Archive for April, 2017

When my daughter Brooks opened The Kansas City Star this morning, she yelled, “No, no!”

Startled, I said, “What?” wondering what on the front page could have prompted such a visceral reaction.

She pointed and gestured angrily at the A1 centerpiece — a story about the maternal grandmother of 7-year-old Adrian Jones of KCK, who was abused to death by his father and stepmother before his body was fed to pigs. “Why is this in the paper?” Brooks demanded. “This shouldn’t be here!”

She then ordered me to take the paper out of the room and keep it out of her sight. When Patty arrived in the kitchen a little later, Brooks told her about the story, and Patty said she wanted nothing to do with it, either.

I don’t know if drama that intense unfolded in many other Kansas City area kitchens over that story today, but I would bet The Star is going to be fielding some strong objections today and tomorrow. Some people will object, like Brooks, to running the story at all. They will say everybody is familiar with the case and that revisiting it from the perspective of the grandmother, an Emporia woman named Judy Conway, is simply sensationalizing it.

KC Star photo of Judy Conway, grandmother of 7-year-old Adrian Jones

Other readers will protest its placement on the front page, along with a large photo of Conway sitting on her bed and a smaller photo, from Christmas Eve 2012, of a smiling Adrian, when he was four years old. Readers in that group will basically say that while they think the Sunday story has news value, it shouldn’t have been featured so prominently because of its repulsive nature.

I will be interested to see if The Star does a story or column about reader reaction.

…At first, I held off reading the story, but a couple of hours later I decided to take a look at it and make my own assessment of its propriety, especially for an A1 centerpiece.

The cut line (caption) reads: “Judy Conway forced herself to view photos and videos of the abuse and torture of her 7-year-old grandson, Adrian Jones.” The cut line continues with a quote from Conway…

For some reason, and I don’t understand it myself, but I wanted to take on all the pain that he felt.

…That quote was an epiphany for me. Immediately, intuitively, I understood why the author of the story, veteran reporter Laura Bauer, had gone after the story and why her editors had deemed it worth A1 and gave it more than 100 column inches of text.

Just from reading that quote — brilliantly placed by either Toyoshiba or Bauer or the editors — I understood how that caring grandmother feels. In her own retrospective, selfless way, she wanted to hold that little boy’s hand, pull him close and attempt to show him, belatedly, that someone in this world cared about him deeply and grieved his loss.

The story reads fast and smooth, the way you want a 100-plus-inch story to read. And Bauer writes with restraint and a gentle touch. She takes the reader through Adrian’s removal from the custody of his mother — Conway’s daughter — and being turned over, along with several sisters, to the father, Michael Jones and his new wife, Heather Jones. She recounts how the abuse was recorded on security cameras in the Joneses’ home in northwest KCK and how Conway was frustrated in her attempts to visit the children and find out what was going on in the Joneses’ home. The last time Conway saw Adrian and the girls was on Christmas Eve 2012, after Michael Jones called her unexpectedly and told her she could come for a visit. That day, Adrian appeared to be happy and healthy.


Now, Conway has nightmares in which she sees Adrian, as well as Michael and Heather Jones. Bauer describes a recurring Conway nightmare like this:

Adrian’s Nana could tell her grandson was hurting. She reached out and scooped him up in a blanket, holding him against her chest as he wrapped his legs and arms around her body.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Nana,” Adrian tells her. “What took you so long?”

In her dreams, she holds him tighter, his head buried against her. In her other hand, she grips a gun and stares at Adrian’s father and stepmother kneeling in front of her.

When she wakes from dreams like these, Conway’s heart beats so fast she can feel it in her ears. She can see her grandson’s face. Almost feel little Adrian.

It isn’t until the second to last paragraph that Bauer introduces the seminal quote — the one about wanting to take on Adrian’s pain — and puts it in full context.

The rest of the quote goes like this: “I wanted to be a part of that (pain). I want him to know that even though I wasn’t there, I loved him and he didn’t leave this word feeling unloved, which is what they (the Joneses) wanted him to feel like. He was loved, and nobody can take that away from him.”

…Powerful stuff. Great story. I wish Brooks and Patty could read it, but I understand. Some stories I can’t read, either.


Note: Along with the plaudits comes a cudgel. Two photos apparently taken by Conway at her Christmas Eve 2012 visit with Adrian were erroneously attributed to Toyoshiba, the Star photographer. Tag lines beneath the 2012 photos bear Toyoshiba’s name and email address. As soon as I saw that, I was perplexed, wondering why Toyoshiba would have been at the Jones home in 2012, well before the serious abuse began and long before the Jones case became a public matter.

I sent an email to Toyoshiba, asking if, indeed, she took the 2012 photos. She wrote back, saying: “That was clearly a copy desk error!  Thanks, and yes, I saw that. No one bothered to question it and follow through to ask!”

Most readers won’t even be aware of the glitch, but anyone with experience in the news business will, like me, scratch their heads over those photo credits. It’s a very embarrassing error for The Star, and I trust we will see a correction tomorrow…Whoever made the error apparently wasn’t familiar with the Adrian Jones story, didn’t read Bauer’s story, or doesn’t understand some of the basic elements of journalism. There’s just no excuse for it.

