They pulled up to the Jaudon Ghost Bar around closing time, the onetime Las Vegas lounge singer and his wife of 27 years, in a coal-black 1968 Cadillac Coupe DeVille chop-top convertible with two cans of gasoline rattling in the back.
Michael Parrish was angry.
He sat seething in the passenger seat of the open car that rainy Saturday in May. Shelly Parrish was behind the wheel. And, being the soberer of the two, she had custody of her husband’s 9 mm Beretta.
The pistol was still snug in Shelly’s purse as they stepped out of the Caddy and burst through the bar’s front door to get what Michael claimed was his to take.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“I want my liquor license!” he shouted and began rummaging for the piece of paper, knocking over chairs as he went.
Most everyone who was at the Belton-area roadhouse agrees on the facts up to this point.
“They’re right about me coming in mad,” Michael would say later, “and I’d been drinking.”
He stomped around demanding the liquor license with his name on it for a bar he no longer owned. At some point, Shelly pulled out the gun and may or may not have fired it — not that the bullet hit anyone — when her husband and the bar owner started fighting.
Witnesses’ perceptions differ somewhat on what happened next. But the result was that Michael Parrish ended up lying next to the Caddy in the gravel lot, stripped down to his skivvies, blood seeping from the multiple bullet wounds to his legs and groin.
“The guy who shot me is Curtis Koons,” Michael Parrish told deputy D. Doherty, according to a search warrant affidavit, when the law arrived around 2 a.m. May 20.
The sheriff’s department report does not record whether Doherty or the other deputies recognized that name. But in Cass County, Curtis Koons has made headlines more than a few times over the past two decades. Elected county assessor three times, Koons was chairman of the local Democratic Party in the mid-2000s, when the Dems still held sway there.
He later gained a metrowide profile — and not in a good way — when, as Jackson County’s appointed director of assessment, Koons oversaw the botched 2013 real estate reappraisal process that saw some appraisals wildly out of whack. He later resigned.
Now four years later, a sheriff’s deputy was asking Koons about the wounded man outside his bar at 203rd Street and Holmes Road.
“I shot him four times,” Koons told Doherty that night. “I had no choice.”
Did he or didn’t he? Was Parrish posing a lethal threat, or was he the victim of excessive force? And what about those cans of gas in the back of the convertible?
Seven weeks later, there’s still been no official determination in a case that’s gotten plenty of attention on social media and in conversations around Belton and Harrisonville.
Both men are well known thereabouts, with many mutual acquaintances, and their now-odd relationship adds interest. Not only were they once good friends, but Koons’ son is married to Parrish’s daughter, plus the Parrishes now live in a house that Koons owns and wants to evict them from.
“It’s complicated,” one law enforcement official explained.
On Thursday, Cass County’s Republican prosecutor, Ben Butler, declined to discuss the details. He got the investigative file from the sheriff’s department only a couple of weeks ago, he said, and has not decided what, if any, charges to file against Koons or the Parrishes.
“It would be completely wrong if they charged me,” Koons said as he opened his laptop to show a reporter video excerpts from the six surveillance cameras that were operating that night. Koons says the recordings prove the shooting was justified. Prosecutors are reviewing that evidence.
“I was defending my life,” Koons said, but declined on the advice of his attorney to provide The Star a copy of the video.
Parrish hasn’t seen the video but says he was the victim and shares photos on Facebook of the gruesome wounds on his right leg from Koons’ .22 pistol.
“I was unarmed,” he said. “I did not deserve to get shot.”
The shooting in unincorporated Jaudon never made the news, perhaps because the sheriff’s department’s thumbnail description in that day’s incident log left out one key detail.
There’s no mention of shots being fired, nor the bullet wounds that would keep Parrish in the hospital for two weeks and even now require him to use a walker to get around.
It says only that, at 1:52 a.m., a deputy was dispatched to “an assault in progress at Michael’s Honky Tonk Bar,” the name that the Jaudon Ghost Bar operated under when the Parrishes owned it. Upon arrival, the log says, “several subjects were detained,” two were “taken into custody” and one was transported by ambulance for treatment of his injuries.
Cass County sheriff’s department spokesman Capt. Kevin Tieman said it was difficult to sort things out.
“From what I know of the case,” Tieman said, “it’s very in-depth, I would say. There’s a lot of back story to it.”
The Ghost Bar’s Friday night karaoke contest had just finished when the Cadillac’s tires chewed into the wet gravel.
“We were having a great night that night,” recalled bartender Kellsie Smith, who described the bar as “a hole in the wall that people have been coming to for years.”
The Parrishes had run the place for a couple of years before Koons and a business partner took over in late 2015. Koons and Michael Parrish, both now in their mid-50s, became friends when Koons first ran for office in 1996.
“I knew his dad,” Koons said.
They shared mutual interests. Koons had worked in radio before entering politics, and Parrish, who ran a fitness club in downtown Belton at the time, was a professional deejay. The Squire, a now-defunct suburban weekly newspaper, named Parrish the Kansas City area’s Entertainer/DJ of the Year for three years running in the early 1990s.
By the early 2000s, Parrish was living out west with Shelly and, between them, their seven kids.
