The Springfield Three, Part II: Things like this do happen here


Clutter family

“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.

Capote_cold_bloodOur 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.

jackiejohnsJackie 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.




True Crime: “Springfield Three,” Part I



Stacy McCall, Sherrill Levitt and Suzie Streeter, the “Springfield Three.”

Stacy McCall and Suzie Streeter had just reached a milestone. On June 6, 1992, the friends graduated from Kickapoo High School in Springfield, Missouri.

They spent the hours after commencement hanging out, partying, reminiscing and looking forward to the next big step in their lives. One day later, along with Suzie’s mother Sherrill Levitt, they were gone. The “Springfield Three” simply vanished.

Twenty-four years and thousands of hours of investigation later, the mystery remains. Few clues have been discovered, though law enforcement continues to receive tips to this day.

About the case

  • The Springfield Police Department was notified that the women were missing by McCall’s parents on June 7, 1992.
  • The home which the women were staying at belonged to Levitt. There were no signs of a struggle, but the appearance of abduction, as all personal property (clothes, purses, money, cars, keys, etc.) were left behind.
  • McCall and Streeter were last seen at about 2:15 a.m. on June 7 after leaving a graduation party. Levitt’s last contact was with a friend at 11:15 p.m. on June 6.
  • Levitt was 47 years old, Streeter 19 and McCall 18 at the time. They would be 71, 42 and 41 today.
  • The women disappeared between 2:15 a.m. and 8 a.m. June 7.
  • A high school friend visited the Levitt home at about 8 a.m. June 7, where she discovered that the outside of the porch light was broken and shattered glass in front of the door, which was open. She also noted that the beds were slept in.
  • The friend and her boyfriend cleaned up the glass, a mistake that may have compromised crucial evidence.
  • The phone in the house rang while the friend was there. She answered an obscene call from a man. She hung up, and the man called back immediately. To this day, it has not been determined if the call was connected to the case (in my opinion, it probably is).
  • Stacy’s mom visited the home later and contacted the police. She also checked Levitt’s answering machine, deleting a message from an unknown man that may have been another piece of compromised evidence.
  • Tips include several witnesses who said they saw a Volkswagen van in the area around the time of the crime. Unfortunately, the witnesses said the van was virtually every color, from green to silver.
  • Several people have provided the same tip to law enforcement: The women are buried in the parking garage of a hospital in Springfield that was under construction at the time of the abduction. No core samples have been taken. No digging, either. A ground penetrating radar scan alleged shows that bodies may be present at the site.

Suspects/Persons of Interest

  • Robert Craig Cox: A convicted kidnapper currently imprisoned in Texas, he was convicted in the murder of a woman in Florida but released after the state Supreme Court ruled there wasn’t enough evidence. He lived across the street from the women at the time they went missing and has toyed with the Springfield police about the case for years. He also has said he knows what happened to the women to a TV reporter, without admitting to the crime.
  • Gerald Carnahan: A businessman, he was convicted in the 1985 killing of Jackie Johns 25 years after it happened. He has ties to Springfield and a long history of legal troubles.
  • Dustin Recla, Michael Clay and Joseph Riedel: Recla is the ex-boyfriend of Streeter told police he wanted her dead because she gave officers a statement about the men, who were charged with the felony institutional vandalism of a cemetery in February 1992.
  • Steven Garrison: A lifelong criminal, he allegedly bragged at a party about killing the women and burying them. He currently is in a Missouri prison.
  • Larry DeWayne Hall: A convicted serial killer, he was a Civil War buff who participated in re-enactments in the Springfield area. His brother claims that Hall admitted murdering the women.

I will write much more about this fascinating case soon.




Here’s to a new face

webb interviewing

Me during the Washburn days interviewing historian Manisha Sinha.


After more than six years of the same format, “The blog about everything,” it was time for a facelift.

As the final project for my “Promotions Writing” class in graduate school this semester, I’m building a public relations campaign to promote my capstone: a few chapters in books I plan to write once I’ve earned my master’s degree. You can read more about that on my author’s page on Facebook.

Don’t worry. Those of you who love to read snarky blogs about sports and (I hope) inspiring posts about fitness will still get your fix. But much of the focus of this blog over the next several months is going to be on my classwork.

As for the books: One will be about Brenda Michelle Keller, the 12-year-old girl who was murdered in tiny Dover nearly 25 years ago (My goodness … has it really been that long); the other about my father, who has overcome a plethora of obstacles to teach his sons and grandchildren thousands of wonderful life lessons.

Another reason for the shift in blog: accountability. I’ve been talking about writing a book for a long time. I’ve been considering one about my dad for several years now, but not until recently had I considered writing about Brenda.

Why now do I want to write about Brenda? I blogged about that in October. A quick summary: I never met Brenda, but I have always been drawn to this story. I started visiting her gravesite in the Dover Cemetery in the mid-1990s, feeling I needed to be there, that we would have been friends had this hideous crime not occurred. We also shared mutual friends, including best friends. After years of thinking about this case, it finally hit me that I need to write about it.

A lot of work remains. I have no idea if the relevant parties have any interest in talking about this case. I know the murderer has never spoken to the media. I haven’t decided how to approach the family. But I’ve always wondered why more wasn’t written about Brenda.

Unfortunately, bad things like this happen all the time. That doesn’t mean their stories shouldn’t be told. Hopefully, I can help.