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Even if you’re not a sports fan, yesterday’s massive layoffs at ESPN could affect you.

Letting about 100 people go, ESPN signaled it was responding to the changing media landscape, in which millions of people are sawing off the cable TV handcuffs and switching to streaming devices.

A lot of those doing the sawing are young people, who are increasingly getting content on their smartphones, tablets and laptops.

NPR said ESPN lost about two million subscribers in fiscal year 2016 and that over a period of several years its subscription numbers have gone from about 100 million to 87 million. NPR quoted John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal as saying, “ESPN gets about $7 per subscriber per month, so that loss ends up being a lot of money.”

I sympathize with the scores of people who lost their jobs — including Jeremy Crabtree, a KC Star sportswriter from 1995-1998 — but I am in favor of anything that helps loosen the cable companies’ grip on the public.

Let me approach this from personal experience. I think many of you will identify with it.

…Until a few years ago, we bought home-phone, cable TV and internet service from Time Warner Cable. After Google Fiber became available, we switched. We dropped the home phone, as many others have done, and we are paying about $140 a month, which is about equally split — $70/$70 — between cable TV and internet. (We also subscribe to Netflix.)

With Google Fiber, we get about 185 stations. We watch maybe 10 of those. The main ones I watch are ESPN, the Golf Channel and Fox Sports Kansas City, which carries the Royals. (From the way this season has started, I doubt I’ll be watching much FSKC this summer.)

The content on most of the cable stations is absolute junk. Not only that, but for about every minute of content, you get a minute of advertising. If you just flip through the stations, I guarantee you will land on a commercial more often than not. Just try it…The Golf Channel has a ton of ads, but I’ve taken to recording the tournaments I want to watch and then watching later and fast-forwarding through the ads.

As it is, we’re paying about $840 a year to watch relatively few channels — a situation that is common in many American households.

In a 2015 Forbes article, contributing writer Greg Satell said, “The truth is that, beyond infrastructure, cable companies are providing little, if any value.” He went on to say:

TV programming is going through a similar transformation as every other software business.  In effect, it is moving from installed solutions to the cloud. There is, in fact, no reason that we need cable boxes anymore.

In line with Satell’s reasoning, Patty and I considered cutting the cable a few months ago. We explored the possibility of going with antennas to get the local broadcast stations and then, perhaps, buying a streaming device, along with a subscription to MLB to get the Royals’ “away” games.

So, I went to Target and for $40 bought an antenna — not rabbit ears, but an unobtrusive, flat, plastic antenna that fits nicely behind the TV or against a wall. It worked well. I also went to Best Buy and checked out streaming devices. I was leaning toward Apple TV, which costs about $150.

I realized that one complicating, cost-creeping factor was we would need antennas for each of our three TVs and a separate streaming device for each of the ones we wanted for Royals baseball, unless we were willing to put up with the inconvenience of moving the streaming box from one TV to another.

Despite the expense and complications, I was ready to move forward. Being shackled by the cable bothers me more than it does Patty. At first, Patty agreed, but she wanted to wait until we returned from Europe in March. After we got back, we didn’t talk about it for a couple of weeks, and then one day Patty said, “Why don’t we just hold off on switching from Google Fiber for a while? I’m not ready to do it.”

I didn’t object. The fact is she and Brooks watch more cable stations than I, and it would have affected them more.

Thus ended my brief foray into the world of streaming TV. My hopes of defeating Google Fiber — which we’ve been happy with, I have to admit — were thwarted, at least for the time being. The handcuffs were back on, as tight as ever.

But yesterday, with news of the ESPN layoffs, my hopes rose again, if only a little. I can’t wait to someday saw off those damn shackles.

Meantime, I’m stuck with the Target antenna; I paid cash and lost the receipt.

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Today we come to the “Roll Call of Fools” — this particular roll call having taken place in the Kansas Legislature.

Area residents are achingly familiar with the tragic death last August of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab, who was decapitated while riding on “the world’s tallest water slide,” Verruckt, at Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, KS.

In the aftermath, newspaper stories revealed that Wyandotte County had virtually no regulations pertaining to amusement park rides and state regulations were shockingly weak.

Caleb, of course, was the son of a state legislator, Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican.

As you would expect of elected officials spurred on not only by public safety in general but by a tragedy involving one of their own, the Kansas Legislature came forward with proposed legislation to significantly tighten and improve state regulation of amusement park rides.

Among other things, the legislation required that experienced inspectors examine rides annually and that ride operators inspect them daily. It also raised insurance requirements and established registration and permit fees.

All those things make perfect sense, right? Legislators realized state law left a gaping hole in the regulation of amusement park rides, and they set out to fill the void. Who could be against this new legislation?

Who could possibly be against it?

Well, as the law of averages dictates, I suppose, there almost always will be some people who can look common sense and logic squarely in the eye and avert their gaze.