“He used to be an entertainer out in Vegas,” Smith said. “He was really, really great.”
Koons agrees that Parrish had talent. Koons would catch his act now and then at Houdini’s Lounge, a small room at the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino. It was a lively show, if the four-minute promotional video for the “Michael Parrish Ultimate Lounge Show” is any indication.
A clean-shaven Parrish in shiny, tight pants wails and gyrates to high-energy versions of “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “Mack the Knife” and “Never Been to Spain.”
Readers of The Las Vegas Review-Journal voted him the Strip’s top lounge show performer from 2002 to 2005, according to his bio, and the actor Tony Curtis called his act “simply unstoppable.”
But the Great Recession hit the Vegas entertainment business as hard as anywhere. Gigs were tougher to come by. Money was tight.
Five years ago, the Parrishes moved back to the Kansas City area, where Michael struggled to sell copies of his self-published volume of ruminations, “The Official How to Man Up Book,” while marketing himself as a motivational speaker.
He flew out to California once for a bit part in a Kevin Hart movie, but his character had been written out of the script by the time he got there, he said.
So began his two-year venture in the bar business. He and Shelly filed papers with the secretary of state and the department of revenue in 2014 and opened Michael’s Honky Tonk.
But that, too, went south. Parrish said the temptation of all that alcohol was ruining his health.
“I didn’t want to be in the bar business anymore,” he said.
So for $15,000 down and $10,000 still owed, he signed the place over to Koons and his partner, whom Koons later bought out.
The new ownership changed the name to the Jaudon Ghost Bar, expanded the hours and started selling burgers and smoked brisket sandwiches.
Meantime, Koons let Michael, Shelly and their two kids still at home live in a house he owned a couple of miles from the bar. Michael announced on Facebook that he planned on becoming a performer again, but it didn’t happen.
“I kind of felt sorry for him,” Koons said. Instead of demanding rent, he decided to take it out of the $10,000 still owed on the bar.
And so it went for more than a year until one day in April, Michael Parrish was notified that the state had a lien against him for unpaid taxes at the bar. They weren’t his to pay, except the state didn’t know that because the bar’s liquor license was still in the name of the company that he and Shelly had formed.
Koons claims it was a mix-up that has since been corrected. But Parrish wasn’t buying that explanation at the time.
He stewed about it for weeks until that Friday night and early Saturday morning in May when Parrish admits he’d been drinking a bit.
As he recalled in an interview, “One night I said, ‘You know what? To hell with this.’ ”
Koons remembers Parrish calling him sometime that night, but he didn’t have time to talk. Around 1 a.m., he got a text that read “You have 3 minutes.”
He didn’t see it, though, until a little more than an hour later when an ambulance arrived to haul Parrish to a Kansas City hospital.
Authorities have been trying ever since to determine what happened that night at the Ghost Bar.
Koons, Smith, another bartender and four customers were inside when the Parrishes arrived. They told deputies that Michael and Shelly came in shouting.
“I was on the phone with the cops before the first punch was thrown,” Smith said.
One witness said Koons swung at Michael with a baseball bat and missed. Parrish then started punching Koons in the face, another man told authorities.
“He was just running around like a bull,” Koons said.
After two customers pulled Parrish off him, Koons said, he tried zapping Parrish with a stun gun, but the weapon malfunctioned.
Not so fast, Parrish said the other day, explaining that the stun gun was working and delivered a jolt.
“That damn near killed me,” Parrish said.
A careful study of the surveillance video might settle that debate, and bring some clarity to whether or not Shelly did, indeed, fire her gun before Koons loaded his.
But what is already clear from the videos is that Koons fires once into the floor before squeezing off three rounds into Michael Parrish’s legs and then one final shot.
There is no audio, but Koons says that before each shot, he warned Parrish to stop. And each time, Parrish kept coming until a shot to the groin took all the fight out of him.
“That was the killer,” Parrish said. “That really hurt me.”
Asked why he kept advancing after each bullet wound, Parrish said, “I wanted my license. I couldn’t believe he was shooting me.”
That license expired at the end of June, by the way. As to the two cans of gas in the back seat of the car, Parrish said he was afraid his land yacht would run out of fuel and there’s no gas station nearby.
Koons’ more ominous explanation:
“They were going to kill me and burn down the bar,” he alleges.
Parrish denies there was any such plan.
As he awaits word from the prosecutor’s office on whether charges will be filed, Koons says this is the last weekend for the Ghost Bar. He’s selling out so he can concentrate on other business interests. He still does private property appraisals for clients, and he’s helping his daughter run another Ghost Bar in Martin City.
Parrish, meanwhile, spends a lot of his time responding to the dozens of messages he’s been getting on Facebook from well-wishers.
“Hang in there, buddy,” said Vegas friend Tommy Rocker. “You’ll be back headlining on the Vegas Strip in no time!”
Maybe so, Parrish told The Star. He’s by no means done performing, he says.
“I’m coming back!”
Maybe Vegas. Maybe go to Nashville and write songs for a living.
“I’ve been going through the deepest, darkest abyss of hell imaginable,” he said.
Add something about a pickup truck and a bottle of beer and you’ve got the makings of a country song right there.