham. 

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If there’s ever a story that local news organizations should be pushing hard to learn as much about as possible, it’s the rape and murder of 46-year-old Julianna Pappas of Overland Park.

Granted it is lurid and salacious: Pappas was 46 and, from a grainy photograph of her, appears to be very attractive, while the accused, Korrey Rinke, is a 22-year-old, tattooed, blue-collar worker.

Despite the fact that what happened to Pappas is awful and despicable, this is the kind of story that appeals to virtually everyone’s curiosity. The basic things the public wants to know are: How did these two get together? What was their connection? And if Pappas was with Rinke voluntarily, why would she be socializing with a man 24 years younger than she?

The biggest surprise to me is that only one news outlet, FOX4, has gone after this story aggressively.

julianna (1)


Since Pappas’ body was found Wednesday near 115th Street and Indian Creek in Overland Park, I had mostly been reading The Star’s stories, and they were leaving me frustrated.

Up to now, about noon Friday, The Star has failed to answer any of the three main questions I posed above. It has reported only basic, police-handout information, including the names and ages of the accused and the victim, where the body was recovered, that Rinke has lived in both Iowa and Kansas and that he made his first court appearance Thursday.

Nothing about whether they knew each other, how they knew each other and if they were dating — an obvious question, despite the age difference. (Another key question is whether Rinke has any felony convictions. A spokesman for the Johnson County District Attorney’s office said today he would not give me that information.)

Even though two KC Star reporters are sharing the byline — veteran police reporter Tony Rizzo and newcomer Katy Bergen — there is no indication that either of them has been able to get below the surface, or if they’ve even tried. I truly hope they have tried because if they haven’t, it means their editors haven’t pushed them, which, in turn, means the editors don’t recognize the appeal of this story.

To Fox4’s credit — that’s WDAF-TV, Channel 4 — its editors understand the appeal and the urgency to work fast.

A lengthy story on Fox4’s website offers considerable details, including that Rinke worked at a truck-cover-manufacturing company in Ottawa, about an hour south of Kansas City on I-35. Until it was updated earlier today, the story included video of a reporter saying that Pappas had also worked at the company.

That key issue is not addressed in the updated version, so I have to wonder if it is correct. Nevertheless, the earlier video planted enough of a seed to suggest the workplace could be the point of connection.

Other points of interest in the Fox4 report include:

:: “Sometime around Aug. 22, the two went out on a date and it was the last time Pappas was seen alive.”

:: Rinke was living in a house a few blocks from his workplace, and a white pick-up truck was recently towed from the yard.



:: After Pappas disappeared, Rinke was caught on video surveillance at work going through Pappas’ belongings. “When police questioned him, Rinke eventually broke down, saying he did something bad and told investigators where they should look for Pappas’ body.”

:: Rinke grew up in a mobile home park in Gardner, KS, under the care of a mother who, according to a neighbor, was “off on the road” and a father who was “either on alcohol or pills or whatever.”

:: As a boy, the neighbor said, Rinke was reserved and “nice and polite to me.”

…Assuming the facts in the Fox4 report are correct, that is excellent information for the readers/viewers and goes a long way toward fleshing out the story.

I also went to the three other local stations’ websites and read and watched their stories. While their stories were not nearly as thorough and advanced as Fox4’s, two stations provided new information.

For example, KMBC-TV Channel 9 reported that Pappas had recently moved to Overland park from Texas.

And KSHB-TV Channel 41 reported that Rinke was arrested in Emporia. KSHB also reported that Rinke had worked at the manufacturing company for 10 months, but, curiously, it said he “disappeared” from work in late July. That would seem to run counter to the Fox4 report that Rinke was caught on video surveillance, after Pappas’ disappearance, going through her belongings at the manufacturing company.

…On that point, I am nit-picking. My bigger point is that only one major news outlet has pushed hard on a story of keen public interest. I congratulate Fox4, and, at the same time, I fault the three other stations and The Star for lethargic reporting. Stories like this don’t come along very often, and reporters and editors need to be primed for possibilities and ready to hit the ground running.

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