Ruth Michelle Harter has visited the one-story bungalow on South 36th Street in Kansas City, Kan., just once since the March night her husband, Clint, and three other men were shot to death there.
She wanted a visual of where her husband’s older brother, Austin Harter, was shot on the front porch and where he called 911 as the shooter went inside and shot Clint Harter and his friend Mike Capps, who lived there, and Jeremy Waters, a friend who was visiting. The shooter, allegedly next-door neighbor Pablo Serrano-Vitorino, then fled. It took an intense manhunt by nearly 100 law officers to capture him in Montgomery County, Mo.
Ruth Harter, 25, wanted to see where her husband took his last breath.
Knocking on the door, she didn’t know if the man who now lives there would let her into the small, single-family home with one bathroom and one bedroom. About six other bungalow-style homes line the block in the tight-knit neighborhood.
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“I wanted to see where they were and how Clint couldn’t run,” Harter said. “I still couldn’t picture it.”
The night her husband died, March 7, the police investigating the quadruple shooting wouldn’t let her inside. Harter’s stomach churned. She was eight months pregnant and the mother of a toddler. Confined by police officers and crime scene tape, she strained for news of her husband. From the street, she could see Austin Harter’s body on the front porch.
Hours passed as Ruth Harter and others nervously awaited the official news: Clint and Austin Harter and their two friends were dead.
“They didn’t tell us it was Clint and Austin until 6 the next morning,” Ruth Harter said. “We just stood there.”
Three months later, she went back, bringing her sister along for comfort and carrying balloons and a flower for a small vigil.
It was an impromptu visit, but the man let Harter inside. She examined the small living quarters inch by inch. She started in the living room and moved into an area that separated the room from the kitchen. She then ventured toward the back of the home and wondered why her husband and the others couldn’t escape the barrage.
The tour wasn’t for the faint of heart, Harter said.
“It was hard,” she said. “I felt cold.”
Serrano-Vitorino sits in a St. Louis jail awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge, accused in the slaying of Randy Nordman in Missouri before he was captured. Prosecutors in Missouri said they would seek the death penalty if he is found guilty of first-degree murder.
As Serrano-Vitorino awaits trial in Missouri, the families and loved ones of the four Kansas victims remain in mourning while trying to make sense of what they believe were unprovoked killings.
Family members of the men can’t wait for their killer to face justice in Kansas. Patience — although challenging — is paramount, they said.
“I just have to believe that justice will be served,” said Capps’ sister, Megan Capps. “I know one day in Kansas that he will have his day in court.”
Ruth Harter said the legal process has tested her resolve. She is frustrated she doesn’t get answers as quickly as she would like.
“But at least I know he is locked up somewhere and he won’t hurt anyone else,” she said.
A close-knit family
Harter sat on a bench at a park near her home in Kansas City, Kan., recently and recounted the fondest memories she has of her husband, who she says was focused on, and dedicated to, family.
Clint Harter was especially fond of his siblings, she said as she watched the couple’s 3-year-old daughter bounce from one playground station to another with unbridled joy on the warm but windy autumn evening.
Ruth Harter skillfully juggled heeding the girl’s safety while tending to her infant daughter, born after her husband’s death. The mother is convinced that her toddler sees visions of her father after his death.
“I tell her that he is always with us,” Ruth Harter said. “I encourage her to keep him alive.”
Harter was not surprised Clint and Austin Harter were together that fateful night. The two were inseparable. If you needed to find Clint, you looked for Austin.
Austin Harter was 29 and single with no kids when he died. Clint Harter was just 27 and the youngest of three boys.
“His family was very protective of him,” Ruth Harter said.
Clint and Ruth met at Turner High School. Two years her senior, Clint married Ruth when she was 16. Her parents had to approve of the marriage, both legally and personally.
The couple had problems early on and separated for about a week during their first year of marriage.
“I came back to my mom’s house, and I questioned if that was the life for me,” Ruth Harter said.
The couple worked through their problems and three years ago had their first child, a daughter they named Zoivanii. She celebrated her 3rd birthday on Sept. 19 without her dad.
