They were all white men, between ages 54 and 67.
Some were killed walking their dogs. All were killed on or near popular trails along Indian Creek, Minor Park and Blue River.
The most recent victim, Mike Darby, was a man of routine.
The stretch of Indian Creek Trail where Darby was found killed on May 18 was one he walked every morning.
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“He did it, without exaggeration, 365 days a year,” said Mike Darby’s son Brian. “And he’s probably been doing it for 10 years.”
Darby always had his two dogs with him — unleashed, which could unnerve some trail visitors. Darby usually took them aside off the trail when others passed.
The time of his walk could vary, Brian Darby said. He might go out at 4 a.m. one day and 8 a.m. the next.
On the morning he died, Darby went to the restaurant around 6 a.m. to let in a crew of workers to repair some booths. He then left to walk the dogs.
He was found slain on the trail, with his dogs standing by, about 6:30 a.m.
Brian Darby said he still has not learned much from police about the circumstances of his father’s death or how it relates to the other victims along the trails.
But he is eager for police to explain, he said, “how these are connected, and if they are connected.”
“I don’t want any other family to have to go through this. We have an obligation to prevent it from happening.”
Darby was the fourth homicide victim since August on or near trails in south Kansas City.
The third victim, Timothy Rice, always wanted to be like John Denver.
The lifelong dream of the 57-year-old Kansas City man was to go camping along the scenic mountains and the rustic trails memorialized in song by the late pop singer.
But years of smoking had taken its toll on Rice. His deteriorating health made that bucket-list trip to Colorado a dream deferred.
Instead, Rice bought some camping gear and made his way for an overnight stay at Minor Park. While it was a familiar setting for him, the location had drawn the concerns of those who loved him.
“I said that it wasn’t safe,” said his ex-wife, Theresa Rice. “He thought everybody was his friend and he was kind of naïve in that way. ... He was easy to talk to, very friendly.
“That was his downfall.”
On the morning of April 4, police found Rice at a shelter house near Red Bridge Road, dead from an apparent gunshot wound. He was seated with his head slumped down, amid his food and camping gear, Theresa Rice said.
“Although we were no longer married, he meant a lot to me,” she said. “He was my friend and we miss him.”
He enjoyed taking his daughter, Hannah, on fishing, camping and hiking trips.
Born with cataracts, Rice was legally blind. His poor eyesight prevented him from joining the military, so after graduating from Southwest High School he spent a year at the University of Missouri-Columbia before leaving to learn the electrical trade.
In that line, “he was known (and) worked for many, many companies,” and often performed work for struggling families at no cost, Theresa Rice said.
She doesn’t understand why anyone would hurt such a guy.
“I hope to God they catch who is doing it,” she said, “because it is sickening.”
The other victims break slightly from the pattern.
The second, David Lenox, 66, was shot outside his apartment at 9939 Walnut St., a few blocks from the Indian Creek Trail.
One of his two Shih Tzu dogs was standing nearby, but Lenox’s son Mike believes his dad wasn’t returning home from a walk on the trail.
“It was 10:45 at night and my dad wasn’t a night owl by any means,” Mike Lenox said. “I don’t think he’d be out walking at that hour.”
But David Lenox may have been shot while allowing 10-year-old Snickers a quick break outside, his son reasoned, inasmuch as the man’s body was found near the parking-lot station where pet waste bags were available.
The circumstances raise some doubts in Mike Lenox that a single perpetrator is behind all the killings.
He said: “I’m taking the investigators at their word that right now there’s absolutely nothing connecting these crimes. I don’t think they’re being coy.”
A 1968 graduate of Southwest, David Lenox enlisted in the Army and served two tours as a medic in Vietnam. Working after that in the Social Security Administration, he retired 12 years ago and bought a lake house in the Ozarks. He returned to his hometown about five years ago.
Bored with retirement, he recently took a job with Pizza Hut as a part-time driver. Delivery receipts were in his pockets at the murder scene, prompting police to first question whether he had a confrontation earlier that day with a customer, Mike Lenox said.
Had he not been killed Feb. 27, David Lenox would be out of the apartment by now.
“He was definitely looking to buy a house and was going to be moving in May,” Mike Lenox said.
The first victim was the youngest — John W. Palmer, 54. He and wife Cathy Palmer did not own a dog, his stepson Ryan Smith told The Star last month.
Deeply religious, “he enjoyed camping and going on walks through nature,” his obtituary said after his death Aug. 19, a day before John Palmer would turn 55.
The thing that Smith said he’ll miss most about Palmer, a cook at Grandview’s TJ’s Cafe? “His laughter. He enjoyed to laugh,” Smith said.
Police haven’t revealed Palmer’s cause of death.