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Archive for November, 2021

Jackson county Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker notched her second huge win in a week today when a retired appeals court judge granted a motion to exonerate Kevin Strickland in a 1978 triple murder and ordered his immediate release.

Strickland, 62, was sentenced to prison in June 1979 for a murder he did not commit. He has spent more than 42 years behind bars.

Every bit as significant as Strickland’s exoneration was Baker’s successful prosecution of Kansas City Police Detective Eric DeValkenaere, whom a Jackson County Circuit Court judge last week found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the Dec. 3, 2019, killing of Cameron Lamb as he was backing into the garage at his residence at 4154 College Ave.

Jean Peters Baker

Baker is fearless in her pursuit of criminals of all stripes, including cops. In 2019, she went up against the other most powerful political organization in town, Local 42 of the International Association of Fire, on a union contract matter. (Jackson County’s assistant prosecutors are one of a dozen bargaining units that Local 42 represents.)

It would be so easy for Baker to take a go-along/get-along stance with the police department, which she has to work with on all criminal cases. It’s obvious, though, that Baker follows her gut and her conscience. You would think that would be good for her politically — and it is in Democratic Jackson County — but it’s probably not going to help her if she ever goes for a statewide office, such as attorney general.

That’s because the Democratic Party has essentially become irrelevant at the statewide level, with Donald Trump’s perverted brand of Republicanism having won the hearts and minds of outstate Missourians, who hold a distinct advantage, numerically, over the residents of Kansas City and St. Louis.

Eric Schmitt

It is maddening that a huckster and Trump devotee like Eric Schmitt holds the office of attorney general and that he probably will be a serious contender for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.

Think comparatively about Baker and Schmitt. Where Baker is trying to hold all criminals accountable to the law, Schmitt is sniffing for headlines and looking to burnish his Trump-populist credentials.

Laughingly, but sadly, he fought Baker on Strickland’s exoneration. If Schmitt had gotten his way, Strickland would have spent the rest of his life in prison.

Then there is his record of cases filed. In April, The Kansas City Star ran an editorial that catalogued Schmitt’s most jaw-dropping forays. The editorial began like this…

“Almost a year ago, Schmitt sued China. He has sued Facebook and Google, too. Last week, he filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration’s immigration policies. He’s suing over state tax cuts. Schmitt has sued over the XL Pipeline. He’s in court over federal oil and gas leases. He wants federal environmental regulations reduced by court order. And, of course, he was part of the lawsuit against Pennsylvania, trying to erase the presidential votes of about 7 million people who live there…Have any of these lawsuits succeeded? Nah.”

At least one of Schmitt’s opponents for the Republican senatorial nomination is not buffaloed by the attorney general’s antics. When he announced his own candidacy last week, Missouri Senate President Pro Tem David Schatz, a Franklin County Republican, said “too many politicians are fakes and frauds.”

David Schatz

I couldn’t help but think Schatz was referring to Schmitt, and I hope Schatz will get bolder in the coming months and call out Schmitt by name as nothing more than a publicity hound.

…What a shame: Schmitt running for U.S. Senate and Jean Peters Baker effectively limited to running in urban areas. Courage and conviction are no longer the traits that resonate with a majority of Missouri voters; it’s cronyism that counts.

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If I didn’t know the so-called Indian Creek killer, Fredrick Scott, was in jail waiting to go to trial, I’d have pegged him as the prime suspect in recent spate of six murders — two in KCK, two in St. Louis County and two in the city of St. Louis.

You’ve probably heard or read about the two killings at Wyandotte Towers, near downtown KCK. The body of Damon Irvin, 35, was found in the 15-story building Nov. 1, and the body of Rau’Daja Fairrow, 25, was found there the next day.

If 26-year-old Perez (JoJo) Reed, the suspected killer, knew those two, he apparently didn’t know them very well. Same with the four homicide victims in the St. Louis area — Lester Robinson, 40; Marnay Haynes, 13; Pamela Abercrombie, 49; and Casey Ross, 24.

Perez Reed

There are three reasons the Reed case has not made as many headlines here as the Scott case:

  • The murders took place in metro areas 250 miles apart, instead of in a limited geographic area.
  • Only two of the six murders took place in our area.
  • None of the six victims being attributed to Reed was apparently as well known or as financially successful as Michael Darby, 61-year-old co-owner of the Coach’s Bar & Grill formerly located at 103rd and Wornall.

Darby was shot in the head, from behind, on May 18, 2017, as he was walking his dog along the creek. At least one other of Scott’s victims, David Lenox, was also killed while walking his dogs.

