Owner of Clint’s Comics killed after trying to stop thief

Witness describes killing of Clint's Comics owner James Cavanaugh

Witness Jason Howland describes the death of James Cavanaugh, owner of Clint's Comics in Kansas City. Ian Cummings/The Kansas City Star
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Witness Jason Howland describes the death of James Cavanaugh, owner of Clint's Comics in Kansas City. Ian Cummings/The Kansas City Star

A longtime midtown Kansas City business icon died Friday afternoon after he was critically injured following a robbery at a historic comic book store on Main Street.

Authorities have not released the victim’s name, but relatives, employees and friends identified the victim as James Dale Cavanaugh, the longtime owner of Clint’s Comics.

Police are investigating the death as a homicide. It appeared the victim was struck by the door of the vehicle driven by the thief. Police said the victim was trying to stop the robber, who had just held up the comic book store on Main Street.

Police initially said the victim was run over by the escaping vehicle.

Officers responded to the incident at 39th and Walnut streets just after 12:30 p.m.

The thief fled in an unknown direction. The victim was rushed to the hospital, where he later died.

Some witnesses described more of a shoplifting incident than an armed robbery.

Jason Howland, manager of the Blind Tiger next door, said he saw Cavanaugh chase a man out the back door of the shop who appeared to be stealing about $20 worth of comic books.

Howland said Cavanaugh pulled out a handgun and was hit by the vehicle as the thief drove away.

“There was a lot of blood,” Howland said.

Howland said he and another bar worker had, minutes before, actually said hello to the perpetrator as he entered the store.

He said the assailant was a white man in his 40s, bald with glasses. He wore basketball shoes. His vehicle was described as a white, late-model hatchback.

No other details were officially released.

A landmark

People who knew Cavanaugh gathered at the comic store and were very upset.

“It’s a great loss,” said longtime customer Mark Wallace of Kansas City, Kan.

Wallace said he has been visiting the store nearly every Thursday since 1977. The store recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Cavanaugh, a Vietnam veteran, had been the owner since the mid-1970s. “It’s a landmark,” Wallace said.

Steve Daniels, a part-time worker, friend, artist and comic book collector, echoed those thoughts.

“A part of Kansas City’s history died today,” Daniels said “This was his passion; this is what kept him going.”

Cavanaugh’s brother-in-law, Paul Farris, was downstairs at the Westport store at the time of the incident.

“I came upstairs, and I was wondering where he went, looking around for him, and someone started beating on the back door saying he was out in the parking lot,” Farris said. “It’s sad. We’re all in shock.

“Apparently, what happened is a guy came in here and tried to steal, we think it was comic books, a little stack of comic books — 10 or 15 books,” Farris said. Cavanaugh “went out to the parking lot to get his books back, and one thing led to another, and apparently this guy’s passenger door came open and Jim was there trying to get him out, and the guy hit Jim with the passenger door as he was backing out and Jim fell on ground and hit his head real hard.”

Actor David Dastmalchian, who grew up in Kansas City and has gone on to be featured in the comic book-based films “The Dark Knight” and “Ant-Man” and TV’s “Gotham” and “The Flash,” said the news just devastated him.

“I was just in town celebrating the 50th anniversary of Clint’s, and we went to dinner and we had so much fun and were just laughing together,” he said. “He’s such a generous guy. He gave me all these toys to take home to my son, and I was just playing with my son with these toys today. I’m so sad right now. I owe that man a great deal.”

Dastmalchian said as a kid he would ride his bike from his home in Johnson County to Clint’s Comics’ satellite store in the Metcalf South shopping center.

“It was a sanctuary for me where I could go and read and escape and explore, a place where my favorite heroes and villains were discovered and where my imagination could run rampant thanks to that guy and his generosity,” Dastmalchian said. “It was about sharing the magic of comic books and storytelling with kids from third grade to age 90.”

Several people posted tributes and condolences on social media after learning of Cavanaugh’s death.

Anyone with information should call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477).

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar

Updated May 10, 2017. Most wanted fugitives from Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers.