Special Reports

An ex-con's credibility is scrutinized, though polygraph experts say it's worthwhile to listen

(Sunday, Feb. 18, 2007)

Ed Massey says he has new evidence that can solve the firefighter explosion case and possibly free five innocent Kansas Citians from life in prison.

But Massey knows he has a credibility problem. He’s an ex-convict facing felony charges. He’s been diagnosed with a mental disorder. And he’s made a few enemies over the years.

But his father, a retired Raytown assistant fire chief, maintains that his son is telling the truth about the explosion case.

"He’s not lying; I can tell you that now," Howard Massey said.

A polygraph examination administered Feb. 3 on behalf of The Kansas City Star shows Ed Massey has credible information about the crime. And experts said that, despite all his problems, Massey’s allegations should not be dismissed.

U.S. Attorney Paul S. Becker, who tried the case, disagrees. He puts no stock in Massey’s allegations, though some of Becker’s own witnesses at trial were ex-cons, drug users and admitted liars.

Massey, 47, is outwardly friendly, even charming at times. He’s clearly intelligent but can have a quick temper and says he has a conviction for assault.

He sometimes tells hard-to-believe stories about celebrities and his past as a truck driver, bounty hunter, Hells Angel and Marine veteran. Some of his former business partners said they lost money because of him.

He claims a business degree, which the college says isn’t legitimate. But Massey says the college is wrong and has simply lost his records.

Massey did not seek publicity and was reluctant for months to tell The Star everything he said he knew. He asked the newspaper for money, a free subscription, legal counsel and even tickets to the Kansas City Zoo in exchange for his story. All were refused.

Despite that, Massey has remained cooperative since the newspaper first approached him last summer. He even agreed to release records from a psychiatrist treating him for bipolar disorder.

Always unpredictable, late last week Massey backtracked, saying he had legal problems that could be complicated by publication of any story. He asked the newspaper not to print his claims.

When told it was too late, Massey said he would deny his earlier statements and claim he is delusional. Experts, however, say anyone who says he’s delusional probably is not.

Later, Massey dropped his objections.

Massey said he’s feeling pressure from federal authorities over a drug charge in Caldwell County, Mo., involving marijuana. He said he could be facing a lengthy prison sentence. Notes from a January interview that Massey had with ATF agents indicated that he acknowledged "no promises have been made to him including his present charges."

Regardless of what Massey did or did not see the night of the explosion, he spent a lot of time as a woodcutter on the construction site where the blasts occurred in 1988.

In fact, records show that Massey and his then-girlfriend, Sharon Wylie, were among the first people questioned in the case. Kansas City police pulled Massey’s vehicle over about 11 a.m. the day of the explosion. They searched him, and he passed a polygraph test.

Police considered Massey a suspect because Shawn Roma, another ex-convict and one of Massey’s woodcutting partners, told police that Massey had threatened to set a woodpile on fire -- statements he doesn’t deny.

What police didn’t know when they pulled Massey over was that his girlfriend recently had been released from prison after serving time for arson, something they apparently did not check. They released her, though there was a warrant for her arrest on a probation violation.

Massey married Wylie about a month after the explosion, but they separated, and Massey said her family told him she was dead. She is alive, however, and has declined an interview with The Star.

Roma told the newspaper recently that he had seen Massey’s pickup with a can of gasoline in the truck bed heading toward the construction site the night of the explosion. Roma denies setting any fires and suspects Massey was involved. Massey denies the claim.

The Star consulted several mental health experts about Massey’s statements. While they did not evaluate him personally, they said that people who lie usually do so for some kind of gain.

However, Steven Mandracchia, director of forensic services at Western Missouri Mental Health Center, said it was difficult to determine what Massey could gain by lying in this case.

He added that witnesses such as Massey could be selectively lying about any number of things, but that even pathological liars would be likely to tell the truth to federal investigators who could punish them for wasting their time.

"If there is an obvious and impending penalty to lying, that leans toward truth," Mandracchia said.

He added that there is good reason not to dismiss Massey, noting that just because people lie about some things doesn’t mean they lie about everything,

"It’s like the old joke," Mandracchia said. "Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean somebody isn’t after me."