When the bill that had been settled on came before the 125-member House of Representatives recently, one representative voted “no.” Sitting in the same room with Scott Schwab, Jack Thimesch, a Republican from Spivey, a little town an hour west of Wichita, cast the only dissenting vote.

I don’t know what he said on the House floor that day, if anything, but The Star reported today that he opposed the bill because his constituents asked him to.

Sure. I guess we’re supposed to believe voice messages from constituents angry about stricter amusement ride regulations piled up on his cell and office phones.

The Star quoted Thimesch as saying:

The inspection deal, you don’t want to put anybody on a ride that’s unsafe. But to that same point, you know, when it has an age limit and a height limit and a weight limit, that has nothing to do with inspection of how the piece of equipment runs. It has to do with being responsible for your grandkids or your kids to put them on that ride if you know they’re not old enough, tall enough or heavy enough.

Holy shit! I cannot believe he — or anyone — would say something like that. Basically, he was wagging a blaming finger at Scott Schwab for not monitoring Caleb at Schlitterbahn that horrible day.

The Star’s story doesn’t say when Thimesch made that statement — whether it was on the House floor, which I doubt, or later. However, on the floor that day, Scott Schwab made a touching speech, saying: “I love every one of you and thank you for everything you’ve done for our family. But this bill is really not about Caleb. It’s for the next kid who goes someplace in Kansas for a fun weekend.”

He was also unbelievably gracious as the vote approached, saying lawmakers should vote however they saw fit. “If you feel like this (legislation) is too much growth, I will not count it against you,” he said.


Thimesch, then, is Fool No. 1…But we’ve got two — no, make it three — more.

When the vote came up in the Senate, two out of 40 senators voted no. They were Sen. Rick Billinger of Goodland and Sen. John Doll of Garden City.


Perhaps Billinger and Doll were emboldened to vote no because Scott Schwab wasn’t sitting among them at the time of the vote. Or maybe it’s because they live w-a-a-a-y out there in western Kansas, where about the only amusement ride is hopping on a pig in a pen.

In an April 9 newsletter to constituents, Billinger said:

“I had several concerns with this legislation because it took away the small home-owned carnival exemptions, which is in the current law. Another concern of mine was over the regulations concerning whether the ride operators need to have training. The new legislation will also require higher insurance limits.”

What I take from that is Billinger was concerned the new law might require saddles on the pigs.



I couldn’t find anything regarding why Doll voted no, but I left him a voice message and sent an email, and this afternoon he returned my call to explain his vote. He said he represents 10 western Kansas counties and that several have county fairs that include amusement rides. Some people connected with those fairs lobbied him to vote against the measure, he said, saying that they had run their rides without any problems for decades and were concerned, among other things, about liability insurance rates rising and having to hire outside inspectors.

Doll said he is a friend of Scott Schwab and added, “It was a very hard vote.”

I told him I thought his view reflected the inherent friction that often exists between urban and rural interests and concerns. He agreed. I also said I thought he should have taken a broader view and considered the welfare of all Kansans and not just how the new regulations might affect several counties in western Kansas. Obviously, he didn’t agree with that.

When I told him he wasn’t going to like my post, he said criticism didn’t bother him and added, “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I understand.”

Before signing off, I told him I respected him for calling me, even though he had to know I was going to be critical in what I wrote.


That leaves only one more senator to be called out. And she’s local.

When the Senate voted, Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee took the truly cowardly way out: She voted “present.”


I’ve covered politics a long time, and, to me, an abstention has always been the most maddening vote. Usually, the abstainer has sat through debate and discussion of the issue at hand and simply refuses to take a stand, often fearful of alienating someone or some people on one side or the other. In other words, no guts.

After reading up on Pilcher-Cook, however, the vote didn’t surprise me too much.

Barbara Shelly, a former reporter and editorial-page writer for The Star wrote an interesting story about Pilcher-Cook in The Pitch last October. It started out like this:

“Mary Pilcher-Cook has served 14 of the past 16 years in the Kansas Legislature, and she has been uniquely consistent: In all that time, her fascination with the sex lives and reproductive choices of Kansans has never waned.”

Sounds like One-Issue-Mary.

Shelly went on to say, “She has done more than her part to keep the Sunflower State filed under K-for-Krazy in the American imagination.”

Enough said, huh?

…The fools notwithstanding, Gov. Sam Brownback signed the bill yesterday, and it will take effect soon.

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For several months, at least, 34-year-old Casey Eaton had gotten out of Armourdale.

She had moved to Mound City, KS — about 75 miles south, down U.S. 69 — where her mother, Cherri West, had bought a home within the last year.

About two months ago, however, Casey (pronounced Cassie) returned to this area and took a job at a Subway store on Shawnee Mission Parkway in Shawnee. One of her daughters, Angelica Eaton, also works there.

Casey hooked up with a 41-year-old man named Enemencio Lansdown, and they lived in a rental house at 911 Kansas Avenue, in the heart of Armourdale.

