David Jungerman: Success in business, trouble with the law
Throughout his adult life, David Jungerman walked the world a winner, accustomed to getting his own way.
In his own words, raised “a poor, poor farm kid” from Blackburn, Mo., he is a self-made multimillionaire.
As a resourceful young man, seeing money could be made retrieving valuables lost in the murky waters of Lake of the Ozarks, he learned to scuba dive, charging one-third the value of anything he found.
Aching to fly, he earned a pilot’s license, buying his own small plane.
He worked his way through college as a psychology major and then hitched his fate to a baby crib company as a salesman. By the time he was in his mid-30s, Jungerman was on a path to bank millions as the president of Baby-Tenda Corp., a manufacturer of cribs and toddler tables in Kansas City.
As of January, his family assets topped $33 million, with more than 7,000 acres of property.
But in recent years, the same Jungerman pictured on his company’s brochure as a smiling, silver-haired businessman with his preschool granddaughter on his lap, began to show himself as a man willing to shoot people in the fierce protection of everything he had built.
“He started with zero, I guarantee you that,” said his older brother, Fred Jungerman. “He likes to protect his property.”
And now he could lose it all.
The Raytown 80-year-old is shut inside the Jackson County jail on a first-degree murder charge in the death of attorney Tom Pickert. Pickert was just outside his Brookside home after walking his two sons to elementary school on Oct. 25 when he was shot in the right temple.
Pickert, 39, had won a $5.75 million civil verdict against Jungerman last summer in a lawsuit filed by a man Jungerman had shot.
Relatives this week expressed only shock at the charges lodged Wednesday against Jungerman, who has pleaded not guilty.
“I’m sick, physically ill from this,” said Sondra Gehrke, Jungerman’s ex-wife from Overland Park, who continued to work at the family business.
“I’m thinking someone planted evidence,” his brother Fred, an 82-year-old farmer in Blackburn, said by phone.
“I never thought charges like this would come against him,” said Jungerman’s son Marc of Lee’s Summit, who conceded he had not seen his father since May 2011, although he would not explain why. He said his lawyer had advised him not to speak to the press about his father.
But others paint a picture of Jungerman as a man with a bad temper, quick to threaten violence.
Court records quote several unnamed sources: One witness said Jungerman “would often threaten to shoot people when they upset him.” A former employee said Jungerman “used to brag that he could get away with anything by claiming that he has Alzheimer’s disease.” Another said Jungerman “becomes very angry and aggressive regarding anything that costs him money.”
‘I put nine holes in him’
In November, after Jungerman emerged as a possible suspect in Pickert’s killing, he agreed to a recorded interview with The Star challenging what he considered his unfair portrayal in the press.
Chuckling at times, he recounted with relish the time he shot and injured four men he claimed were trying to steal copper from his business at 123 Belmont Blvd. in Kansas City’s Northeast area.
Jungerman told how, in the wee hours of Sept. 25, 2012, his alarm company called his home about a possible break-in at his business. He didn’t call police, he said, because it might have been a false alarm. So Jungerman grabbed his AK-47 and drove in.
He crept into the building in the dark. “I’m not carrying a flashlight,” he said, “because I’m not going to be a target.” Then he heard voices.
“I don’t know if I said ‘Stop’ or ‘Don’t move,’” Jungerman recounted. “Anyway, they start coming. I shot a warning shot. They kept coming. And I hit ‘em. And so the one guy, he runs out the door after he’s hit. The other guy, he’s laying on the floor. He says, ‘Mother (expletive), you just shot me in the leg!’ And I said, ‘How many of them are you?’ ... He just looked at me. I put the gun on top of his head. I said, ‘How many more of you are there?’”
Jungerman said he began counting: “One, two ...”
He laughed at the memory. “He started talking. He said there were two.”
One of the two men was Robert Wallace, shot twice in the back, according to a lawsuit Wallace filed against Jungerman in 2017 and dropped in 2018. The other, Jeffery Harris, now 50, had his leg amputated above the knee from his injuries.
It was Harris’ lawsuit — with Pickert as his attorney — that in July 2017 resulted in the $5.75 million judgment against Jungerman.
Jungerman was not criminally charged in that shooting. Nor was he charged one month later, on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, when he shot two more men suspected of stealing copper on the same property.
His alarm had gone off around 11 a.m. Unsure whether it was false, he grabbed a gun and went to work.
“I’ve got a 12-gauge shotgun with double-ought buck in it because the police still have my AK-47,” he said. “I walk in there, and two guys are there. They’re at it. I say, ‘Don’t move.’ I cuss all the time. I probably say, ‘mother (expletive).’ So they come at me with a crowbar, OK? So I hit one in the arm. He runs out the door. The other one, I put nine holes in him — didn’t kill him.”
He chuckled recounting how the man who ran outside ended up getting captured by Jungerman’s longtime employee and friend Leo Wynne. Wynne refused to comment for this story.
“Police come,” Jungerman recalled. “Here’s this black guy — Leo’s black, 6-foot-6, standing there with a 20-gauge shotgun with a white guy on the ground with blood running down his arm. You can imagine! They were all over Leo.”
According to police, officers found 59-year-old Jesse Steffens and his nephew Justin Baker inside the building, moaning in pain and unable to move his legs.
Police asked Jungerman whether he had shot the two.
“Jungerman looked at me with a slight smirk,” an officer wrote in his report, “shrugged his shoulders and walked away.”
In October 2017 Baker also filed a civil suit against Jungerman, accusing him of assault and battery and claiming the shooting was legally unjustified. The lawsuit is still pending.
‘Get the hell out of here’
Jungerman has long put himself at the center of controversy, though his temper did not lead to bloodshed until relatively recently.
