Melissa Byers had overcome an addiction, turned her life around, regained custody of her 7-year-old daughter, moved into a nice home and was going to community college when, out of kindness, she allowed her ex-husband to stay with her temporarily.
Now she’s dead and he’s in jail.
Her older daughter, an adult, traveled to Kansas City on Friday to collect her little sister, who had discovered their mother’s body in the basement of their home.
Melissa Byers’ death has been a crushing blow to people who knew her through Healing House, a live-in, addiction-recovery program in Kansas City’s Old Northeast.
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“She was a beautiful woman inside and out,” Healing House Director Bobbi Jo Reed said Friday. “Such a kind, loving spirit. Everybody loved her.”
Because of privacy laws, Reed could not discuss details of Byers’ former problems. But she said the 47-year-old woman had succeeded in conquering whatever demons she had and had left Healing House some time ago.
“She did not have custody of the little girl when she got here, but she really utilized every minute to make it possible to get her daughter back in her life,” Reed said.
She accomplished that but allowed her ex, 45-year-old Benjamin Byers, to stay with her and the girl.
“I think she was being kind in letting him stay there temporarily,” said Reed, who stayed in touch with Melissa Byers as did others in the Healing House family. “And I think he started drinking and he turned. From what I understand he has a drinking issue and was mean when he was drinking, and I guess he was drinking and he was not supposed to be.”
The girl’s dad took her the two blocks to school at Phyllis Wheatley Elementary on Tuesday. When he picked her up after school that day he was acting “weird,” the girl would tell authorities. That meant he had been drinking. He told her to bring him a beer and then passed out.
The girl began to explore the house.
She told a forensic interviewer with the Child Protection Center that she found “lots of blood” on the bathroom carpet. She saw a bloody rug on top of the kitchen trash can. She went down to the basement and saw a body, face down with a gray sweater pulled over the face. It was her mom’s gray sweater. Her mom had been stabbed.
The girl looked into her dad’s room. His laundry basket was turned over, and beer cans littered the floor. An empty container of Clorox cleaning wipes did not belong in the room.
A male friend called Melissa Byers’ cellphone, and the girl told him her mother wasn’t home and her dad was asleep. The man said he was was coming over. Benjamin Byers woke up, and when he learned about the call he began acting “suspicious,” the girl told police. He closed the blinds, locked the doors and told his daughter not to answer the door — and to stay out of the basement.
Authorities would later ask the girl whether she had told her dad what she saw in the basement.
“No,” she replied. “I didn’t want to be next.”
The girl did not say anything to anybody until the next day, Wednesday, at school.
“What a horrific night that that little baby experienced in that house with him,” Reed said.
School officials called police, who forced their way into the house in the 2400 block of College Avenue when no one answered the door. They found Benjamin Byers, who told them he had not seen Melissa Byers since Monday.
But police noticed blood throughout the house and in the basement around a tarp with carpet on it. A large section of carpet had been removed from the dining room upstairs.
After obtaining a search warrant, crime investigators started looking more closely. There was blood on the living room walls and in the kitchen. There were cat paw prints in the blood. There were apparent attempts to clean up the blood. There appeared to be drag marks from the bottom of the basement stairs to the opposite wall. They could see part of a body sticking out from under the tarp.
Benjamin Byers was arrested and refused to talk without a lawyer. On Thursday he was charged with second-degree murder, armed criminal action, abandonment of a corpse and endangering the welfare of a child. Prosecutors requested a bond of $500,000.
Melissa Byers, who sometimes went by the name “Hippie,” will not get to see what her new life could have been.
“She was very excited starting her life again with her little girl,” said Reed of Healing House. “For this to happen is a tragedy.”
An adult daughter of Melissa Byers, Crystal O’Connor of Oklahoma City, contacted The Star early Friday to say that she was coming to Kansas City to collect her little sister.
“I’m bringing her back to my home in OKC to raise her as my mom would have liked,” O’Connor said in an email.