KS KS - Hazel, 60, & Steve Avery, 19, Gary Longfellow, 23, Ottawa, 28 March 1973

Discussion in 'Cold Cases' started by wfgodot, May 9, 2013.

  1. wfgodot

    wfgodot Former Member

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    Forty years, three murders and no answers in Franklin County cold case (Lawrence Journal World)
    Franklin County saw previous triple homicide in 1973 (Topeka Capital-Journal)
    much more at the links above
     
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  3. tezi

    tezi Member of Websleuths since 2000.

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    Thanks Woofie. I seem to remember something about this case. I will read the links and get up to speed!
     
  4. wfgodot

    wfgodot Former Member

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    It was such a big case and yet I'd forgotten all about it - although I've driven by the location hundreds of times and lived within a block of U.S. 59 downstate for a significant portion of my life.

    In a weird way those murders - never solved and never, I gather, a serious suspect - were, for Kansas, or northeast Kansas, near the university, anyway - like an end of the '60s. It wasn't exactly a "Haight Ashbury post-Summer of Love, switching from LSD to bad speed" type of thing, not that cultural import, really, but the notion that three people could be shot to death by some rough beast who must have come out of the storm and out of the darkness, inevitable and ineluctable, in generally peaceful Kansas, not far from the very center of the continental 48, then murdered them for no discernible reason, and then the crime never solved - well, it did put a period mark to the long, hopeful sentence of the decade which came before it.

    "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold," Yeats wrote. And that was true of that March night in 1973.
     
  5. tezi

    tezi Member of Websleuths since 2000.

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    At one point, weren't these murders thought to be linked to BTK?
     
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  6. wfgodot

    wfgodot Former Member

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    They may have been as it was a year before BTK's reign of terror though the m.o. doesn't really fit. Conceivably could have been a crime of opportunity a young Dennis Rader might have done, though. It was certainly as senseless.

    He was living in Park City at the time, just over two hours away.
     
  7. tezi

    tezi Member of Websleuths since 2000.

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    OK, I read the article and realized I had my potential killers mixed up. This does seem to be a "Lucas" type of killing. Meaning a crime of opportunity.

    JMO, IMO, :moo:, and all other disclaimers.
     
  8. wfgodot

    wfgodot Former Member

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    I suppose my general theory would be that, after picking up her hitchhiking son, she and his pal then also, perhaps at his bidding, saw another hitchhiker on the road that messy March night and stopped for that person, as well.

    But, while hitchhiking was not rare in those days - Steve Avery had been hitching home from Iola, about 80 miles from Lawrence - I've never seen a hitchhiker on that particular stretch between Princeton and Ottawa. And well after dark, too.

    Of course, that means nothing. Something happened.
     
  9. tezi

    tezi Member of Websleuths since 2000.

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    That seems like an extremely plausible theory. It makes the most sense.

    What about a "hit?" I see the investigator says that is a possibility? But, really, those kids weren't old enough to be involved in something that dangerous, in 1973, IMO.

    IMO, JMO, :moo:, and all other disclaimers.
     
  10. wfgodot

    wfgodot Former Member

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    There was the court case mentioned and I suppose, conceivably, someone followed them from Lawrence, but it doesn't seem likely. No one knew she was to leave the house at that hour on an unexpected trip.

    If it was a hitchhiker, though, wouldn't that person take the car? Why stay out in the elements on a stormy night? Although perhaps that person lived nearby.

    Plenty of trouble to get into in 1973. University of Kansas had a student population of probably 15,000, so there were drugs aplenty. Violent political activity also - the student union was bombed and someone burned the ROTC building down in this approximate time frame.
     
  11. wfgodot

    wfgodot Former Member

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    According to unlinked articles from 1973 I read on another forum, authorities received a tip in a letter that the U.S. 59 murders were (somehow) linked to the discovery of a body a couple miles southeast of Garnett and U.S. 59 - about 25 miles south of the Franklin County killings - about three weeks later.

    http://doenetwork.org/cases/1088umks.html (horrible reconstruction of victim's head!)

    No cause of death apparently was established for this person, whose remains were skeletal and thus his death probably predated the homicides; nor apparently were any connections found with the three deceased persons near Ottawa.
     
  12. wishuwerehere

    wishuwerehere New Member

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    After reading the articles linked above, my initial thought is two perpetrators, a man and a woman. Possibly the woman was hitchhiking, appearing to be alone as her male companion was hiding behind brush. A woman alone in bad weather, most people would stop to help. And if there were two perps, compliance from the victims would be had quickly.