Fredrick Scott

Check these other similarities in the natures of the killings and the killers:

  • All or most all of the 12 victims were shot in the head, many from behind when they were not expecting anything. (Questioned by Kansas City detectives, Scott uttered these chilling words: “They didn’t see it coming.”)
  • One of the Kansas City victims was shot after getting off a bus and being followed by Scott. One of the St. Louis County victims was waiting for a bus when he was approached from behind and shot without warning.
  • Scott had worked at a Burger King and Pizza Hut. Reed had worked at fast-food restaurants.
  • Both Reed and Scott suffered from mental illnesses and “heard voices.”

Fortunately, both these maniacs are off the streets.

Perez was arrested earlier this month at a bus station in Independence. He is in custody in St. Louis on $1 million bond. Scott has been in custody in Kansas City since August 2017.

What is worrisome, though, is whether either of these men will ever get the psychological treatment they obviously need. It’s too soon to say what course Reed’s case will take, but there’s a track record with Scott. In June, a Jackson County Circuit Court judge ruled he was mentally unfit to stand trial. Had that stood, he undoubtedly would have been committed to a mental institution, probably for the rest of his life.

In the summer, however, he was re-evaluted, and a judge (I don’t know if it was the same one) ruled he was competent to stand trial. Trial is scheduled for next September.

Clearly, Scott is a nut job, and, to all indications, Reed is too.

I’m not saying these two should ever go free — they shouldn’t — but does it make sense to put them in a general prison population, where they might be more likely than most other inmates to kill again?

This is a horrible situation for all concerned — the people whose lives were cut short, their families, the killers and their families.

Reed’s aunt, Shanna Williams, told the Post Dispatch, “JoJo’s a good person when you don’t make him mad.” Scott’s mother told The Star her son suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

We know there are a lot of people running around out in society suffering similar illnesses. Which means serial killings like these are bound to repeat themselves.

In most cases, the victims of mentally ill people prone to violence are easy targets, like Mr. Irvin and Ms. Fairrow in Wyandotte Towers, where rent is cheap and people are stacked on top of each other.

But sometimes it’s people like Mike Darby — people living comfortably in single-family houses in “safe” neighborhoods who read about cases like this and flip the page (or click the next story) and go on about their business, giving their personal vulnerability little thought.

It’s scary shit, and I don’t have the answer. Twelve dead at the hands of two wackos. How do we stop it? Can we stop it? I fear not.

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This is a story about regret. And nostalgia. And the rush of time.

Back in the mid- to late 1970s and early 1980s when I lived at 51st and Grand, next door to my best friend, Dick Arnett, we spent a lot of time at the New Stanley Bar in Westport. We met quite a few young women down there. Two of more than passing interest were Ann Sullivan and Brenda Stremel.

They were good Catholic girls. I don’t remember how or where the introductory meeting or meetings took place, but I presume the nexus was the New Stanley bar at the corner of Westport Road and Pennsylvania. Dick and I may have met the two of them there one night, or maybe I met Ann and she introduced me to Brenda and I introduced both to Dick.

Anyway, I began dating Ann, and Dick began dating Brenda. Ann was from St. Louis and worked at Southwestern Bell. She was rail thin, very pretty and exuded warmth and authenticity. Her blue eyes reflected a soul that was alive with curiosity and engagement with the world. Brenda was also very pretty — a little quieter — and had a sweet smile and disposition…For the life of me, I don’t remember what she did for a living.

Back then, when I was about 30, I had few thoughts about marriage or long-term relationships. I had been cut loose from my Louisville, KY, moorings and was out to have a good time. Dick had been married but got divorced after his wife, an editor at The Star, took up with another Star employee. Dick used to say, “The old lady ran off with the hockey reporter.” It was a funny line, but, in actuality, the breakup was devastating to Dick. He had fought in the Vietnam War, which was the first big shock of his life, and then his wife left him. He didn’t talk about the breakup much; he just followed my lead in Westport, where there were plenty of dating prospects.

We had some good times with Ann and Brenda, although I don’t remember us double dating very much. Like me with Ann, I don’t think Dick ever had long-term intentions relating to Brenda. He dated her haphazardly, the same way I dated Ann. With all modesty, though, I have to say those girls were crazy about us. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the carefree attitudes we projected. With Ann, maybe it was the fact that I was a reporter. She used to read all my stories and was delighted one time when I used the word “prattled” to describe a subject’s manner of speaking in a story.

Dick and I subconsciously realized we very lucky that Ann and Brenda liked us as much as they did; we just didn’t appreciate it sufficiently.

