The first Monday of every month, 93-year-old Jeanne Stewart meets with her neighbors in the quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac on Woodbridge Lane in south Kansas City. They go out to dinner.
The friendly sessions are a time to share stories, reminisce and talk about the future. “It has made us all much closer,” Stewart said.
The neighbors have been doing this ever since someone walked into the Woodbridge neighborhood in September 2014 and unleashed a reign of terror that ended with five dead.
At dinner last Monday, one topic of conversation was the upcoming trial of Brandon Howell, who is accused in the shotgun slayings of Susan Choucroun, 69, Lorene Hurst, 88, and her son Darrel Hurst, 63 and the beating deaths of George Taylor, 80, and Anna Taylor, 86.
On Monday Howell is scheduled to stand trial in Jackson County Circuit Court on five counts of first-degree murder.
It’s been almost five years since the killings.
“We’re glad they were finally getting around to doing something about it,” Stewart said.
On Woodbridge Lane, new residents have moved into the neighborhood, replacing those who were slain or moved elsewhere.
“It is not forgotten and that is for sure,” Stewart said. “They were good neighbors. We just told them (the new residents) how nice they were and how good neighborhood it is.”
Prosecutors and attorneys for Howell declined to comment on the upcoming trial.
According to court records, the killing started after Howell allegedly tried to steal a classic Jaguar at the Taylor home. A woman inside the house called 911.
Witnesses said they heard several gunshots and saw George and Ana Taylors’ Toyota Highlander race down the street. One witness said the driver pulled in front of Choucroun’s house, got out and shot her before climbing back in the SUV and speeding away.
Responding police officers found Choucroun dead from a shotgun blast in her driveway next door to the Taylor home. They then found the Taylors badly beaten in the basement of their house. They died later at a hospital.
Officers found the bodies of the Hursts in the front yard of Lorene Hurst’s home. She and her son may have just returned from the store when they were killed, also with a shotgun.
Howell was arrested later that night as he walked along Interstate 29 in Kansas City, North, with a shotgun in his right pant leg. He had two spent shells in a pocket along with the keys to the Highlander, prosecutors allege.
Howell also faces charges of burglary, illegal possession of a firearm, motor vehicle theft and four counts of armed criminal action.
Stewart said she was home at the time of the killings and heard what she thought were shotgun blasts. Police told her and other residents to stay inside, she said.
“We were horrified,” Stewart said. “It was just a terrible thing to have happened.”
A year after the killings, a memorial sculpture and benches were dedicated to the memory of those who were killed.
One resident, Charles Choucroun, the husband of victim Susan Choucroun, did not stay. He remained in his home for several months after the crime but decided to move to Israel.
“It was horrific of what that young man did,” said Vicki Gruver, who has lived in the Woodbridge neighborhood for nearly two decades. “I am very sad for the people who lost their lives and for no reason and that such a mean person would do that to people who he had no interaction with.”
Another neighbor, Cheryl Anderson, said she has to correct people who mistakenly say Howell has gone to trial for the murders.
“Most people have forgotten about it,” Anderson said. “They say that guy went to trial several years ago and you say ‘No, no he hasn’t.”
By comparison, Anderson said, the killings outside the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom care center happened in April 2014 and the trial was finished about a year later.
A Johnson County jury convicted F. Glenn Miller of capital murder in the hate crime shooting spree in Overland Park. Miller was later sentenced to death.
“Here it is four years later and nothing ever happens,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she plans to attend the trial. Stewart and Gruver say that they plan to stay away.
“I don’t want to relive it,’ Stewart said.
Anderson said the memory still brings her to tears. “There are so many beautiful who died. He took the lives of so many people who could give so much to this world.”