    The lack of motive seems to be the most confusing element of this case. However, the arranging of two of the victims’ bodies in the rear seat is where that motive can be found, I think. This may be a taunting to police or to someone specific in the police dept. at that time.
     
  13. wishuwerehere

    wishuwerehere New Member

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    Another scenario I was thinking: Perhaps when Hazel Avery and Longfellow picked up Steve on the highway he had company. Was it possible Steve was befriended by a fellow highwayman? He did stop to use a pay phone to call his mother. Someone could have been lurking.
     
  14. wishuwerehere

    wishuwerehere New Member

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    bbm

    What is the reason for taking a vehicle? To get from Point A to Point B. What if they were at Point B at the time of the murders? No need for the vehicle.

    This would suggest someone very local is responsible for the murders.
     
  15. wfgodot

    wfgodot Former Member

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  16. wfgodot

    wfgodot Former Member

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    Definite possibility, an attachment probably acquired when he made the phone call but not sure where he called from - Princeton? Richmond? As he was coming from the south, Richmond, a bit bigger than Princeton - we're talking about 500 v. 300 - was the town he'd hit first, and a probable spot for the call; I think it did have a highway-fronting filling station at the time, though Princeton may have had also; he seems to have been spotted, though, north of Richmond but south of Princeton - they're seven miles apart - and no reports he was with a companion.

    Well, no reports I know of. Imformation is scant even online after 40 years. Whatever the case, another hitchhiker on a wet night may well have sheltered alongside the road in a filling station and Steve A. may have met with his fate right there.
     
  17. wfgodot

    wfgodot Former Member

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    I think this would be my choice of solution. While the high strangeness quotient of having a traveler who'd walked the highway anywhere between the Canadian and Mexican borders is deadly and thus romantic in a macabre way, it's far more likely LE just overlooked the obvious and didn't do due diligence on a county resident some old boy could "vouch for."
     
  18. vermontaigne

    vermontaigne New Member

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    Normally, since this has the marks of a hit, you'd say that it had something to do with Steve Avery's going to testify on behalf of Gary Longfellow at a paternity hearing the next day, and that would send you looking for someone else who might be implicated as the father, who had a lot to lose if the truth were known. Makes you wonder what kind of testimony Steve was going to give. I see from the Topeka Capitol-Journal above indicates that other people testified that the "McLouth woman" suing for paternity support had declined Longfellow's offer to marry her, wanting financial support instead, and indicated to other people that he was not the father. On the basis of that testimony, the court found in favor of the deceased defendant.

    But in this case, the hit man would have had to have known where to look for the two young men, and that's a puzzler, as noted above, because Steve called from the road for a ride, and Mrs. Avery asked Longfellow to accompany her, leaving at about 10:30 pm. Two other points seem significant in this regard. The first is Mrs. Avery's feeling she'd be safer with Longfellow in the car with her. I know it was raining, but unless she had a night vision problem or something like that, it seems a precaution that most people, even 60-year-old ladies, wouldn't take, unless they had a reason to feel insecure. Second, Steve had set out hitchhiking because Dianne, his wife, didn't want him taking the car. Why not? It seems unlikely that the mother of a young daughter would absolutely need a car at night. Perhaps she didn't want him to testify in the matter, because she felt it would put him in danger. It would seem that if they'd receive threats, they would have mentioned it to other people, at least after the fact, unless Steve's widow believed that the threat persisted even after he was murdered.

    Then there's the question of the hippie, mentioned above, found murdered several weeks later and a few miles away. Law enforcement was reluctant to tie the triple homicide together with that, though it seems that the condition of the UID's body makes it possible he was murdered at or about the same time. However, if he were murdered at the same time, or by the same hand, it's a puzzler why he ended up with a skull fracture from a blow that may not have been sufficient to kill him all by itself. Though he was found in a creek bed, we don't know whether or not there was evidence of drowning. If he were slain by the same person, you'd think it likely that he, too, might have been dispatched with a shot to the head, unless there was a reason to vary the method of execution.

    From the religious artifacts he's got with him, one has to conclude that hippie guy is a Jesus freak, which makes him an unlikely assailant or collaborator with the assailant. If he were killed by the murderer of the other three, then you'd have to imagine that the murderer would have been well served to have left the murder weapon with him, in order to make it seem that hippie guy was maybe tripping on acid or whatever people thought might make counter-cultural types resort to random violence back in 1973. So, imagining that he was killed by the same person or persons, the reason the weapon wasn't left there might have been that it would be traceable.

    Now, whenever I see that someone disappeared or was killed on the eve of giving court testimony, I think there's likely a connection. None of the deceased seems to have much contact with the criminal justice system. Somehow, though, the KBI seems to have determined that these murders had nothing to do with the court date, even though they can't seem to find an alternative motive, having ruled out robbery. At the same time, if hippie guy had any form of ID on him, it was taken.

