Frank Ancona, the outspoken imperial wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was found shot to death Saturday near Belgrade, Mo.
The body of the 51-year-old Leadwood, Mo., resident was discovered near the Big River by a family fishing in the area, according to Washington County Sheriff Zach Jacobsen in southeast Missouri.
Washington County coroner Brian DeClue told The Kansas City Star that Ancona died of a gunshot wound to the head.
“It was not self inflicted,” he said. “This is now a homicide investigation.”
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The KKK group’s national headquarters is in Park Hills, Mo., about an hour’s drive southwest of St. Louis. Ancona shares a name with a car dealer in Olathe, but the two are not related or connected in any way.
Ancona’s KKK group is among the newest and most visible of the Klan factions in the country, although it’s not considered the largest. Founded around 2009, the Traditionalist American Knights have made headlines in recent years for such actions as distributing fliers during the Ferguson, Mo., protests warning that they were poised to use lethal force to protect themselves from demonstrators.
The group also regularly leaflets neighborhoods in cities around the country in an effort to recruit more members. And three of its members were charged in Florida in 2015 with plotting to kill a black man.
Jacobsen said authorities learned on Friday that Ancona had disappeared and that his car, a 2015 black Ford Fusion, had been located by a U.S. Forest Service employee on Forest Service property near Potosi. He said deputies secured the area and on Saturday he requested assistance from the Missouri Highway Patrol.
“During the investigation, one subject was arrested on an unrelated warrant and two search warrants were executed in Washington County,” Jacobsen said. “Subsequently, a body was discovered on the bank of the Big River near Belgrade, Mo., in southern Washington County ... The body was identified as Mr. Ancona, and his family has been notified.”
Ancona had not been seen since Wednesday morning, authorities said. Leadwood Police Chief William Dickey told the Park Hills Daily Journal that police learned Ancona was missing when they were contacted by his employer. Ancona’s wife, Malissa, told police that her husband had received a call from work saying he needed to deliver a vehicle part across the state. But the employer told police that Ancona was not sent on a delivery run.
Dickey told the Daily Journal that a search of Ancona’s home found a safe that looked as though someone “had taken a crowbar to it.” Everything was missing from the safe, Dickey said, and Ancona’s firearms were missing from the house.
The police chief also said that he questioned Malissa Ancona about a Facebook post she’d made the day he disappeared. In the post, she said she was seeking a new roommate. Dickey said Malissa Ancona told him that when her husband left, he said he was filing for divorce when he got home, so she figured she would need a new roommate to help pay the bills.
Ancona’s son, also named Frank, posted on his Facebook page Friday that “no one has heard from him, no one has seen his car or seen him personally since February 8th.”
“His bank account hasn’t been used, his cellphone has been turned off goes straight to voicemail,” he wrote. “Time is ticking, the more time we wait, the stronger the bad possibilities become!”
News of Ancona’s death lit up social media late Saturday and early Sunday, with a barrage of comments from those expressing delight with his demise.
Ancona had posted recruiting videos and cross burnings on YouTube and was profiled in a domestic terrorism series published by The Star in 2015.
Those who monitor extremist groups say violence is nothing new among some white nationalist groups.
“Infighting is quite common,” said Devin Burghart, vice president of the Kansas City-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. “Among the folks we’ve dealt with who are defectors, the internal fighting is one of the most common reasons why people decide to get out of the movement — because they fear for their lives.”
In December, an argument over the leadership of another KKK group appears to have led to the stabbing of an Indiana man who was attending a Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan “pro-Trump” parade in North Carolina.
One of the two men charged in connection with the stabbing is the group’s California state grand dragon. The other, Chris Barker, is the imperial wizard of the North Carolina-based group who has been engaged in a verbal battle with Ancona for years.
Burghart said it will be interesting to see what happens to Ancona’s KKK faction now that its leader is gone.
“Do they just go away — which would be awesome — or is there a second-in-command who’s going to step up and take his place, and if so, what direction does he want to take their faction?” he said. “Do they go the David Duke-ish mainstreamer route, or do they go the more hard-core route?”
In a series of interviews with The Star in 2014 and 2015, Ancona described his Klan as a Christian organization and a fraternal order.
“The only things secret about the Klan are that our rituals and ceremonies are only for members to see,” he said. “That’s part of the mystique of being a member.”
He said his Klan was not a hate group: “How can you be a Christian organization and hate other people?
“I’ve actually taken a lot of heat from other white nationalists because of that,” he said. “I’m called an N-lover and a Jew, blah, blah, blah. I’m doing everything I can to hold it to the principles it’s supposed to be by.”
But the group’s website is filled with race-based language, including this statement: “This Order will strive forever to maintain the God-given supremacy of the White Race.”
Ancona, a self-employed contractor, said his organization had members from every state except Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah. Missouri contributed many members, he said.
“Missouri’s always been a strong Klan state,” he said. “Kansas, not so much.”
Ancona was not popular with other KKK groups and was vocal in his criticism of them. He told The Star that there were few Klan organizations in the country that he considered legitimate and had been in squabbles with some of them.
Although Ancona claimed his Klan had thousands of members, actual figures are impossible to come by for such groups. Watchdog groups say the numbers are grossly overstated.
Burghart said while the Traditionalist American Knights was one of the more active Klans, distributing fliers in cities across the country on a regular basis, “I think they only had a few hundred members.”
“The Klan itself is nowhere near where it was in the ’80s and ’90s,” he said. “You’re looking at probably a couple thousand nationwide who still want to engage in that kind of stuff.”
Ancona said his organization did not condone violence. Those who do, he said, “are not following the Klan doctrine.”
But in 2015, authorities in Florida arrested three members of the Traditionalist American Knights on charges of conspiracy to commit murder. The suspects, current and former employees of the Florida Department of Corrections, allegedly plotted to kill a former inmate after his release from prison. The murder allegedly was to be in retaliation for a fight between the inmate, who is black, and one of the corrections employees.
According to an arrest affidavit, authorities were notified of the murder scheme by a confidential informant inside the Klan. The informant was present during discussions involving the three suspects.
Ancona’s Klan also drew media attention during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo., when members distributed fliers as the city awaited a grand jury’s decision on whether to indict the officer who shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old black man. The fliers warned that they would not tolerate violence by protesters and would use lethal force if necessary to defend themselves.
Critics said the Klan was trying to incite violence. Ancona told The Star that he was not inciting violence but letting those making terrorist threats know that they wouldn’t “sit back and let somebody throw a Molotov cocktail” at them.
On a video posted online, however, he used much harsher language.
“These people are acting like savage animals,” he said of protesters. “And that’s what they are, is a bunch of savage beasts.”
Ancona told The Star that members of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan would gather at his house for an annual Christmas party.
“And we had a cross lighting right in my backyard,” he said in 2015. “The police kept their eye on us, and people were driving by and taking pictures, but we didn’t have a single incident.”
Ancona said his group held cross lighting ceremonies a minimum of every three months.
“We’ve got property in four or five locations here in Missouri and a few in Tennessee and Virginia, Florida,” he told The Star.
He called the event a “Christian ceremony.”
“The cross is wrapped with a few layers of burlap that is soaked in what we call Klansmen’s cologne,” he said. “It’s basically a mixture of kerosene and diesel. .. It’s kind of a spiritual thing. It’s almost like a revival at a church. You kind of come away feeling on fire for Christ and you want to go out and spread the word.”