Case of aircraft mechanic who went missing in KC frustrates investigators and family

Shane Keyser

On July 2, two men ran out of gas near Kansas City International Airport.

A woman driving past in a white truck stopped and offered to help. She brought back gasoline. The men went on their way, as did the woman.

Seven months later, Kansas City area police still are looking for that woman.

They believe she could give them a fresh lead in their frustrated investigation of a missing military veteran and aircraft mechanic, Donald Christopher Hadden, who came to Kansas City to work a temporary contract job.

Hadden, a 33-year-old divorced father of three, disappeared on or near that July day. He may be dead, investigators say.

They didn’t find the Avera, Ga., man or his body in the many rural Platte County acres they searched near KCI last summer. Their frustration is shared in Georgia, where Hadden’s mother is equally discouraged.

Twice last year Leisa Hadden traveled to Kansas City, where she handed out fliers across the Northland and met with some of her son’s acquaintances — some of whom, she believes, were involved with drug-selling.

“Some of the information I got was so bad it hurt me, but I am not intimidated,” said Leisa Hadden, a retired 23-year postal worker who recently put up $1,000 in reward money for information regarding her son’s disappearance.

“I’m not a bad-ass, I’m just a mother. But when you are messing with my cub, you’ve got a problem.”

Lt. Duane Davidson of the Liberty Police Department hopes Hadden’s reward money could jog somebody’s memory — maybe the woman with the gasoline.

Meanwhile, Donald Hadden’s missing poster has been rotating on electric billboards across the Kansas City area since late January. Lamar Outdoor often partners with KC Crime Stoppers, which is offering up to $2,000 in reward money for information in the case.

Liberty police took up the investigation last summer because a girlfriend of Hadden’s had lived in Liberty.

The search represents one of the department’s most extensive recent investigations, with more than 800 hours invested. That doesn’t include the efforts of the Platte and Clay county sheriff’s offices and Kansas City police. Representatives from all three joined Liberty police investigators in their extended fruitless search of rural land near KCI.

“We were hoping that somebody would find something during deer season,” Davidson said. “But nobody did.

“If we can find the woman in the white truck, she could give us a whole new set of coordinates to search.”

On July 5, when Leisa Hadden called her son’s cellphone, a restaurant manager answered.

The manager had found the phone in the parking lot of a Zona Rosa shopping district restaurant.

Four days later, police declared Chris Hadden missing. Leisa Hadden arrived in Kansas City a week later.

In July and August, she spent weeks investigating her son’s disappearance, including interviewing several of her son’s acquaintances in the area.

While working at a temporary contract job, he had moved into a mobile home, she said. When that ended, he chose to stay in Kansas City, and he took in some acquaintances to share the trailer and save money.

That’s apparently when her son’s troubles began, Leisa Hadden said.

Clay County court records show that operators of a Kansas City, North, mobile home park in April won a judgment for possession by default of a residence listed to Hadden and a second man.

In June, a sheriff’s deputy stopped Hadden in Clay County and cited him for driving without a license and having a car that wasn’t registered or insured. Court officials issued warrants for Hadden after he failed to appear.

Leisa Hadden, who talked to her son almost every day, could tell he was troubled.

He told her, “Things are getting really bad up here, Momma.”

Her son had served in the second Iraq War and later had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

“I begged him to come home,” she said.

On her visits, she met with police investigators. They didn’t like her idea of her seeking out her son’s acquaintances.

“I told her it wasn’t in her best interest of her personal safety,” Davidson said. “We already had the names of those people.”

Hadden talked to them anyway.

From her interviews, she constructed a nightmare scenario of what could have happened.

In early July, she said, her son joined at least two other men in driving around the Northland for several hours. After an argument, the car stopped at an isolated spot near the airport, Hadden said.

Her son and and one of the other men got out.

“My son took off running and was shot several times,” she said. “Then the two boys drove off and ran out of gas. That’s when the woman in the white truck helped them.”’

One of her theories, Hadden said, is that her son had been gathering information on his drug-selling acquaintances to later disclose to police. In this version of events, her son throws away his cellphone.

“He threw it away because of all the information on it,” she said.

Davidson declined to comment on Hadden’s theories.

Investigators, she said, still hold her son’s cellphone, telling her they continue to use it in studying pinging signals, trying to track his various locations before the restaurant manager found the discarded phone.

That work has been completed, Davidson said.

Investigators also have visited the locations that Hadden visited, Davidson said.

Her investigation, Hadden said, has taken a toll.

She estimates she has spent $12,000 traveling to and from Kansas City. During her second visit, she said, she was robbed at her Northland motel. Davidson confirmed that robbery, adding that several of the missing items had been recovered.

Leisa Hadden is tenacious, said Cynthia Schaefer, a family friend who traveled from Ohio to Kansas City last summer to help Hadden hand out fliers.

“We went door-to-door at some motels Chris was known to hang out at, and we met some shady characters,” Schaefer said. “I had a stack of fliers in one hand and my Bible in the other.”

In recent weeks Schaefer has sent 200 fliers to newspapers and anyone else who she thinks might help. “Congressmen, senators, psychics and individual police departments,” Schaefer said.

Leisa Hadden, meanwhile, decided to put up $1,000 in reward money to hopes that somebody needing cash would offer information.

“I know there is a chance that he might be dead,” Leisa Hadden said. “But the police are not telling me anything, and I just want the truth.”

Davidson said he and his colleagues still hope that Hadden is alive.

“We do have information he may have been the victim of foul play, but that is all I can say,” Davidson said.

“We would like to bring this to some kind of closure for the family, but we have run out of fresh information.”

Brian Burnes: 816-234-4120, @BPBthree

How to help

Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Donald Christopher Hadden is asked to call Lt. Mark Balzer of the Liberty Police Department at 816-439-4731 or the Tips Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (474-8477).