Daughter Za’laiia was born April 29, 19 days after Clint Harter would have turned 28.
Ruth Harter intentionally separated the emotion of losing her husband from the strain of her pregnancy, she said. To build that emotional wall, she had to suppress the pain.
“I had to do it for my children,” she said. “Clint would have wanted me to be strong for our daughters.”
The nine years she and her husband spent together weren’t a walk in the park, but the couple’s love for each other prevailed.
“We had our ups and downs, for sure,” Harter said. “But they were wonderful. I don’t think I would trade any of those years.”
Maple Hill Cemetery, where Clint Harter is buried, is near the couple’s home. She drives by it every day. She has stopped to talk to him about four times since his burial.
“We miss him so much,” Ruth Harter said. “I think about him all the time.”
The Harter brothers shared a common love for remodeling cars with 41-year-old Mike Capps, whose house they were visiting the night they died, said Megan Capps.
The Harters were more than just friends to Mike. They were like brothers, Megan Capps said.
“They’d do anything in the world for each other,” she said.
Ruth Harter didn’t know Mike Capps well but knew her husband and brother-in-law thought highly of him.
“I know that he was a good guy, and that he loved his kids,” she said.
Chainsaw ‘was a good guy’
Eight-year-old Kaleb and 4-year-old Kaden Capps could barely sit still in the parking lot of Turner High School.
The brothers raced from one of their father’s souped-up cars to another before the start of a parade in Kansas City, Kan., to celebrate Turner Days in October. One of the cars was a black Chevrolet Caprice Classic. The other was a purple Caprice.
Both cars featured immaculate paint jobs and custom-fitted chrome rims.
Their mother and Mike Capps’ former wife, Kelly Capps, tried to contain the boys’ enthusiasm in an area that bristled with activity.
Hundreds of paradegoers used the parking lot as a meeting spot to go over last-minute details for the procession beginning at Turner High.
Megan Capps stood by, amazed at her nephews’ resiliency after losing their father.
She helped her former sister-in-law chaperone Kaleb and Kaden. Megan Capps drove the black Caprice through the parade route. One of her nephews joined her. Kelly Capps rode in the other car with a friend and the other boy.
The cars belong to the boys now, a gift from their late father before his death. The black Caprice belongs to Kaleb, and the purple one is Kaden’s.
“He was an awesome father,” Kelly Capps said. “He didn’t have the greatest upbringing, so that was a big thing to him — to be a good father to his kids. They were his world.”
Friends and family called Mike Capps by a nickname derived from his love of chainsaws. Most still call him “Chainsaw,” Megan Capps said.
In addition, she said, her brother suffered a throat injury two decades ago that changed his voice.
“You know the movie ‘Sling Blade?’ ” she said. “Well, it was kind of his own spinoff of that movie, because his voice was real low and raspy like the character in the movie.”
Mike Capps’ death has had a profound effect on the family. The area where he died is only about a mile or so from where Capps grew up. Family members gathered in the 2600 block of South 48th Street after the shooting for a prayer vigil for the men.
The bereavement is ongoing, Megan Capps said.
“No one was prepared for this,” she said. “This has totally rocked our family to the core.”
Wynn Hill was one of Mike Capps’ childhood friends. He knew the Harter brothers, as well. Hill moved away from the area about four years ago.
Twice since the March 7 slayings, Hill has helped organize an anti-violence car show in honor of Capps and other members of the Twisted Individuals car club who died recently.
Hill remembered Capps as generous.
“Chainsaw would give you the shirt off of his back,” Hill said. “He would buy ice cream for the kids in the neighborhood. He was one of the most loving, caring people that I’ve ever met.”
The fourth victim that March night was Jeremy Waters, who was 36 when he died. The Miami County man grew up in Paola. He was a divorced father of three children.
The area of 36th and Oliver in Kansas City, Kan., is quiet and quaint. Nothing could have predicted what transpired March 7, a neighbor said.
“You see how it is right now?” he asked. “Quiet? That’s how it always is.”
The shooting brought a sense of vulnerability to some of Capps’ neighbors.
“We used to leave our door unlocked,” the neighbor said. “Not anymore.”