Detective Lt. Bob Wycoff, if not the oldest working lawman in Missouri, certainly took the title in Claycomo.
From his start in the 1960s, spotting shoplifters from behind a grocery store meat counter, Wycoff went on to a career in law enforcement that spanned half a century and various departments across the Kansas City area.
Wycoff saw, and solved, all kinds of cases. There was a Lee’s Summit woman burned up in her garage by an estranged husband and a 1970s bombing case involving the Students for a Democratic Society. Once, he made a traffic stop on a Kansas City Power & Light worker who was on his way to settle a union dispute with a Molotov cocktail.
At age 79, Wycoff was still working felony cases until he died earlier this month.
“It’s definitely uncommon,” said Claycomo Police Chief Matt Coonce. “He did a little bit of everything. He was a great detective. At his age, I would not have put him out on the road, but he lived for police work.”
Wycoff never fired his gun in the line of duty. Like many good detectives, he solved cases mostly by talking, especially to suspects. A religious man, he drew partly on his faith to provide a sympathetic ear even to perpetrators of terrible crimes.
“And he genuinely cared,” Coonce said. “He wasn’t faking it.”
In later years, Wycoff only collected a part-time paycheck. But he still went out to investigate late-night robberies and homicides. Yet when that happened, he’d still show up early the next morning, walking around singing church hymns and engaging the younger officers with a steady stream of chatter. It was said that he could talk for a half hour on a wrong number.
Born in 1936 to a family hounded across the country by the Great Depression, Wycoff grew up keenly aware of human frailty and determined to defend people from suffering. An attack of polio in his childhood left his feet malformed.
He got married after graduating from Raytown High School. He and his wife, Ina, had three children. The year 1964 found Wycoff working behind the meat counter at Milgram’s grocery store in Lee’s Summit, where he found a talent for catching shoplifters. He helped prosecute a woman notorious for walking out of department stores wearing up to three men’s suits at a time.
Wycoff worked stints at the Jackson County sheriff’s office and a few other agencies. He served for two years as chief of police of Lake Lotawana. He spent the greater part of his career with the Lee’s Summit Police Department, where he wrote a history of the major crimes he helped investigate. That included a bizarre arson and murder from the 1970s, where police found a woman burned to death while seated on a riding mower in her garage.
Detectives initially ruled the death an accident but changed their minds a few years later when the woman’s estranged husband killed his second wife. The husband was caught staging a scene to make it appear as if an intruder committed the second crime. He had kidnapped a man and kept him overnight in the trunk of a car, planning to set him up and shoot him as a supposed intruder.
Wycoff helped investigate the bombing of developer Miller Nichols’ home in Mission Hills on April 10, 1970. The four young men indicted in the case included a substitute teacher and a University of Kansas student with links to the 1960s radical group Students for a Democratic Society.
In Claycomo, Wycoff found a niche on a small force that could benefit from his experience. The department today has about 15 officers, and only nine of those, including Coonce, are full time.
As recently as last summer, Wycoff’s son, Robin Wycoff Jr., found his father too busy to go fishing. The detective was in the middle of a child abuse case, he said.
Even in the hospital, sick with lung cancer, officers called him for advice — partly because they needed it, and partly to keep Wycoff involved as much as possible. He died on Sept. 14.
“He wouldn’t quit,” said Ina Wycoff. “I tried to get him to quit several times. He always said that the only way he was going to leave was either kicking and screaming, or on a gurney.”