Those who knew Ronald Lee Kidwell were not surprised to learn he was charged with the murder of a black woman — her body discovered in the Shawnee home where he lived.
“This was a hate crime,” said his neighbor Kathleen Brown. “One hundred percent a hate crime.”
Kidwell would drape himself in the Confederate flag, said his daughter, Crystal Foster. He would send her photos of the swastika tattoo on his left arm. He bragged to her about his membership in the Ku Klux Klan and told Brown about the Aryan Nations white supremacist group.
He once threatened to kill his daughter and her three children “if I ever spoke to a person of color,” Foster said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“He’s been a monster his whole life,” she said. “He’s the true definition of evil.”
Kidwell is charged with second-degree murder in the slaying of MeShon Cooper, 43, who had been missing for a week until her body was found on July 14 in the home where Kidwell lived, at 69th and Flint streets. A joint investigation by Shawnee, Lenexa and Kansas City police led investigators to the house.
Kidwell’s bond was set at $1 million.
Asked whether the case was being investigated as a hate crime, Kristi Bergeron, a spokeswoman for the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office, said she could not comment on “the facts of this pending case.” The local office of the FBI declined to comment on this case or previous charges.
Yet Kidwell, 47, has a history of assaults, and Foster said he targeted victims based on race.
“He pretends to be ‘colored people’s’ friends and then he harms them,” Foster said, emphasizing that she was using Kidwell’s language rather than her own.
Foster was placed in the foster care system as an infant but said Kidwell would track her down in various homes.
He has spent 15 years in prison on various assault charges.
In a 2011 case, he was charged with second-degree assault in Clay County when he hit a sleeping black woman on the head with a hammer, demanded she take her pants off and sexually assaulted her, according to police records. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years, according to court records.
“Kidwell stated that he has been diagnosed with HIV and did not use a condom during the sexual activity,” police wrote.
He would brag about the assaults, deriving satisfaction from them, Foster said.
In court documents for the 2011 assault he is referred to as “One Eye.” He lost his right eye at around age 7 when pit bulls attacked him, said his cousin Shana Turner.
Turner said Kidwell had been disowned by much of his family for his racist views.
“Whenever I was around him, he’d talk about white power,” she said. When she heard about this month’s murder allegation, “it didn’t surprise me that she (the victim) was black.”
Kidwell, 47, commonly said “on my skin” while tapping his arm, as a means of using race to add credence to his words, Turner said.
And yet, he appeared to befriend black people.
Meshon Cooper, who also lived in Shawnee, had visited Kidwell at his home about 10 days before her disappearance, said Brown, his neighbor. After Cooper left that day, Brown said, Kidwell referred to her as a “black bitch” and used a racial epithet.
On July 6, Cooper was back at Kidwell’s house, and he went out to get beer, Brown said. While he was gone, Brown and Cooper struck up a conversation at Brown’s house. Cooper talked at length about her family and how her brother was “her light.” She told Brown she was going to teach her how to make soul food.
The next day, July 7, Cooper’s vehicle was found near Lykins Square park at 7th and Myrtle streets in Kansas City. Her family said the keys were left in the vehicle.
“If I would have known he was going to harm her in any way, I would have never let her leave my house,” Brown said.
Two days after Cooper disappeared, Kidwell asked Brown for trash bags and a handsaw, Brown said.
Cooper’s loved ones struggle to understand how anyone could hurt the woman known for her geniality.
Tim Short, who grew up with Cooper in Kansas City and later attended high school with her in Grandview, said he “never met anybody who didn’t like ‘Shon.”
“For someone to hurt her, you’d have to be an evil individual,” Short said.
Cooper has one child, a 25-year-old son who lived with her, said her nephew DaRon Cooper.
After being diagnosed with lupus, an incurable autoimmune disease, Cooper underwent a successful kidney transplant.
“She fought off a lot of different things, a lot of different diseases,” DaRon Cooper said, “so for someone to come in and take a life like this, it’s shocking and it hurts.”
Though she qualified for disability, Short said, she liked to be around people so she took a part-time job at a Subway in town.
As the days passed following Cooper’s disappearance, Short said his “heart started getting heavy.”
“By day four or five, I knew the worst had happened,” he said. “He took my friend, so I’m upset and heartbroken.”
DaRon Cooper said the family’s main goal now is to support MeShon Cooper’s son.
“They were taking care of each other,” he said. “With her being gone, it leaves him out to dry in a way.”
A GoFundMe account to benefit Cooper’s son had raised $600 toward a $2,000 goal as of Saturday afternoon.
As the family leans on one another, Foster is looking for justice. She said she wishes she had been Kidwell’s only victim.
“I hope that he suffers every day. I want him to feel the pain of being alone because she (Cooper) had to,” she said. “I hope in my heart that he dies a slow painful death.”