“Things like that just don’t happen here.” That sentence is the definition of innocence. It’s been a mantra in small towns and communities in the Heartland for decades. It’s also extremely naïve.
Our fascination with true crime began to grow after a gruesome crime in the last place and during an era you’d least expect it. In 1959, four members of the Clutter family – father Herbert, mother Bonnie, son Kenyon and daughter Nancy – were murdered in the rural western Kansas town of Holcomb.
Truman Capote chronicled that murder, by Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, in “In Cold Blood,” a novel that launched the true crime genre.
Though thousands of similar murders have occurred in the years since, that naivety still exists. Shocking murders are common, including in communities where “things like this just don’t happen.”
As I wrote in my first blog about The Springfield Three, the disappearance of three women shook Springfield, Missouri, a city in southwest Missouri not far from the Bible Belt. Many of the people interviewed about this crime were surprised because they believed this rarely happens in such communities.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case in this region of Missouri from the mid-1980s to early-1990s. The Springfield Three is one of several bizarre and troubling cases in west central and southwest Missouri.
Jackie Johns, 1985: A former beauty queen, Johns was murdered in June 1985. Law enforcement officials found her car abandoned on a highway on June 18, 1985. Police officers discovered that the backseat was covered in blood, along with Johns’ clothing. Officers pulled her remains from Lake Springfield on June 22, 1985.
For more than 20 years, businessman Gerald Carnahan, who has extensive ties to Springfield, was the prime suspect in Johns’ rape and murder. A DNA test in 2007 tied him to the murder, and he was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in 2010.
Carnahan is considered a suspect in several missing person cases in Missouri, including The Springfield Three.
Trudy Darby, 1991: Darby was abducted from the convenience store where she worked in Macks Creek, Missouri, on Jan. 19, 1991, and discovered dead two days later. She was robbed, raped and shot twice in the head.
This case, covered on “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1992, was solved years later when half-brothers Jessie Rush and Marvin Chaney were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. The brothers are suspects in two other cases in the area during the same time period: the disappearance of Angela Hammond and Cheryl Kenney in 1991.
Cheryl Kenney, 1991: Like Darby, Kenney was last seen while working at a convenience store. She disappeared from Nevada, Missouri, on February 27, 1991, and remains missing.
Angela Hammond, 1991: Hammond was abducted while speaking on a payphone at 11:45 p.m. April 4, 1991, in Clinton, Missouri. She was speaking to her boyfriend on the phone when a suspicious man driving a pickup parked next to her, then kidnapped her before he fled Clinton.
Hammond’s boyfriend chased Hammond and her abductor before his car broke down. Hammond has not been seen since.
It’s possible that none of these cases are connected, but I would be surprised if at least three – Darby, Kenney and Hammond – were not. It’s also possible that somebody like Carnahan, Rush, Chaney or the individual(s) responsible for The Springfield Three are involved.
Unfortunately, things like this do happen in small towns. Far too often.