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Cold case unit IDs suspects in 11 KCK homicides dating back to 1979, police chief says

Kansas City, Kansas, Police Chief Karl Oakman speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, about a shooting that occurred during a Halloween party at a residence in the 1600 block of South 50th Street in Kansas City, Kansas. (Emily Curiel/Kansas City Star/TNS)

The Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department’s recently formed cold case unit has identified suspects in 11 homicides dating back to 1979, Chief Karl Oakman said.

Three cases have been submitted to the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office for consideration of charges, Oakman said.

“Detectives are conducting further investigation to determine which (other) cases can be submitted for criminal charges,” Oakman told the Unified Government’s Board of Commissioners on Thursday as part of a presentation about the police department’s new initiatives.

About a week after he was sworn in as chief in June 2021, Oakman announced plans to form a cold case unit, which was up and running in January 2022. It consists of three full-time detectives.

Nancy Chartrand, a police spokesperson, said Friday the department can’t identify the cases referenced by Oakman because it could jeopardize them.

But Chartrand called identifying suspects in 11 homicides since the unit was created a “tremendous success” given that some cases remained unsolved for decades. Suspects who think they have evaded justice, she said, will soon be “sorely disappointed.”

“Our first priority is always the families of these victims,” regardless of how long ago their lives were taken, Chartrand added.

Activists in Wyandotte County had been calling for a cold case unit, specifically urging the investigations into the unsolved killings of primarily Black women.

One of those cases, the 1998 murder of 33-year-old Rhonda Tribue, gained the attention in 2021 of the FBI, which offered a reward of $50,000 for information leading to a conviction. She had been living in KCK and was found dead in the 500 block of South 94th Street near Edwardsville.

Melissa Underwood, a spokesperson for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which was working with the FBI, earlier this year said Tribue’s homicide remained an open investigation.

“We would still urge anyone to come forward with even the smallest information that might help law enforcement close her case,” Underwood said in May.

At the time of Tribue’s killing, KCK detectives honed in on a drug dealer she was said to have dated, according to a recent Star review of the case file. Police searched his truck, but he was not charged.

When the department announced the formation of the cold case unit, it noted that just 7% of law enforcement agencies have a dedicated cold case unit. At the time, Oakman said there were about 285 unsolved killings over five decades in KCK that could benefit from a “fresh review.”

At the meeting Thursday, Oakman also said certain crimes are down compared to this time last year, including a 38% and 39% decline in homicides and rapes, respectively. For homicides, that means there have been 18 killings this year compared to 29 by this time in 2022, he said.

Among other updates, Oakman said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has committed to sending the department four agents to start a squad to investigate illegal guns.


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