The house at 911 Kansas Ave. where Casey Eaton lived with Emenencio Lansdown, who is charged with murdering her


Angelica worked the day shift and Casey worked at night. On Wednesday night, Casey worked until 10 p.m. and headed home. Less than two hours later she was found shot to death in a truck parked outside the home. On Friday, the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s office issued a warrant charging Lansdown with second-degree murder. Authorities continued searching for him today.

This is the second time in 18 years that Cherri West has lost an offspring to violent crime. In October 1999, Cherri, Casey (then 16 or 17) and other family members were living near 11th Street and Kansas Avenue when another of Cherri’s daughters, 10-year-old Pamela Butler, was abducted outside their family home by a violent pervert named Keith D. Nelson. Nelson took Pamela to a secluded area in Grain Valley, where he raped and strangled her. He was later convicted of murder and is now on death row in a federal prison in Terre Haute, IN.

That fateful Indian summer afternoon, Casey Eaton witnessed her half-sister’s abduction and yelled futilely at Nelson to stop. Partly because of her yelling, a man who was in a nearby truck pursued Nelson’s truck for a few miles, but Nelson eluded him near Rosedale Park and got on I-70.

After the murder, Cherri moved to a house in west-central KCK, near 63rd and State Avenue. She was able to buy it with money that hundreds of strangers contributed to help her out. I believe she continued living there until moving to Mound City.


Today, I attended a memorial gathering in honor of Casey at a park and playground that is dedicated to Pamela. The park is at 10th and Kansas, equidistant from the scenes of Pamela’s abduction and Casey’s murder.

A large crowd was on hand, perhaps 100 people. The only excitement occurred when a tow truck showed up across the street and lowered its slide, threatening to haul away the first of several cars owned by people attending the memorial gathering. I’ve never seen a parking area cleared so fast, as people ran across Kansas Avenue to move their cars.

Cherri West (left) being comforted today by a longtime friend, Leah Collins of Shawnee

I had not seen Cherri since Keith Nelson’s trial at the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown KCMO. She looks about the same as she did back then — long, blond hair pulled back tightly from her temples and braided down her back — except for having put on a few pounds. She told me she had not met Lansdown and hadn’t known much about him. Interviewed by a TV reporter she said, “I want him off the streets before he hurts somebody else.”

Others on hand included Angelica Eaton, who told me about helping her mother get the job at Subway, and Angelica’s four-month-old son Ramileo (pronounced Rah-me-lee-o). Ramileo was Casey’s only grandchild.

I left that gathering today with a forward-looking wish and a retrospective one.

Like Cherri, I hope Lansdown is apprehended soon, and before he injures or kills someone else. My retrospective wish was that Casey Eaton had not come back to Armourdale. There are a lot of good people and a lot of good, small businesses in Armourdale, but it’s not been a good place for Cherri West and her family. Cherri is right to keep moving farther away from it.

Part of the crowd attending a memorial gathering today at 10th and Kansas Ave. for Casey Eaton


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Some people just can’t get out of the ‘hood.

In a development I found astounding and unsettling, a 34-year-old woman who was found shot to death Wednesday night in Kansas City, KS, has been identified as the sister of 10-year-old Pamela Butler, who was raped and murdered in October 1999.

Just as eerie as the familial connection, the body of Casey M. Eaton body was found in the same Armourdale neighborhood where Pamela was abducted while roller skating outside her house.

Take a look at the map below, which is a screen shot I took from Google Maps. The 900 block of Kansas Avenue is pinpointed in red. The home where Pamela Butler lived — with her mother Cherri West and siblings that included Casey Eaton — was about two blocks west, at 11th and Scott, just south of Safeway Services. It was a small, sparsely furnished house, the only residence in the immediate area, wedged into an industrial and warehouse area.

At the time Pamela was abducted, I was editor in The Star’s Wyandotte County bureau. I agonized over the Butler case more than any other murder case I covered in my 36-plus years in the news business. I could not put it at arm’s length. The reason, I believe, is that our daughter Brooks was 11 at the time — just a year older than Pamela — and I couldn’t help but think, “What if…”

I also couldn’t get out of my mind what Cherri West was going through. She had borne children by at least two men, including a down-and-out fellow named Paul Butler — Pamela’s father — but she was a devoted mother who worked as an inventory supervisor at Arrow Speed Warehouse, a high-performance auto parts store in Armourdale.

Cherri was at work the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 12, when Pamela was abducted by a pervert named Keith D. Nelson, who jumped out of his truck and snatched Pamela as she skated past. As Nelson sped past the house, he yelled out the window at Penny Butler, a sister of Pamela, “You’ll never see her again!”

A man who was talking to a friend while parked in a truck nearby heard screams and saw the truck take off. He gave pursuit, although he didn’t know exactly what was going on, mainly because Nelson somehow managed to keep Pamela out of view. Nelson led the pursuer on a wild ride up and down 18th Street Expressway and then into Rosedale Park before Nelson eluded him. (I later drove the route in my car, imagining — in my version — chasing Nelson’s truck and running him off the road.)

Finally, Nelson got on I-70 and took Pamela to a secluded area in Grain Valley, where he raped and strangled her.

