When news spread Sunday that a KKK leader had been slain in southeast Missouri, employees at Frank Ancona Honda in Olathe braced themselves for the inevitable.
The man who was killed has the same name as the longtime Johnson County car dealer.
“I thought, ‘Here we go again,’ ” said Leon Wharton, general manager of the family-owned dealership, which has been in business since 1961.
The other Frank Ancona, 51, was found shot to death Saturday near Belgrade, Mo. His body was discovered near the Big River by a family fishing in the area. On Monday, his wife and stepson were charged in his killing.
Ancona was the imperial wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The group’s national headquarters is in Park Hills, Mo., about an hour’s drive southwest of St. Louis.
Wharton, speaking Wednesday for Frank Ancona the car dealer, said the confusion first surfaced in 2014 after a neo-Nazi and former North Carolina KKK leader killed three people in a shooting rampage at Jewish centers in Overland Park. The Frank Ancona who was with the KKK was interviewed after the shootings, saying he condemned the action.
“Before that, we didn’t even know there was a duplicate name that existed,” Wharton said.
He said that even though news articles have pointed out the KKK Ancona was not the same person as the 85-year-old car dealer, questions continue to crop up. Over and over on social media sites this week, people have asked if the Honda dealer is the man from the KKK.
“We got a phone call from a customer yesterday who pretended to be a member of the KKK in Mississippi,” Wharton said. “He said he wanted to offer his condolences at the death of our leader. Our receptionist said, ‘After I explained that our “leader” is alive and well and not a KKK member, he fessed up and said, “I was just kidding.” ’ ”
Other callers, Wharton said, wanted to make sure the car dealer wasn’t the KKK leader.
“And a lady from St. Louis called and said she was praying for Frank and the dealership and for people to realize that we’re not the same Frank Ancona that’s part of the KKK,” he said. “So there was a good one.”
The dealership even got a call from Automotive News, which wrote a story about the confusion.
Has the misunderstanding hurt business?
“February is usually one of the worst months in the automobile business as it is,” Wharton said. “It just never does do very well in comparison to the other months. So could it have some impact? Yes. But can I pinpoint that it’s negatively affected business? No, not really.”
Wharton said he hopes the issue will encourage people to think before spouting off about something they are ignorant about.
“I’ll use this reference,” he said. “I’m sure there’s several James Smiths in prison around the country, and I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of James Smiths running around, law-abiding citizens, paying their taxes and taking care of their families and being good members of the community.
“Please don’t associate people, just because of their names, with something bad that’s happened.”