On June 6, 1990, Kim Case was left to die in the hands of one of her perpetrators inside a loft of a rural Cass County barn.
She was a 19-year-old girl from Gladstone, abducted from her home early in the morning. Four men in search of a victim followed her in a pick-up truck after she left a restaurant.
Confronted in her driveway, she was attacked and thrown in the backseat of their car by one of the men, 25-year-old Kenneth Thornburg.
“I can still see his shadowy figure,” Case said.
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The car drove out of her neighborhood aggressively and headed south on U.S. 71/Interstate 49 through three counties.
“I was so hoping a police officer would see the erratic driving and pull us over,” Case said.
During the drive, the men demanded Case take her clothes off. She complied, and they began assaulting and raping her.
The vehicle eventually came to a stop near a bridge in Archie.
“There was no chance I was going to be able to get away,” Case said. “I thought at any moment, ‘This is where I am going to die.’”
Although she was completely at the mercy of the four drunk and drug-crazed men, Case’s will to survive kicked in over the next 15 hours as she was beaten and raped near the bridge.
The men tortured her repeatedly, raping her over and over.
“It’s an image burned into my psyche,” Case said. “The drive to survive this was fueled by my family. I wanted better for them than this and I wanted to save them from pain. That seemed better than what I was experiencing.”
Case relied on her faith through the ordeal.
By late in the afternoon, three of the men had left. The fourth, 19-year-old Andrew Harper, had fallen asleep with Case handcuffed to his wrist in the loft of the barn.
With delicacy, Case maneuvered her hand out of the cuffs without waking him up and then ran for her life to a nearby house for help.
The police and her family were called. Case was soon rescued and taken to the Cass County Sheriff’s Office in Harrisonville.
Thornburg, Harper, Lee Ross, 21, and James Lutes Jr., 23, all of Nevada, Mo., were later found guilty on all charges of the rapes and are still in prison.
Three of the four were sentenced to nearly 100 years in prison, while the other got about 75.
Earlier on the day of June 5, 1990, one of the men was sentenced to five years in prison for burglary and vandalism. The judge gave him 30 days to get his affairs in order before reporting to prison, and that night he and three friends decided to party in Kansas City.
Case’s story of survival was aired Friday on the Lifetime Movie Network’s “I Survived” series.
“I hope the message that is received is one of hope, inspiration and healing,” Case said. “Being a victim can steal your life, but I know that isn’t the path that is there for people. I want people to have that courage to move forward.”
Her story was also recently aired in the Season 2 finale of Investigation Discovery’s series “Surviving Evil” on Nov. 5.
The episode included interviews with Deputy Missouri Attorney General Joseph Dandurand, who was the presiding judge in the case, and Cass County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Denise Davidson, who supported Case immediately after the crime took place.
Before her horrendous kidnapping and assaults, Case dreamed about becoming a flight attendant in order to travel the world.
But her ordeal during the summer of 1990 placed her on a new path — one that would lead her to traveling across the state after she started the Crime Victims Unit of the Missouri Sheriffs' Association in Jefferson City — an effort to help other crime victims triumph over their tragedies.
“Because my case went through three different counties and jurisdictions, it was glaringly real how each county” treated victims, Case said.
Throughout her time spent in the criminal justice process ensuring her assailants were held responsible for their crimes, Case noticed a movement going on in other counties to help victims through the lengthy court process.
“But I was 19, 20 years old and I didn’t know what I could do to make a change,” Case said.
The counselor she was seeing from the Missouri Victim’s Assistance Network showed Case how she could get involved in improving the system. The group had been working on a constitutional amendment to give victims more rights in the courtroom.
“I found myself in a real grassroots experience to make some changes,” Case said.
She also began getting invited to speak at local and statewide venues.
“I found that having that voice gave me some power,” Case said. “And it made me feel that this experience didn’t just have to be for bad and evil, but it could really help to change things for victims in the future.”
She joined MOVA’s board of directors. While she was employed with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office as a 911 dispatcher, opportunities arose to become a victim’s advocate and work alongside police officers.
She went on to earn a degree in criminal justice from the University of Central Missouri and now lives in Warrensburg with her family.
Through her job, Case works with about 60-100 victims of all ages — from infants to elderly — each month.
She is there to help victims, because over 24 years ago she needed someone to stand with her.
When law enforcement arrived at the scene of her assault, the sheriff and responding deputies brought a woman to help take a statement from Case.
Davidson was called in from home to assist with the interview with Deputy Kevin Buerge on the day of the attack. She had recently received specialized sex offense training.
Case said meeting with Davidson resulted in an instant bonding.
“She calmed all of my nerves,” Case said. “She just looked into my eyes and said ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you.’ As I began to tell the story, I could tell she was right there with me. It meant a lot that she would walk that with me without being judgmental. She was so tender and caring. It made a difference in my life and the way I was able to process the whole experience.”
Buerge had been on the initial call to the scene. He also said it was important that a female deputy, such as Davidson, join him.
“This was a young female who had been through hell and back. I was trying to obtain as much information about what occurred,” Buerge said. “I’m just glad Denise was available to assist in the interview because I think that helped (Case) feel more at ease.”
Buerge respects Case for the career she has led since the attack — using a negative event in her life to turn it into something positive to help others.
“Most people just want to forget bad things that happened, and she has had the willpower and the strength to tell her story,” he said. “I commend her for what she’s done. She had the willpower to not let this thing destroy her.”
Case has since had the opportunity to reconnect with the members of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office who helped her in the moments following her rescue.
In July 2013, Case was at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office to offer victim’s advocacy training at the request of Sheriff Dwight Diehl.
Davidson was also at the meeting — but neither had recognized each other and both of them had new last names.
“Kim started telling her story and I immediately knew who she was and her story, including details of the case,” Davidson said. “After mentioning a specific detail, Kim ran around the table and we gave each other a hug.”
Davidson said seeing Case more than 20 years after their initial meeting was therapeutic for her.
“After being in law enforcement for so many years, having someone remember me fondly after they had such a horrific event occur to them, was nice and very important for me to know,” Davidson said.
The meeting has renewed the pair’s relationship for Case as well.
“It was such a surreal moment. We both started to cry and a chill came around the room,” Case said. “We have since become really close.”
Davidson said the support for victim advocacy has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and Case has been a part of that change.
“There was no support for victims of crime, especially a brutal attack as Kim had faced,” Davidson said.
“With Kim seeing some of the faults of support from the entire judicial system, she has been able to educate many offices and departments. With Kim being able to tell her story, those being trained are far more likely to request resources that may not have been a priority before hearing Kim’s case.”