You know how I love a mystery.
And, if you’ve been reading this blog, you know there are more mysteries these days because the local news media is not doing the aggressive, follow-up kind of journalism it was doing several years ago.
The newspaper where I spent my career, The Kansas City Star, is more guilty than the local TV stations, which have long been spotty and inconsistent in their coverage. Before The Star began gong downhill, roughly in the 2000-2005 time frame, it covered virtually everything worth covering and followed up faithfully on breaking stories that left unanswered questions.
A big, breaking story that left unanswered questions was the fatal shooting Oct. 25 of Nicki Alexopoulos, a retired Fort Osage High School teacher, who lived in the 5700 block of Central Street.
A murder in the Brookside area is naturally going to get a lot of attention, and this case got plenty. The Star and all four local TV stations, I believe, jumped on it, as they should have.
I learned about it from a friend, who sent me an email as soon as he heard about it that night. It shook me up, mainly because Patty and I know a family who lives on Central. But I couldn’t remember if our acquaintances lived in the 5700 block or the 5800 block, so I got in my car and drove to the block, which is less than two miles from where we live.
When I arrived, police had the entire block sealed off. I asked a police officer to point out the house, and he did. It didn’t look like the house where our acquaintances live, and I then drove into the 5800 block and identified the house where our acquaintances live. Relieved, I went back home.
News reports that night, the next morning and a few days thereafter focused on the fact that Alexopoulos’ son had gone to her home because she had become aware he was embezzling money from her. He shot his mother several times inside the house, then he went outside and shot a woman who had been visiting his mother — seriously injuring her — and finally went back in the house and killed himself.
In all, he fired about a dozen shots in that normally quiet neighborhood.
The follow-up stories on TV and in The Star focused on Alexopoulos’ teaching career and the positive impact she had on many of her students.
That was all well and good, but what I wanted to know — and fully expected to emerge within a few days — was 1) the son’s identity and 2) the friend’s identity.
But no news outlet, not one, as far as I can tell from extensive research, ever followed up with that information. News outlets reported that police were withholding the son’s identify, and The Star and TV stations apparently never pressed the issue.
And there the story died.
I remember running a Google and whitepages.com search a few days after the killing and not being able to home in on the son’s identity. And I, too, let it go.
But then, on Dec. 16, a feature story on Alexopoulos turned up in The Star. Reporter Katy Bergen, a newcomer, wrote about Nicki Alexopoulos’ writings about raising her two children — a daughter and the son who ended up killing her — in a household with an abusive husband and father. That was in Boonville, Missouri, where Alexopoulos previously lived and taught.
In that story, Bergen identified the friend who had been shot in the front yard — a woman named Alice Snodgrass — but she did not identify the son.
A few days after that story was published, I sent an email to KC Star managing editor Greg Farmer, asking why the paper had never identified the son.
In the email, I noted that there was no need to protect the son’s “good name,” and I said that if he was mentally unstable, that too was a moot issue.
My final line was, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the paper not identify the killer or alleged killer in a high-profile homicide.”
I didn’t hear back from Farmer.
The question of the son’s identity continued to gnaw at me, and today, after seeing an obituary about another person named Alexopoulos, I launched an extensive Google and whitepages.com search.
Finally, I was able to identify the son. His name was Patrick Nichols Fricke Alexopoulos. He was 38 years old.
A death and funeral notice — but not a full obituary — is on the website of Thacher Funeral Home in Boonville. With a few more clicks, I found a two-paragraph obit in the Missourian, a daily paper published by the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Here’s that obit:
Patrick N. Fricke Alexopoulos, 38, of Kansas City and formerly of Boonville, MO, passed away Tuesday, Oct. 25. Visitation will be 2 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, at Trinity Lutheran Church, 20209 Ellis Davis Road, Boonville, with a celebration of life for the family at 3 p.m.
Patrick was preceded in death by his grandparents, William Norbert and Marie Fricke, and his mother, Nikki (stet) Alexopoulos. Survivors include father Norman Fricke, of Boonville, and sister Kristen Fricke-Oehlert, of Kansas City. Patrick was born in Boone County and was raised in rural Cooper County. He later attended Saint Peter and Paul Catholic School and graduated from Boonville High School. Patrick also attended the School of Business at Central Missouri, and he received his bachelor’s degree. Patrick will be missed by all who knew him.
The Thacher Funeral Home notice also included a weird photo of Alexopoulos. Viewed from a distance, Alexopoulos is standing in front of a house, hands folded in front of him. He’s wearing dark slacks, a dress shirt, a narrow tie and a yellow ball cap.
There’s still a lot of mystery about this case: What was this guy like? What kind of jobs did he hold? Did growing up with an abusive father contribute in the end to the killing of his mother?
Answers to those questions would be nice to have, although they don’t constitute essential journalism. But the man’s identity — the killer’s identity — is essential journalism.
On this story, The Star and all four local TV stations get an F, as in pi-ti-Ful.