Van owner not a suspect in Brookside death. But people ‘look at me like I’m a murderer’

The owner of a van who has been the focus of intense speculation in the shooting death of a Brookside lawyer has waited for the past two weeks for Kansas City police to clear his name.

On Thursday, Kansas City police confirmed to The Star that David Jungerman is not a suspect in the death of Tom Pickert, 39, who was found slain Oct. 25 on the front porch of his house in the 200 block of West 66th Terrace.

“We do not consider him a suspect at this time,” said Sgt. Kari Thompson, a police spokeswoman. “Nor did we consider him a suspect at that time.”

Jungerman, a 79-year-old farmer and maker of baby furniture who lives in Raytown, said in a phone interview Thursday he was glad to hear police make that statement publicly.

“That’s nice,” he said. “Though I think it’s a day late and a dollar short.”

The news about Jungerman came the same day Pickert’s family and friends gathered for a public memorial service Thursday at the Community Christian Church, 4601 Main St.

Pickert had just returned home after walking his children to school the morning of Oct. 25 when he was gunned down, possibly at close range, police have said. His wife called police after hearing gunshots and finding her husband sprawled near their front door.

Immediately after the 8 a.m. shooting, police announced they were looking for a white 1997 Chevrolet van with Missouri license 6FA 453. Within hours, David Jungerman’s name was linked to the van on Twitter and in some local media reports. The Star has not named Jungerman until now with his consent after he spoke to a Star reporter more than a dozen times in the past 10 days.

“People have me guilty because they indicate it was my van that was there,” Jungerman said. “So people that I’ve known for years turn their back when I walk by.

“They look at me like I’m a murderer.”

Witnesses told investigators that a white van and an older, gray-haired man were at the scene of the shooting, according to a search warrant application police filed to examine the van.

“We were looking for a vehicle, a vehicle that matched the description that we were given by many witnesses at the scene,” Sgt. Thompson said. “That is what we were looking for ... and that is what we actually searched and looked through.”

Jungerman said his van had been parked on his property that entire day. He believes police took the details in the suspect van description from his vehicle registration records — not from a witness.

Thompson would not comment on that assertion.

By late afternoon the day of the killing, police had found the van and began processing it for evidence.

Pickert, a personal injury lawyer, had won a $5.75 million judgment this summer against Jungerman, who had shot a homeless man on his property. A week before the shooting, Jackson County court officials started the process of seizing his real estate to pay the judgment. The court filed paperwork that would prevent Jungerman from selling or transferring the property.

Jungerman said he thinks it was the $5.75 million judgment that drew attention to him after the shooting.

Within a week of the shooting, Jungerman sent a letter to Kansas City police asking them to clarify to the public that no evidence placed his van at the crime scene.

Jungerman shared that letter with The Star, which had not named him until now because he had not been charged with a crime nor had police named him as a suspect or a person of interest. In the interviews with a Star reporter, Jungerman said he had been at home at the time of the shooting.

Jungerman said in the days after the shooting he received calls from friends and business associates across the country who thought his van had been at the crime scene. He said his bank and his insurance company had expressed concern about him being a criminal suspect.

At his home in Raytown, he has even worried about a vigilante taking a shot at him.

The fact that investigators had been looking for Jungerman’s van immediately after the shooting cast him under suspicion in the minds of many in Kansas City, he said.

“They had just destroyed my reputation,” Jungerman said. “People are always going to think about all the media — the facts don’t mean anything.”

Jungerman voluntarily went to police headquarters for an interview the day of the killing. It was cut short when he asked for an attorney.

“I can’t confirm our conversations,” Sgt. Thompson said. “I can confirm the initial conversation but any subsequent contacts, searches or anything like that, I cannot comment on that at this time.”

In the police department’s application for a search warrant for Jungerman’s van, an investigator wrote that Jungerman had an outburst in court after the $5.75 million judgment was handed down against him.

The application said Jungerman “cursed and yelled in a loud voice at court personnel, including the victim.”

Jungerman denied that behavior in the interviews with a Star reporter. He is fighting the judgment in court.

Police later returned the van to Jungerman, having taken away photographs, swabs, fingerprints and sunglasses, according to court records.

After that, Jungerman saw no evidence of a police investigation around him.

Meanwhile, as he complained in his letter to police, various news outlets and online commentators continued to cast him under suspicion.

Jungerman said he never heard from police again. Police never searched his home or his business.

Two of Jungerman’s immediate neighbors said on Nov. 3 — more than a week after the shooting — that police never spoke with them and never asked them if they saw Jungerman the day of the shooting.

“I cannot confirm any steps that we are taking at this particular time, as with other cases we would not discuss that. We are hoping to bring a suspect, whoever it is, to justice,” Thompson said.

Jungerman acknowledges shooting the homeless man who won the multimillion-dollar judgment against him. That man was one of four people Jungerman shot within a month in 2012, all of them men he encountered at night in a building associated with this baby furniture business in Kansas City’s northeast neighborhood.

Jungerman was never charged with a crime in those shootings. He said he fired in self-defense and that he thinks the men were in his building to steal copper.

Sgt. Thompson said the Pickert shooting remains under investigation. Anyone with information should call the Tips Hotline at 816-474-8477.

“If you were in that area that day we need your cooperation,” she said. “Any of the smallest of details can become big tips for us.”

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