Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wichita Horror

The Heartbreak of a City

Wichita was in torment. In the space of a week, the city had been the scene of two unrelated quadruple murders. Although suspects in both mass slayings were in custody, purchases of guns, locks, and security systems skyrocketed.

A fierce debate raged in the media and among the citizenry about the motive for the Wichita Horror. Rick Thames, editor of the Wichita Eagle, said, "It was a shocking crime because of the apparent randomness of it."

Others argued that the crime was not random but racist. They blasted the decision of Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston not to treat it as a "hate crime." She contended that there was no evidence race was the motive. No racial slurs were made against any of the victims. Foulston maintained that robbery was at the root of these crimes, Kansas does not have a hate-crimes statute on the books. However, it does have a special penalty provision allowing increased sentences for crimes motivated by racial hatred. On many other grounds, but not that one, the prosecution sought the death penalty against the Carrs.

Some observers protested that if a similar outrage had been perpetrated against blacks by whites, it would have been assumed to be racist. The question asked of H.G. about whether or not she had previously had sex with a black man suggests race was on his mind.

Sadly, white racists attempted to foment hatred because of this case. In the aftermath of the slayings, online white supremacist and separatist groups put up web pages detailing the offenses and decrying what they saw as the media's double standard in giving them relatively little attention.

However, a commentator does not have to be a white racist or even white to wonder if a similar white-on-black mass murder would have gotten more press attention. The concern that decent Americans have with ending racism, together with the history of white dominance in this country, may make the media reluctant to focus on cases that threaten to bring the old racial poisons to the surface. The respected black conservative author Thomas Sowell claims that the media has a double standard regarding inter-racial offenses, tending to play up "vicious crimes by whites against blacks" but play down equally "vicious crimes by blacks against whites."

A similar controversy occurred when the homophobic murder of Mathew Shepherd was closely followed by the murder of Jessie Dirkhising. Shepherd was viciously beaten to death in a gay-bashing incident. Two gay men raped 13-year-old Jessie Dirkhising with a variety of implements. He died as a result. The Shepherd case was far more widely publicized than the Dirkhising homicide and some blasted the media, alleging that they showed a pro-gay bias in giving so much more attention to one death than the other. However, the story of the boy's death got prominent play on anti-homosexual websites.

The Wichita Horror also figured in accusations Kansas politicians flung at their foes. In October 2001, state representative Tony Powell, who was considering a run for attorney general, accused the sitting attorney general, David Adkins, of contributing to the murders by supporting a bill that cut the amount of time convicts stayed under parole supervision.

That law benefited Reginald Carr, who had been on parole for aggravated assault and drug charges, by cutting his parole term from two years to one. However, his parole term had been incorrectly terminated six months before it should have ended even with the new law due to a paperwork error.

Despite that mistake, Powell said, "I hold people like (Mr.) Adkins responsible for what happened" and asserted that the bill "arguably led to the execution-style killings."

An outraged Adkins retorted, "This is more of a despicable reflection on his [Powell's] character and doesn't take into account an understanding of the law or the facts of the case."

In July 2002, television advertisements appeared on Wichita stations invoking the case to support Phil Kline in his race for the Republican nomination for Kansas ' attorney general attorney against David Adkins. Incredibly, the ad stated as fact that Reginald Carr committed murders with which he was only charged!

Kline's campaign disavowed advance knowledge of the ad and TV stations pulled it the next day. A supposedly non-partisan anti-crime group called The Law Enforcement Alliance of America had sponsored the bizarre commercial.



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