Before Hayden Dillavou headed out to the Indian Creek Trail Saturday morning in south Kansas City, he knew all about the specifics of four homicides on or near it.
He knew the crimes had happened in recent months and that the victims were older white males, from 54 to 67, and that three of the four were believed to have been walking their dogs along the trail system or close to it when they were killed.
“I figured if it were the three of us and we were on our bikes, we would be OK,” said Dillavou, 17, as his two friends were nearby. “I didn’t come out by myself.”
This part of the trail, near Wornall and 103rd streets, had a few walkers and bicyclists Saturday afternoon who were concerned about the recent violence. But some made a point to not go out alone and others felt safe during the day.
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“I wasn’t too worried,” said Sam Zollicker, 57, who rode bikes with his son on the trail. “But I wouldn’t send my wife here by herself.”
Officials have encouraged anyone who sees suspicious activities or people to call police immediately.
On Saturday, officers conducted extra patrols.
“We’re running up and down the trail just seeing what we can,” said Sgt. Pat Rauzi.
On Friday, police said they were investigating “obvious similarities” among the four unsolved homicides, one on the Blue River Trail and three along or near the Indian Creek Trail. The homicides began last August and the most recent was Thursday morning when local bar owner Mike Darby was killed on Indian Creek Trail as he walked his two dogs.
“There are no similarities in the evidence,” said Sgt. Kari Thompson, a police spokeswoman. “But there are similarities in the demographics.”
Police won’t say how Darby, 61 and the owner of Coach’s Bar & Grill, was killed or the cause of the death of two of the remaining three victims. Other than Darby, the victims are:
John W. Palmer, 54, found killed Aug. 19 near East Bannister Road and Lydia Avenue. Palmer was found in a wooded area.
David Lenox, 67, found killed Feb. 27 in the 9900 block of Walnut Street. Lenox was shot just a few steps away from his front door while walking one of his dogs.
Timothy S. Rice, 57, of Excelsior Springs, found dead April 4 inside a shelter at Minor Park, near East Red Bridge Road and 110th Street.
Mindy Lenox, the daughter of David Lenox, told The Star that she’s had nearly three months to live with the heartbreak she knows is cutting through the family of the recent victim.
“My heart broke for the Darby family, knowing what they’re going through and what’s to come, and how their lives are forever changed,” she said. “Innocent family members have been killed for no reason.”
Ryan Smith, who now lives in Illinois, is another child of one of the victims. His stepfather, John Palmer, was a short-order cook who worked at TJ’s Café in Grandview, among other restaurants.
Though technically Palmer’s stepson, Smith said he considers the slain 54-year-old who raised him as close to him as any biological father could be.
The thing he misses most about Palmer? “His laughter. He enjoyed to laugh,” Smith said.
Palmer and his wife, Cathy Palmer, did not own any dogs at the time of his death, Smith said, which likely makes Palmer the only one of the four victims to not be walking a dog at the time of his death.
Of the four cases, Palmer’s is the oldest. He was killed Aug. 19, and Janelle Kristian, Palmer’s cousin, said KC police “kept saying they had no leads.”
“I can’t understand why there were no answers,” Kristian said.
And though answers have been scant for the Lenox family as well, Mindy Lenox continues to believe they will surface.
“We refuse to give up hope to find justice and get this person or people off the street ,” Mindy Lenox said. “I know they’re working as hard as they can to solve the crimes, whether they’re connected or not.”