Gradually, Ann and I drifted apart, and she moved to Denver. I remember visiting her there once, not long after she had moved. She still harbored hopes of a romantic relationship, but I dashed them, saying I just saw us being friends. That night, those lively eyes turned sad. But then she moved to San Francisco and met a good guy, a co-worker named Lew, and they married. After they retired, they moved to Denver.

…It was a bit rougher go for Brenda. She was head over heels for Dick, but she was naive. He strung her along and took up with another woman, whom he was crazy about. Brenda didn’t realize for a long time that there was someone else. When she found out, she went to her parish priest for consolation and consultation. Several years later, she met a guy from Minnesota through an online site that catered to Catholics. They married and either settled here or lived there for a while and then came back here.

Dick, meanwhile, had moved to Chicago for a while, and the “new” girlfriend moved up there with him for about a year. During that period, she decided she could never be married to him, and she moved back. He moved back pretty soon thereafter, in the early 1980s. He continued pursuing her, but it wasn’t working. He became very depressed, clinically depressed, and on the first Friday of August in 1984 — I remember it vividly because I tried unsuccessfully to call him all day — he went over to her house and blew his brains out while she was at work.

The girlfriend was crushed; Brenda was crushed; I was crushed.

The girlfriend went on to marry a man in the window business and they moved back to her hometown in northwest Missouri and had a couple of kids.

I married Patty the year after Dick committed suicide. After we had Brooks, we moved from Grand Avenue to Brookside. Then we had Charlie and settled into the years of going to work and raising children.

Once several years ago, Brenda got in touch with me and said Ann and Lew were coming to town and suggested the four of us get together. We went to lunch at Gates on Cleaver Boulevard. It was a good time and it was gratifying to see both of them happy.

More years went by, and the last time I saw Brenda was about a year and a half ago, in mid 2020, when she knocked on our door in Romanelli West. (She had found out where we lived but didn’t have an email address or phone number for me.)

She told me Ann had died. I don’t remember what the cause was. Maybe cancer. She was 70. It was tough news to hear. Those old, guilty feelings of having left her disappointed welled up. The thought of those lively, gleaming eyes gave me solace, though, as did the realization she had ended up happy.s

I got Brenda’s email address, but we didn’t stay in touch.

Then came today — and it’s now more than 40 years since those halcyon days in Westport — and I was going down the list of obituaries in The Star. And there, second from the bottom, was the name Brenda Alice Stremel.

It was my Brenda. Dick’s Brenda. Ann’s Brenda. There was no fleshed out obituary — not even on the link to the McGilley website — just a three-sentence notice with the date of death, date of visitation, date of funeral service, date and place of burial. She would have been 72 next month.

All the thoughts, all the memories, all the regrets, all the losses poured over me. I went into Patty’s sewing room and gave her the news. She stopped what she was doing and said, “She was just over here at our house!”

Surely, it did seem that way.

Now, three of the four members of that quartet that intersected and enjoyed some good times and tender moments are gone.

But weren’t we just down at the New Stanley? It sure seems that way.

Ann Sullivan
Brenda Stremel

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It’s time for the First Annual JimmyCsays Fishing Report.

It was a quite a fishing season, but, unfortunately, I had little to show for it, and the bank account is about $400 lighter. The first of two outings came in August, when I drove down to Sterrett Creek Marina in Warsaw, MO, near Truman Lake dam. I rented a bass boat, complete with a depth finder and big-old motor. (With the depth finder, you can see where the fish are, but that hardly guarantees you’ll catch ’em.)

As in the past, the desk clerk told me what areas to avoid because of tree stumps just below the surface. I thought I avoided those areas, but — wouldn’t you know it? — the propeller banged into a submerged stump along the way. I was hoping the propeller didn’t incur significant damage, but when I got back to the marina and was waiting to settle up, I saw two or three guys looking at the propeller and pointing. Oh, oh, I thought.

In short order, the desk clerk was supplanted by a woman who I believe co-owns the marina. Without introducing herself, she gave me the bad news: The propeller would have to be replaced, and the boat would have to be pulled from the water in a day or two and examined for further damage.

A couple of days later, I got an email informing me I was being charged $225 for the propeller replacement. With a half-day’s rent of $125, that put my tab at slightly more than $350. A line at the bottom of the receipt said, “Thank you for your business, we hope to see you again soon!”

Did I catch any fish, you ask? No. Didn’t have a bite.

About a month later, I called Orleans Marina at Stockton Lake and arranged to rent a much smaller boat with a 15-horsepower engine. The price was right: $42.59 for half a day. What a deal, I thought!