    Whatever other rumors were going on about the McLouth woman's pregnancy at the time, who knows, but it would be interesting to know whether she had any known connections with law enforcement. Something caused Hazel, Steve and Gary to stop their car. We can speculate about another hitchhiker, but a couple of people reported having seen Steve hitchhiking, and they apparently didn't mention seeing anyone resembling the murdered hippie. Then, either before or after they were shot to death, their car was deviated onto a less traveled road.

    The only scenario I can think of is that they were murdered by cops on patrol. I don't know the caliber of the bullets that killed them, so I don't know whether they'd match with a usual police service revolver. I also don't know enough about handguns to know whether 7 shots generally would have required reloading.

    What would make them stop? Well, to pick up a hitchhiker or hitchhikers, who performed a random act of triple homicide without robbing them. Or, they're stopped by a patrol car. They've either picked up a hitchhiker, or the cops have him in their car. One of them wants the guys whacked before they testify. Is he the father of the McLouth woman's child, or somehow otherwise related to her, believing that Longfellow is bailing on his responsibilities?

    None of the three murdered in the car is found in the driver's seat. Did a cop, brandishing his gun, force the hippie to drive the Chrysler while his partner followed in the police car, so they could be shot in a more private spot? Did the hippie then get smacked on the head and drowned a little further down the road? Hazel was in the front seat passenger side. Steve and Gary were in the back. It seems unlikely that a woman who was so concerned about the safety of the drive would have driven herself, rather than let one of the two young men do the driving. I hate to find myself considering law enforcement as the perps, but it's the only way I can make any sense of the circumstances.
     
  19. vermontaigne

    vermontaigne New Member

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    This guy, Lee Ramsey, was a KC cop. He resigned from the force in '74 for reasons unspecified, went to work for UPS, and was hired by a restauranteur's estranged wife to kill him, which he did, in 1978, and for which he was tried and convicted, along with the estranged wife. McLouth, where the plaintiff in the paternity case was from, is not far west of KC, and not very far north of Lawrence, where Hazel and Gary lived. Somebody 'large and in charge' killed these people. It would have been a lot less risky if he'd had an accomplice. In the '78 case, a .25 was used. Presumably, Ramsey would have turned in his service revolver when he left the force. If I were the KC police, I would have done ballistics on that gun when he was convicted of the Briggs murder, just in case.

    Ramsey had gone to high school in Uniontown, which is not very far east of Iola, from where Steve set out hitchhiking.
     
  20. vermontaigne

    vermontaigne New Member

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    It was a very busy year for homicide investigators in the Ottawa area.

    The body of Wilma Jean Willoughby, 41, was discovered by Charles Schoonover when he was harvesting hay in early August, 1973. She had last been seen by her husband on July 19, and was reported missing on July 20, on which date she was due to her job as a nurse, and her car was discovered on fire. Charles was the son of the farm owner, J.W. Schoonover, 80. Willoughby's husband volunteered that he and she were both in the habit of picking up hitchhikers, and offered a $500 reward for information leading to the conviction of her killer. She was found naked, and appeared to have been strangled.

    J.W. Schoonover was shot to death on October 26, the murder having been reported by his wife, Nellie Rutledge Schoonover, 48, who said that she had discovered him toppled backwards in his tractor seat, head down. He had been shot 3 times as he was backing it into his shed. Nellie had been married to him for all of 3 months, and had been married 8 times previously.

    She apparently had run her mouth, and tried to get another woman to shoot her husband, offering her half the estate, so she was taken into custody on a very high bond, which she couldn't meet. She had apparently mentioned to yet another woman that she intended to kill her new husband, who also testified against her. She furthermore claimed that she had seen J.W.'s son Charles with Mrs. Willoughby and that she had heard the woman cry out.

    The murder weapon was found in the mailbox. Nellie claimed she could not have placed it there, due to her sore foot, but the Sheriff, who responded to her call that her husband had been murdered, testified that he did not recall seeing her limp. It appears that she was convicted, because she appealed on grounds of process and improper entry of evidence. Her appeal was denied.

    There is a Wilma Jean Lewis of the age of Wilma Jean Willoughby in the North Kansas City HS yearbook from 1948, and a classmate, Billie Willoughby, whose pictures may be viewed here.
     
  21. Pitbullgsxr750

    Pitbullgsxr750 New Member

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    Vermontaigne. Was wondering where you found this info about wilma jean willoughby? She is my grandmother and im trying to find more information about this.
     

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