Crime

Kansas City teen was tied up, burned in 1974. Now, his sister searches for the killer

Sister, awakened by brother’s memory, is on a quest to find his killer

Susan Eyman Rosemann is trying to find who killed her bother, David Eyman. His body was found tied up and burned after the 15-year-old failed to return home from a girlfriend's south Kansas City house in 1974.
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Susan Eyman Rosemann is trying to find who killed her bother, David Eyman. His body was found tied up and burned after the 15-year-old failed to return home from a girlfriend's south Kansas City house in 1974.

Susan Rosemann came awake in the middle of the night.

It was David, her older brother, stirring her. Though she knew it was impossible for him to be there.

You have to get up,” he said.

Everything Rosemann knew of her older brother had stopped some 42 years ago when their weary mother, Wanda Eyman, seemingly banished all mention of the teenage David Eyman’s terrifying, violent death.

His body, bound by rope, doused in gasoline and set on fire, was found in a ditch along the boundary road between Jackson and Cass counties, about 3 a.m., Aug. 14, 1974.

Investigators suspected that the local police officer first at the scene was actually the killer, but no one was ever charged.

Now, so many decades later, the presence of David, frozen in time at age 15, called out to Rosemann.

It’s urgent,” he said.

“I had to gather my wits,” Rosemann said, describing the unsettling feeling of her brother’s presence at her bedside in her rural home west of Kearney.

His face had been almost forgotten to her.

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David L. Eyman

Right after David’s death, there had been a frantic year or two when Wanda Eyman made a determined effort to uncover the truth.

Then their mother shut it all off. No one talked about it. The family didn’t even keep any pictures of David on the walls.

The vision of her brother lifted Rosemann from her bed. She would take actions in the months ahead: digging up old notes, calling police, even looking up the onetime suspect in her brother’s murder.

But in that first moment she felt only regret and pain. Her faded memory of David’s face came fully clear with his smile and wavy dark hair.

“I was so sorry,” Rosemann said, trembling. “I was sorry I forgot him. His life was worth so much more than that.”

What was everyone afraid of?

Back in the mid-1970s, Wanda Eyman did most of her home detective work at night.

Her 14-year-old daughter Susan lay in bed listening to her mother talking on the phone, anxiously pressing questions, looking for anything that might help the police make an arrest.

“My mom was pretty meek and timid, very reserved and polite,” Rosemann said. “But I heard her turn into this yelling, shouting, crying person.”

On his last night alive, David had been at his girlfriend’s house. He called home, so his mother knew he had started walking home in the Ruskin area of south Kansas City.

The mother kept everything from her 14-year-old daughter, telling her nothing of what she found out. Rosemann remembers a house heavy with fear of an unknown menace. An older brother who lived on his own returned and watched through the front window at night with a gun in his hand.

Susan’s mother did not let her watch the intense television news accounts or read the newspaper stories.

Rosemann heard enough to ask her mother just one question: Was David alive and breathing when they set him on fire?

Her mother answered quickly — No. Rosemann now realizes her mother couldn’t have known.

The only clue Rosemann has for why her mother abruptly quit talking to anyone appeared in a Star article two years after the killing. She declined to be quoted anymore, saying, “I have a daughter I want to protect.”

“What was everyone afraid of?” Rosemann wondered now, 44 years later. “’I need to protect my daughter’ — from what?

Missing Links

Biker gangs, perhaps.

That was one of the leads Wanda Eyman chased in the search for her son’s killer.

Rosemann knows this now because when she began asking around her family about her brother’s death, her older sister gave Rosemann a large sack, untouched for years, filled with their mother’s detective work.

All those nights she was on the phone, Wanda Eyman scrawled out notes seemingly on anything within her reach — paper plates, used envelopes, notebook paper . . .

Her cursive was rushed but neat. She was asking about the Missing Links bikers, and she listed names such as “Fat Charlie” and “Snake.”

She made notes about the man the police identified as their suspect.

