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.
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.