TV broke the story that night, and we — The Star — were only able to get a two- or three-paragraph item in the Wednesday morning paper.


We had at least two reporters on the story the next day, Wednesday. I was doing the editing and didn’t get home until after 10 p.m. I had previously scheduled to take off work either Thursday and Friday or just Friday — it’s all a bit hazy now — and I told my supervisor I still intended to take that day or two off, regardless of where the search for Nelson and Pamela’s body stood. Graciously, he didn’t pressure me to come in.

Most journalists would have canceled the vacation day(s) and gone in to handle the follow-up story. I probably should have, but I was psychologically shaken — beaten. It was the only time in my career I was not able to muster the professional wherewithal to handle a difficult story. That said, I was tremendously relieved not to have to return to that story the next day.

As I recall, I spent one or both of those days taking care of Brooks and our son Charlie, who was 10 at the time. However it unfolded for me, on Thursday afternoon authorities fished Nelson out of the Kansas River, under the 12th Street bridge, just a few blocks from the scene of the abduction. On Friday, searchers found Pamela’s body in Grain Valley. If memory serves, I was at the Ward Parkway bowling alley with the kids, watching live shots of the search on a TV in the lounge.

Nelson was later convicted in U.S. District Court and has been on death row about 15 years.


Now, back to Casey (pronounced Cassie) Eaton and the ‘hood.

A year after Pamela’s abduction and murder, a reporter for The Pitch went back and did a story about the Armourdale neighborhood, focusing, to some extent, on Cherri West, her lifestyle and her family history.

The reporter, Tony Moton, who is long gone from The Pitch, said that when Cherri was about Pamela’s age she had witnessed her mother shoot her live-in lover in the abdomen with a 12-gauge shotgun. He survived but spent months in a hospital.

That incident occurred at a home near 13th and Scott.

Moton said Paul Butler — the father of Penny and Pamela — was an alcohol and drug abuser who had at least half a dozen children with three Armourdale women. The story went on to say…

“After Paul (Butler) and (Cherri) West broke up, the girls were being raised by their mother and staying in a crowded house with another half-sister, Casey Eaton, as well as Eaton’s infant daughter and West’s mother…Other friends, children of friends, and relatives took residence with them from time to time.”

Back in October 1999, the time of the abduction, Casey had to have been either 16 or 17. She already had one child then, and she went on to have three more. In addition, one of those children had a child, so, at 34, the recently deceased Casey Eaton was a grandmother.

Casey Eaton and her mother Cherri West

The only person who got out of the ‘hood was Cherri. After Pamela’s death, strangers contributed tens of thousands of dollars to help her and her family. The pitiful-looking house at 11th and Scott was razed, and Cherri bought a house near 63rd and State Avenue — a much safer and significantly more affluent area.

Casey must have moved out there, too, at least for a while. But in the end, the very end, she was back in the ‘hood.

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Good things continue to unfold at The Kansas City Star under the leadership of Publisher Tony Berg and the apparent loosening of purse strings by The Star’s parent company, McClatchy.


:: On Monday, The Star announced it was fortifying the Monday print edition with more business and features coverage, plus, in the most significant step of all, it reinstated Monday’s Op-Ed page, which disappeared without notice nearly two years ago. As you know, The Star successfully pulled off a wholesale resuscitation of its editorial-page ranks early this year under the inspired leadership of new editorial page editor Colleen McCain-Nelson, who, among other things, routinely returns readers’ calls and possesses a personal warmth that five decades of previous editorial page editors lacked. (*See exception, belatedly added, in comments section.)

:: Today, The Star’s three-part, 2016 series on chronic, life-threatening problems in the fire suppression industry won second place for investigative reporting in the 83rd National Headliner Awards, a journalistic awards program that dates to 1934. The authors of the series, called “Fatal Echoes,” were longtime reporters Mike Hendricks and Matt Campbell. The upshot of the series was that scores of firefighters around the country have died needlessly partly because fire departments do not have standardized, national training standards and they are not subject to federal regulations established by any federal agency. (I praised the series back in December.)


These developments merit applause for the hard-working people at 18th and Grand — especially the employees who have soldiered on through a dozen or more rounds of layoffs since 2008. It is also a tribute to the 240-some employees who soon will be ushered out of the longtime headquarters building, which is being sold, and relocated across the street in the 11-year-old press pavilion.

The physical move is less of a concern to employees, of course, than continued victories, small and large, after a long fallow period under former publisher Mi-Ai Parrish and a former McClatchy leadership team that threatened to squeeze the life out of its 29 daily newspapers.

Parrish left, thankfully, in 2015, and early this year McClatchy replaced CEO Patrick Talamantes, a longtime McClatchy manager, with former Yahoo! and Earthlink executive Craig Forman, who was a McClatchy board member.

The board knew what it was doing when it replaced Talamantes, who largely seemed to subscribe to the strangulation strategy employed by his predecessor, Gary Pruitt, who engineered the buyout of the KnightRidder newspaper chain 11 years ago, at the precise moment the newspaper industry was poised to step off a cliff. (It might be more accurate to say it was being shoved off the cliff by the Internet, but, regardless, the cliff was in plain view.)

