Crime

‘Give him the max’: Survivors follow trial of suspected KC serial killer Robert Gross

Guilty on 8 counts: Suspected KC serial killer convicted of stalking, gun crimes

John P. O'Connor, defense attorney for Robert J. Gross, speaks after trial. Jason Conkling, whose mother was killed in 1979, also shared thoughts about the jury's verdict.
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John P. O'Connor, defense attorney for Robert J. Gross, speaks after trial. Jason Conkling, whose mother was killed in 1979, also shared thoughts about the jury's verdict.

The full story of Robert Gross’ last day at trial is posted here.

On the long road that led Robert J. Gross to be convicted Wednesday, at age 67, in a federal courtroom in downtown Kansas City, are left behind the injured, the traumatized and the dead. And those who survived are still paying attention.

Since the late 1970s, Gross has been suspected in at least four homicides: the double shotgun slaying of Wanda Conkling and William Cadwalader in 1979, the disappearance of Cheryl Morris in 1981 and the murder of 52-year-old Ying Li at her Northland apartment in 2016.

He’s never been charged in any of them, but generations of police who investigated Gross have said they were sure of his guilt. The same is said by women who survived his assaults, stalking and arson attacks. Much of that story was told last year in a six-part series by The Kansas City Star.

On Wednesday when the jury returned the verdict, some of those touched by the older crimes were watching in the courtroom. Others waited elsewhere in the city and across the country for news of the outcome.

Gross was convicted on two counts of interstate stalking and six federal firearms offenses. He was acquitted on two other counts of stalking. None of the charges in the trial related to the killings he’s been implicated in.

“Wow,” said Janet Manuel, by phone from Florida. “They couldn’t get him on anything else, for murder?”

Manuel has been haunted by Gross for more than 40 years, she has said, since he nearly killed her in a Kansas City parking lot. She asked how much prison time Gross will be given at sentencing.

That has yet to be decided by a judge. But federal prosecutors have said Gross could face as much as 55 years.

“Give him the max, before he hurts someone else,” Manuel said. “It scares me just to think what if he was back on the street.”

Jason Conkling, who watched the trial in the courtroom, has known since he was a child that Gross was suspected in the killing of his mother Wanda.

Wanda had met Gross through her work at a massage parlor — a fact that echoed Gross’ conviction Wednesday of stalking women at massage parlors in Olathe and Lawrence.

“I am happy about the verdicts,” Jason Conkling said outside the courthouse. “I can tell my family that even though we didn’t get him on mom’s thing, there is closure and he doesn’t get to do that to anybody else.”

In another part of Kansas City, one of the earliest known victims of Gross’ crimes learned of the jury’s verdict shortly after it came in.

Nancy was a young monther in 1967 when a teenage Gross broke into her house one night. Police caught him in the bathroom wearing her slip, garter and hosiery.

Later on, she followed Gross’ criminal career in the news. She heard about the murders, the suspicious fires, his way of always seeming to avoid consequences from police and prosecutors.

Nancy asked that The Star not publish her last name because, like some other women who had run-ins with Gross over the years, she fears his revenge and doesn’t quite trust that the system will keep him away for good.

And like the others, she’ll be waiting to hear what happens at Gross’ sentencing, which has not yet been scheduled.

She offered one comment by email Wednesday: “Eternity wouldn’t cover all the pain and suffering he’s caused on this earth.”

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Ian Cummings is the breaking news editor for The Kansas City Star, where he started as a reporter in 2015. He is a Kansas City native who graduated from the University of Kansas in 2012.

Glenn E. Rice covers crime, courts and breaking news for The Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 1988. Rice is a Kansas City native and a graduate of the University of Central Missouri.

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