I’ve been to Stockton, a popular sailing lake, and I know that the wind can play havoc with fishing boats. I checked the weather report the day before I went, and the wind strength was supposed to be about nine miles an hour the next day. Very tolerable, I thought…Unfortunately, I checked the Kansas City forecast, not the Stockton, MO, report.

The next morning I started down I-49, and as I got an our or so south, I noticed the wind was whipping the treetops around. I got worried but pressed on. When I was within about half an hour of the marina, the phone rang, and it was one of the marina clerks. She said the wind was quite strong and asked if I wanted to reschedule. I was tempted to turn back but told her I was so close that I would press on.

When I got to the marina, the wind was blowing 15 to 20 mph, with frequent gusts up to maybe 30. “Stay in the cove,” the clerk told me. “Don’t go out on the main lake.”

I’ve had experience on wind-blown lakes — one particularly unforgettable day at Lake of the Ozarks when I was beseeching The Almighty to let me get back to land — and I took her advice. But even in the Orleans Marina cove the boat was darting and twisting like a paper kite. It was an all-out battle to maintain control of the tiller, and a couple of times the boat spun around in circles despite my stoutest efforts.

I got the line in the water a few times, but, under the arduous circumstances, the line on my bait-casting reel kept backlashing — commonly referred to by fishermen as the “bird’s nest.” I would alternately pull on the line for a few seconds to try to undo the mess, and then I’d have to abandon that task to try to right the ship.

After less than two hours, I gave up and retreated to the dock. Before I left, one of the clerks said, “Are you going to try it again sometime?”

“I don’t know,” I said, lying through my teeth, having determined never to go back to Stockton.

I think it goes without saying that I didn’t catch any fish.

On the trip home, I was exhausted from battling the wind and the tiller. My back hurt, and I was disgusted.

When I got home, I put the tackle box on the garage floor and perched the rods against the wall. I decided I’d make another run down to Truman, probably to State Park Marina, in October. But October came and went, and the tackle sat in the garage. This morning, Patty said, “Is fishing season over?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Then, get the rods and tackle box out of the garage and take them down in the basement,” she directed

And that was it for fishing 2021. The tackle is on the work bench in the basement.

Look for another exciting fishing report next fall.

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For most of the first half of the baseball season, when Jorge Soler was a Kansas City Royal, he looked lost and disinterested.

He swung wildly at pitches out of the strike zone, and his batting average was .192. That means he was getting a hit less than once in every five at-bats.

Then at the July 30, major league trade deadline, the Royals shipped him to Atlanta. In exchange for Soler, the Royals got a minor-leage pitcher named Kasey Kalich, but, more importantly for the Royals, they shed $2.8 million in salary they would have had to pay Soler had they kept him.

The trade came as a surprise because it was not announced until more than 30 minutes after the trade deadline. But he was gone…and I cheered. I thought he was dragging the Royals down, both with his indiscriminate swinging and what looked like an indifferent attitude.

It was clear during his last two weeks with the Royals, however, that Soler was coming around to resemble the hitter who in 2019 hit 48 home runs, a Royals’ record until Salvador Perez tied the mark this season.

In his last nine games with the Royals, Soler went 8 for 30, batting .267, with six home runs and seven runs batted in.

After arriving in Atlanta, he continued his upward momentum, finishing the season batting .223. At some point he became a more selective hitter, either learning the strike zone or watching it more closely. I don’t know if the Braves’ coaches were responsible for that or if it was Soler’s doing, but it made a huge difference. Instead of looking inept, he began looking like a smart, dangerous hitter.

But then, in the National League playoffs, he had a big setback. On Oct. 12, a few hours before the decisive Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, Soler tested positive for Covid-19 and was declared out of the game, which the Braves won 5-4. He missed the first four games of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers and was reactivated for Game 5.

In Game 1 of the World Series in Houston, Soler got off to a smashing start, hitting a lead-off home run. It was the first time in Series history that the first batter up had hit a home run.

In Game 4 on Saturday, Soler was on the back end of a stirring one-two home run punch that started with teammate Dansby Swanson hitting one out. Soler’s follow-up home run gave the Braves a lead they never relinquished.

But the best was yet to come. In tonight’s Game 6, with two runners on base in the top of the third inning, Soler blasted a breaking ball 446 feet over the left field wall. As soon as he hit it, he dropped his bat and mouthed some words to either the third-base coach or the player rounding third base and heading home. At that point, he had driven in six runs in the World Series.

That belt put the Braves ahead 3-0, and they kept building the lead from there. Dansby Swanson hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning, and Freddie Freeman hit another two-run shot in the seventh, putting the Braves up 7-0.