I’m not sure where — and when — an accommodation was struck between McClatchy leadership and Berg, but Berg, who took over in January 2016, started bringing younger, lower-paid editorial employees on board about a year ago. I would say 10 to 12 new editorial employees have been added during the last 15 months. It must be noted, of course, that the layoffs of higher-paid employees — including longtime deputy business editor Steve Rosen and veteran copy editor and resident poet Don Munday — have continued.

(I should also note that Berg brought a laser focus to the horrendous circulation problems that set in during Parrish’s four years of soporific neglect.)


As I’ve noted before, the print edition, while still thin some days, has a much larger “news hole” than it did until a year or so ago. The Monday paper, which had bordered on being an airborne joke, is back to being relevant. In addition to the return of the Op-Ed page, The Star has added a Monday Business page, which, according to an Editor’s Note on Monday, will focus on “tech and consumer stories.”

Another addition to the Monday paper is a page of features content “that includes regular reviews of weekend performances and Monday Mixer, a recap of weekend entertainment news.”

The big feature story this Monday was a Tim Finn interview with a singer named Casi Joy, who is from Smithville and this week made her fourth appearance on the NBC show “The Voice.”

…Overall, good to see the upswing continue. I’m sure most former KC Star employees will join me in saying, “Keep the improvements coming.”

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One segment of David and Jennifer Beaird’s post-traumatic experience at the hands of a drunk driver who took the lives of their two children is now officially over.

Sixty-one-year-old James L. Green of Odessa pleaded guilty today to five felony counts and was sentenced to 25 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.

As many of you know, I previewed this development last week after a phone conversation with David, who told me he and Jennifer had approved a plea agreement offered by the Jackson County prosecutor’s office.

He did not know then when the plea would take place, but it happened today.

Green pleaded to two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of assault. The fifth charge was driving with a suspended license. In keeping with the terms of a plea agreement, Green got varying terms that will run concurrently, that is, side by side instead of one after another.

The longest term — 25 years — was for murder, and he will have to serve 80 percent of it, or 20 years, before being eligible for parole.

Not only should Green not have been driving at all, he was drunk and thumbing through songs on his cellphone when he plowed into the back of the Beairds’ car on Labor Day evening near the I-70 Adams Dairy Parkway exit.

Stuck in eastbound traffic because of a minor mishap ahead, the Beairds were the proverbial sitting ducks in their Hyundai Alantra. Their two children, 13-year-old Gavin and 7-year-old Chloe, sitting in back, were killed on impact. The crash left David unconscious and paralyzed from the chest down. Jennifer was not seriously injured and was aware of everything going on around her.

“I hate to think what Jennifer saw,” David told me in a phone conversation last week.

Green, who has been in the Jackson County Regional Correctional Center since the crash, had three prior DUI convictions.

I spoke with David this afternoon, telling him about the plea, and he was subdued, as he has been each time I have spoken with him, including in a Jan. 28 interview with him and Jennifer at their Warrenton home.

“Good to know,” he said, referring to the plea.

Since the crash, David and Jennifer have not allowed themselves to become consumed with anger at Green. Life is painful enough. They have focused their energy, instead, on their personal recovery — psychologically and, in David’s case, physically as well as psychologically. David has found it hard to look at photos of the children, which, when I was at their home in January, were tilted upright on the living-room floor against a small wooden case.

David has worked at getting physically stronger and learning how to cope with his new limitations. He has also taken up drawing. Jennifer, meanwhile, has kept busy working long hours this tax season at her job as manager of the H&R Block office in Warrenton.

They’re looking ahead, though, as I have reported before. Their house is for sale, and they are thinking about moving to Myrtle Beach. Understandably, they want to start afresh somewhere else, somewhere where they don’t stand out as “the parents who lost their children.”


I will continue to bring you updates on the Beairds. As far as I know, no other reporter has spoken with them. The case has been the subject of several stories in The Star, including one today on the plea. However, maybe because the Beairds live on the eastern side of the state, The Star apparently has made no attempt to contact the Beairds. Conversely, because the crash happened on the western side of the state, the media in the St. Louis area, including the Post-Dispatch, have given the case scant attention.

With Jennifer, David has started taking trips to expand his capabilities and his new, narrower world view.

“I need to get my confidence up that I can do things outside this house and this neighborhood,” he said today. “What’s the worst that can happen? The worst has already happened.”

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In a matter of hours, perhaps, we will find out if U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gets an audience with Carnac the Magnificent…uh, I mean with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

If Putin has any guts, he will meet with Tillerson, who has lambasted Russia on TV and in news conference in recent days for its apparent complicity with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the chemical attack last week that killed scores of Syrian civilians.

If he has any spine at all, he should be eager to confront Tillerson and have it out.

But Putin, whose forte is gamesmanship not leadership, will probably try to embarrass or upstage Tillerson by stiffing him. It wouldn’t surprise me if Putin made a mini-drama out of whether he will meet with Tillerson by holding out the prospect of a meeting for hours and then pulling back.