Two years after David was killed, the suspected officer told The Star in an interview that investigators grilled him with theories that David Eyman’s death arose out of a sexual assault, or that the officer hit David with his vehicle and panicked.

None of it was true, he said.

Police detectives never had enough to make a case. Prosecutors filed no charges and Wanda Eyman, Rosemann can only guess, was devastated.

With the returned presence of David pushing her, Rosemann began retracing her mother’s steps, using the internet to make sweeping requests for information in ways her mother couldn’t have imagined.

She put herself on a digital trail to find and attempt to contact the suspected former officer, wherever he might be.

Her first call, however, was to the Kansas City Police Department’s cold case and missing persons squad.

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David Eyman was 15 when he was killed in 1974. Keith Myers Family photo

Fading evidence

“Unfortunately,” Kansas City Police Sgt. Ben Caldwell told The Star, “nothing has changed.”

He gave a similar message to Rosemann most every time she called.

While DNA technology has revolutionized forensic science since David’s killing, Rosemann was frustrated to find out the evidence isn’t there anymore to test.

The cold case squad no longer has pieces of evidence such as the rope that bound David when he was set on fire.

Caldwell can’t explain why the rope, the boots David was wearing, his burned clothing and ring are not in evidence storage.

There’s no one he can ask about a 44-year-long chain of custody. He noted that Kansas City did not have its own evidence storage facility back then. It did not have the computerized control number system it has now.

Making a usable DNA match would have been a long shot even if police still had the rope, said David Foran, director of the forensic biology lab at Michigan State University.

Technology allows for swabbing surfaces, but it’s not like sampling blood or body fluids, he said. The technology is not capable yet of extracting individual cells from those artifacts. So, if multiple people handled them, a surface swap would generate a mix of DNA profiles.

The older the piece of evidence gets — especially if it’s not preserved consistently cool and dry — the more the DNA degrades.

Whenever new DNA technology arrives, Caldwell said, the cold case squad sends evidence to the forensic laboratory in any unsolved case that might benefit from a DNA match.

The David Eyman investigation needs new witness testimony — and the chance for any reliable information all these years later is all but faded.

“I know she’s frustrated,” Caldwell said of Rosemann. “We’re frustrated too. But we can only do so much.”

Search for the suspect

Maybe, Rosemann wonders, it was the former police officer who killed David, like detectives suspected.

Maybe he picked David up for something while he was walking home that night, something went wrong and it got out of hand.

He didn’t mean to do it, she imagines. And he burned the body to cover what he’d done.

He’s in his 70s now. “Maybe he needs this,” Rosemann said. Maybe, after all these years, he would “want to say what he did and why.”

Her internet search led her to a Facebook page belonging to someone by the former officer’s name living out of state.

Other record searches matched that man to an individual with the same name and middle initial, and the same age as the officer would be today.

For a while Rosemann paid a booster fee for Facebook to push her Justice for David Eyman page in the region where the former officer apparently lives. A line cast in the water, hoping someone will bite and talk to her — maybe even the man himself.

The Star recently contacted by a text message a woman who is the daughter of the man Rosemann thought might be the former officer.

The woman replied: That man was her father, and she asked why the reporter was contacting him. A follow-up note mentioned the David Eyman case. The woman said she would pass the reporter’s contact information to her father.

Another message from the woman quickly followed: We had the wrong man. Her father was never a police officer.

And the man’s Facebook page was taken down.

This is not the first time Rosemann’s path has seemed to hit a dead end. Every time, the same feeling comes back. David is there behind her.

“I feel him pushing me,” she said. “Don’t stop. Do something.”

What’s next, she’s not sure. Maybe, she says, she’ll just drive to that man’s house and knock on his door. Maybe someone will see her Facebook page or her story who knows something and never said so before.

Maybe someone will call the Kansas City police cold case squad — 816-234-5136.

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Joe Robertson specializes in reporting on criminal and social justice. He works to tell the stories behind the stories, while covering breaking news of all kinds.


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