When it was over at 10:33 p.m. and the Braves were celebrating on the field, Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck said, “What a quick, fun ride for Jorge Soler” — from the Royals to the Braves to a World Series championship.

At 10:52 p.m. Soler was announced as the Most Valuable Player of the 2021 World Series. And this time I was cheering for him. What a thrilling performance by our former Royal.

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Until this year, I hadn’t closely followed a World Series since the Royals won in 2015. But I got interested this year just by chance, when I decided to root for the St. Louis Cardinals in their one-game playoff with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I’ve always hated both the Cardinals and the Dodgers — the Cardinals because they used to regularly beat my Cincinnati Reds when I lived in Louisville, KY, and the Dodgers because they’re too smug, too rich and win too much.

But the Cardinals got my attention and admiration late in the season because they have a 40-year-old, star pitcher, Adam Wainwright, and because they had a remarkable 17-game winning streak, which got them into the wild-card game with the Dodgers.

I watched that game, and although the Cardinals lost, I started following the playoffs because I wanted the Dodgers to lose. After they lost out to the Braves, I was too deep in it to turn back, and I began rooting for the Braves. Now, the Braves lead the series three games to two, with the series returning to Houston tomorrow night for Game 6 and Game 7, if necessary.

If you haven’t been watching this series, you’re missing out on some high-level and very exciting baseball…The only thing marring it is the damned tomahawk chop, which Braves’ management persists in promoting and which now looks just plain ridiculous. Jeff Passan, an ESPN writer who formerly worked at The Star and still lives in the KC area, wrote an article in which he called the chop “a wildly ahistorical, fundamentally problematic and altogether unnecessary ritual.”

Passan predicted the tomahawk chop will eventually be retired by the last three teams that employ it — the Braves, the Florida State Seminoles and…the Kansas City Chiefs.

It can’t come soon enough. Looking back on the days in the 70s and 80s when I attended Chiefs’ games periodically, I’m embarrassed that I opened my mouth to join in the chant and raise my arm in a chopping gesture. The only partially mitigating excuse I can offer is I was drinking during the 70s, and that’s pretty lame.

But other than that, like I say, this World Series has produced some amazing stuff. Consider, for example…

:: Former Kansas City Royals’ slugger Jorge Soler led off the Series by hitting a home run. It was the first time in Series history that the first batter up has hit a home run.

Jorge Soler

:: In Game 4 on Saturday, Soler was part of another rare feat, when teammate Dansby Swanson and Soler hit back-to-back home runs to give the Braves the lead, which they held onto to win the game. (I wrote earlier this year I was glad the Royals traded Soler, and I still am, but it’s good to see him enjoying himself and doing so well in the Series.)

:: Braves’ relief pitchers Tyler Matzek and Will Smith have shut down the Astros in the late innings of each game the Braves have won. Icily efficient, those guys remind me of Wade Davis and Greg Holland in 2015.

For me, though, the biggest thrill was in Game 4, when Braves’ left fielder Eddie Rosario made a breathtaking, on-the-run catch.

It was the top of the eighth inning with two out, nobody on base and the Braves leading 3-2, thanks to the Swanson-Soler homers. Astros’ star Jose Altuve hit a long drive to left field. Rosario raced back toward the wall, eyeing the ball. A few steps before he got to the wall, he took his eyes off the ball for an instant to see where he was in relation to the wall. Just as quickly, he turned back, stuck his glove out and, smack, the ball landed in his glove.

He bounced off the padded wall and emitted a shout. Heading back toward the dugout, he balled his right hand into a fist and smacked it against his chest. Just then, an inspired TV director switched to a camera shot of Soler, who was standing at the dugout railing. Soler’s mouth was wide open in awe, a big smile on his face and hands clasped on top of his head. You can see the play and Soler’s reaction here.

The TV announcers, led by Joe Buck, son of legendary Cardinals’ announcer Jack Buck, didn’t give Rosario sufficient credit. None of them pointed out that Rosario had glanced at the wall, which multiplied the chances of him not catching it.

Soler understood it, though. After the game, through an interpreter, he said: “When Eddie turned to look at the fence, we thought to ourselves — or at least I thought personally — that the ball either hit the fence, or it’s gone. then he just kept running and threw the glove out there and made the catch, and we all looked at each other in amazement, like: ‘Did that just really happen?’ It took us all by surprise, and it was something truly out of a movie.”

Soler didn’t come up with quotes that like when he was playing for the Royals. Of course, the Royals weren’t making incredible clutch plays in pivotal games, either. There were no pivotal games. Happily for Jorge, he’s now in some games he’ll remember the rest of his life. Smile on, Jorge.

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