On Monday, a spokesman for Putin said a Tillerson-Putin meeting was not planned. “We have not announced any such meetings and right now there is no meeting with Tillerson in the president’s diary,”  the spokesman said.

The Russians are notoriously cagey about such things, however, so the question of a meeting is up in the air. My prediction, though, is Putin will not meet with Tillerson and will thus expose himself as a big talker when shouting across oceans but a wuss when it comes to looking in the eye a powerful international figure who is effectively calling Putin’s hand.

For the first time in a long time, as many observers have noted, America, at least for the time being, is speaking from a position of strength, instead of allowing itself to be pushed around by the fish-eyed former KGB agent.

In case you missed it, Tillerson has spoken confidently and scathingly at least twice in recent days, first on Sunday on “Face the Nation” and then Tuesday at the Group of 7 foreign ministers conference in Italy, before heading to Russia.

Here are samples of what he had to say…

Rex Tillerson on “Face the Nation”

Asked, on “Face the Nation,” if the Russians might have been involved in the chemical weapons attack, he replied:

I think the Russians have played now for some time the role of providing cover for Bashar al-Assad’s behavior. The alternative explanation that the Russians put forth is simply not plausible. Not only is it not plausible, we know from our own information and open-source information that their– their alternative explanation is simply not credible.

So there’s little question as to who was responsible for these attacks. It was Bashar al-Assad. And I think the Russians need to think more carefully about the commitment they made under the chemical weapons agreements to be the guarantor that these weapons would be seized, they would be removed, they would be destroyed. And since they are Bashar al-Assad’s ally, they would have the closest insight as to the compliance.

So regardless of whether Russia was complicit here or whether they were simply incompetent or whether they got outwitted by the Bashar al-Assad regime, you would have to ask the Russians that question.

He was even harsher at the G7 meeting in Lucca, Italy, where he read from a prepared statement to reporters and then answered a couple of questions.

In the statement, he said Russia had “failed to uphold the agreements” of 2013 when Russia agreed to guarantee that all Syrian chemical weapons would be located and destroyed.

He went on to pointedly say, “It is unclear whether Russia failed to take this obligation seriously or Russia has been incompetent, but this distinction doesn’t much matter to the dead.” 

In answer to a reporter’s question, he said:

I think it is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end; but the question of how that ends and the transition itself could be very important, in our view, to the durability, the stability inside of a unified Syria, and its stability and durability of the outcome going forward. So that’s why we are not presupposing how that occurs, but I think it is clear that we see no further role for the Assad regime longer-term given that they have effectively given up their legitimacy with these type of attacks.


Whatever happens in Moscow, it is certainly gratifying to see Tillerson, a man who came from the corporate world and who has taken his time getting his feet under him in his new job, find his voice and speak out strongly on behalf of humanity.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I think Tillerson speaks with the full blessing and confidence of President Trump. There are those who contend the cruise-missile attack on Syria was ordered primarily to divert attention from the investigation into the possibility of coordination between the Kremlin and Trump’s presidential campaign. That may or may not be the case. Regardless, it would have been horrible — as it was several years ago under President Obama — for the U.S. to stand meekly aside while Assad dropped chemical bombs on Syrian civilians, creating horrifying and maddening images of human suffering.

…If you get a chance, Rex, give him hell.

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The stories of Jessica Runions and Kara Kopetsky — and the dead girls’ mothers evolving friendship — are compelling and deeply touching, and they certainly deserve the cascade of column inches The Star has dedicated to the cases in recent days.

But two other old, unsolved murder cases involving attractive young women continue to not only get short shrift from from The Star but also be badly mishandled.

I’m talking about the strange and tragic murders of 18-year-old Sarah DeLeon in 1989 and the 1994 slaying of 26-year-old Diana Ault.

The Star’s “centerpiece” story on Sunday was another re-examination of the Runions-Kopetsky cases, with no new information being disclosed.

Buried inside, meanwhile, on Page 4A, was a story under the two-column headline “Attorney: Client is relieved after murder charge is ’89 case dropped”

Sarah DeLeon

Unlike the Runions-Kopetsky story, the 4A story contained startling news: A first-degree murder charge pending against 48-year-old Carolyn J. Heckert in the DeLeon case was dropped Friday, and Heckert was released from custody.

…It was one of the oddest crime reports I’ve ever read. It started like this:

“An attorney for a women accused of killing a teenager nearly 30 years ago said his client is relieved to be home after nearly seven months in jail.”

Well, what a surprise. A woman who may have gotten away with murder is happy to be home! Gee, KC Star, thanks for sharing that wonderful news with us!

The story attributed reports of the dismissal to Heckert’s attorney. The reporter, Toriano Porter, a young and relatively new hand at The Star, went on to inform the readers that he had not been able to reach any members of DeLeon’s family and that the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s office declined to comment, other than to confirm the case had been dismissed.