In July 1990, for example, Raytown police arrested Jungerman after he tried to detain four juveniles for trespassing behind his Raytown house, a brick ranch-style with its own lake at the end of a cul-de-sac.
“There were some kids fishing around the lake,” Jungerman told The Star. “I called my daughter who lived across the lake at the time. I said, ‘Angela, those kids aren’t supposed to be there.’ I didn’t want them fishing. If they hooked their eye or something, like you could get sued.”
He said he walked over and confronted the boys. “’You guys know better than to be here. Get the hell out of here.’ One of them said, ‘Old man, I’ll knock you on your ass.’
“’Young man,’ I said, ‘I don’t know how old you are. Why don’t you take the first swing.’”
He said they walked away and encountered Jungerman’s daughter.
“This one kid called her a (expletive) whore bitch,” Jungerman said. He was carrying a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun.
“I said, ‘Put your hands on the car. You’re under citizen’s arrest.’”
The police came and arrested Jungerman. When they released him, he claims, the police neglected to return a valuable Rolex watch. Jungerman sued the police, arguing his own case in court, and won a $9,175 judgment.
In 2010, he made news for a sign painted on the side of a semitrailer he parked on his Bates County farmland along busy U.S. 71. The sign declared: “Are you a Producer or Parasite ... Democrats — Party of the Parasites.” The trailer and its sign were torched — twice. Still, the sign remains today.
Critics argued Jungerman was a hypocrite for receiving more than $1 million in crop subsidies since 1995.
“That’s just my money coming back to me,” Jungerman responded at the time. “I pay a lot in taxes. I’m not a parasite.”
In fact, he was a self-described workaholic. He had worked since he was a child, selling eggs from his family’s farm, getting a job in a grocery. He started his scuba recovery business, which he named Crockett’s Diving Service because of Davy Crockett’s popularity at the time.
He worked all through college, three years at the University of Missouri-Columbia, then graduating from Wichita State. In college, he heard a pitch for baby cribs, became a salesman, later bought the manufacturing rights and made millions.
“He never took a vacation,” Fred Jungerman, his brother, said. “He was work, work, work.”
But from 2011 on, his work — and his life — soured.
That year his business suffered because of what Jungerman called “the educated idiots at the Consumer Product Safety Commission,” which prohibited the sale of drop-side cribs. He said the regulatory move all but took away the company that he had dedicated his life to for about 60 years.
“That started us going out of business,” Jungerman said. “When the cribs were outlawed, I lost my distributors.”
His business became a skeleton of itself. Jungerman began selling replacement parts, he said. That’s why his business may have appeared vacant in 2012 when he shot the four intruders.
His personal life suffered as well. First married at age 18, he would marry his second wife, Gehrke, in 2012, but he divorced her in 2014. Three months later, he married his third wife and then divorced her in 2015.
In June 2016, Jungerman was arrested again on charges of harrassment and first-degree attempted burglary for bursting in on people who were living in a bunkhouse on his property in Vernon County. In his mind, they didn’t have renters’ rights, he told The Star. He paid the utility bills and allowed them to live there without charge in return for working the farm.
“They don’t have any rights as a tenant. There’s no rental agreement,” he said. “They don’t pay anything. It’s not like rental.”
Court documents say he kicked in the front door, stormed into the house and shouted, “When are you getting out, (expletive)” while holding on to his holstered .40-caliber Glock handgun loaded with 10 hollow-point bullets. The tenants called the police. The case is still pending.
‘Stop the van!’
A year later, on July 28, 2017, Pickert won the $5.75 million judgment against Jungerman. Jungerman’s appeal is pending.
On Oct. 24, liens were filed to take his property to pay the judgment.
The next day, Pickert was killed. His wife, Emily Riegel, heard two shots and said she spotted a man in a white van pull something black, possibily a ski mask, over his face and drive away.
“Stop the van!” she yelled.
Police homed in on Jungerman. He, too, owned a white van. But police found nothing to tie him to the crime. The investigation appeared to stall. Police even said publicly he was not a suspect.
Jungerman seemed in the clear — until March 8, when he again brandished a gun. This time he was accused of shooting at a man at a recycling center at 4300 E. 12th St., suspecting him of stealing iron pipe from his business. Jungerman was arrested and has been locked up in the Jackson County jail ever since, without bond.
It was that alleged crime that broke open the Pickert murder case. Later that day, police got a search warrant for Jungerman’s Toyota Sequoia and found a .17-caliber bullet under the front passenger seat, the same caliber used to kill Pickert.
One day later, they seized computers and other possessions from his Raytown home and business. In his home, on a counter in the master bathroom, they found an Olympus audio recorder. It contained a recording from Nov. 16, 2017, when Jungerman was in court for busting in on the bunkhouse tenants in Vernon County.
Jungerman was not a stranger to using recordings. In 2000, he had taped a conversation with an employee calling about her possible exposure to asbestos, according to court records of a labor dispute.
This time it appears Jungerman was recording the Vernon County court proceedings and inadvertently left the recorder on. He left the courthouse and, with a person whose name was redacted in court documents, drove to his property to look for deer poachers.
Court documents say he talked of “wanting to burn their tree stands and shoot out the hunters’ tires on their vehicles.”
“It’s a shame I don’t have a .17,” he said.
The recording captured the following conversation, court documents say:
Jungerman: “Yeah. Hey, you know, uh, people ... people, uh, know that I murdered that son of a bitch.”
(Redacted): “Why are you saying it like that?”
Jungerman: “Because that’s what ... because of what the media done, see. And but they ... they ... they just nobody can figure out what’s going on, you know? (Laughing)“
(Redacted): “Ehhhhh-huh-huh, I hope they don’t never figure it out.”
Jungerman: “Well, you tell me how they ever could?”