As best I could tell from looking at local TV stations’ websites today, the judge dismissed the charge after a preliminary hearing, at which prosecutors were unable to present enough evidence to warrant binding the case over for trial. I believe all four local TV stations had the story Friday evening, and one or two had video of Heckert leaving the courthouse with an unidentified man. (See photo below.)

What happened, obviously, is The Star got beat on the story. It’s very possible The Star had lost track of the case and didn’t realize a hearing was coming up Friday. My guess is one or more Star editors and/or reporters saw the development on the Friday afternoon TV news, and Porter was quickly assigned to the story. He was only able to get part of the story, though, and slapped together the weird report that appeared online at 7:48 p.m. Friday and then ran in today’s printed edition.


It was big news back in October when Heckert, a longtime real estate agent who lives in Smithville, was arrested on the basis of new DNA collection and testing technology. But even then, as I reported in an October 21 blog post, not one news outlet, including The Star, had a story that adequately and clearly explained the story — which, in short, is that Heckert may have regarded DeLeon and Alt as romantic rivals. Heckert had dated Ault’s husband after he and Ault had separated, and Heckert had also dated DeLeon’s boyfriend when DeLeon and her boyfriend were broken up. The DeLeon-Ault story is one with chilling and possibly fatal overtones, and no local reporter has done it justice.

Diana Ault

My immediate beef, however, is the approach Porter took in Sunday’s story. Armed with a thimble full of information, he tried to compensate by writing a disproportionately large story. He was trying to go beyond a “murder-charge-was-dropped-yesterday” story, but he had only one side of the story — the one Heckert’s attorney gave him — and it came out trite and silly.

What the readers were left with was a 14-inch story that told them virtually nothing more than that the charge was dismissed, but possibly could be refiled later.

Having been beaten on the story — which happens — Porter should have put his tail between his legs and written it straight — “Murder charge dismissed yesterday” — and not tried to gloss over his paucity of facts.

Porter left us with this quote from the attorney:

“I’m very pleased for my client (Heckert) and very happy she can go home and be with her children. Hopefully this is behind her.”

Galling, absolutely galling.

Tomorrow morning, I hope, The Star will do the right thing and shove Toriano Porter back into the story to find out how the DeLeon and Ault families feel about this latest development…That is what the readers want to know. The hell with Heckert.

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Many of you will recall my two-part story earlier this year about David and Jennifer Beaird, the Warrenton couple whose two children were killed last Labor Day when a drunk plowed into the back of their car on I-70 in Blue Springs.

Today, I spoke with David, who was left paralyzed from the chest down, and he told me about a development in the case.

A few weeks ago, he said, the Jackson County prosecutor’s office informed him and Jennifer that prosecutors had reached a plea agreement with the defendant, 61-year-old James L. Green of Odessa. The deal, subject to the Beairds’ approval, was for a 25-year sentence, with Green having to serve a minimum of 80 percent, or 20 years.

The Beairds thought about it for a couple of days and then called the prosecutor’s office and accepted the deal.

Green, who has three prior DUI convictions, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder (murder, rather than manslaughter, because of the aggravating circumstance of intoxication) and two counts of assault. He has been in the Jackson County Regional Correctional Center since the crash.

Killed upon impact were 13-year-old Gavin and 7-year-old Chloe. They were seated in the back of the Beairds’ car when Green plowed into them while they were stuck in eastbound traffic near the Adams Dairy Parkway exit. Green told police he had been looking at his phone, thumbing through his music list and that his car was on cruise control.

David and Jennifer Beaird

David said he didn’t know the exact correlation of charges and sentencing but that the deal was for a total of 25 years. He said it was his understanding Green would formally enter the plea in June, when Green is next scheduled to appear in court. (I have a call into a spokesman with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office to see if the spokesman will verify what David told me.)

Although a longer sentence might seem more appropriate, 20 years may well be a life sentence for Green. “He’s in his early 60s and in poor health,” David said.

James L. Green

Poor health would be understandable, given that he’s probably been an alcoholic for more than 25 years…His first DUI conviction came in 1991 in Jackson County. The others were in 1997 and 2009.


When I visited them in February, the Beairds (pronounced Beard) were planning to sell their Warrenton home and move to upstate New York, the area that was home to Jennifer’s family for many years.

They have put their home up for sale, but David, who is 40, said they were now leaning toward moving to Myrtle Beach, SC, partly because the warm climate might make life easier for him. Jennifer’s mother, Kathy Gordon, who has been living with them in Warrenton, would continue living with them wherever they go.

Jennifer, 38, is still managing the H&R Block tax preparation office in Warrenton and will continue to work long hours for the next couple of weeks, through the end of tax season. After that, the couple will focus on selling the house and preparing to move.

David said a recent trip to visits relatives in Missouri’s Bootheel served as something of an experiment on how he could negotiate logistical challenges. It went well and gave him a shot of confidence in his ability to function relatively normally “away from the comforts of home.”

Asked how he was coping overall, he said, “slow and steady.” To help pass time, he has taken up drawing and sketching.

“I try to stay real busy and not think about things,” he said.


Here are the links to my two earlier stories on this case.



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