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Headlines for Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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Emily Fisher

Prosecutor: Insufficient Evidence to Charge BTK Serial Killer in Oklahoma Cold Case

PAWNEE, Okla. (AP) — A prosecutor in Oklahoma says there isn't enough evidence to charge the BTK serial killer in the 1976 disappearance of a 16-year-old girl. That's despite statements from law enforcement officials calling Dennis Rader a prime suspect.

District Attorney Mike Fisher said at a news conference Monday that he's not at a point where he could file charges against Rader in the disappearance of Cynthia Dawn Kinney, a cheerleader from the northern Oklahoma city of Pawhuska who was last seen at a laundromat.

But Fisher asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to open a formal investigation into Kinney's disappearance because of the public interest in the revived cold case, and he will file charges if he learns of evidence that would warrant it, he said.

Osage County sheriff's officials, including Undersheriff Gary Upton, have recently called Rader a “prime suspect” in Kinney's disappearance and the death of 22-year-old Shawna Beth Garber, whose body was discovered in December 1990 in McDonald County, Missouri.

Rader, now 78, killed from 1974 to 1991, giving himself the nickname BTK — for “bind, torture and kill.” He played a cat and mouse game with investigators and reporters for decades before he was caught in 2005. He ultimately confessed to 10 killings in the Wichita area, about 90 miles north of Pawhuska. He is imprisoned for 10 consecutive life terms.

A bank was installing new alarms across the street from the laundromat where Kinney was last seen, Osage County Sheriff Eddie Virden has said. Rader was a regional installer for security system company ADT at the time, but Virden wasn’t able to confirm that Rader installed the bank's systems.

Virden told KAKE-TV he decided to investigate when he learned that Rader had included the phrase “bad laundry day” in his writings.

Fisher said he sat in on interviews that Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma investigators conducted with Rader about 90 days ago, but the sheriff has not shared any physical evidence with the DA’s office.

He called the information he has received so far “rumors because they’ve not been substantiated yet.” And he said he hadn't seen anything "that at this point arises to the level of even reasonable suspicion.”

But Fisher said he had seen things that gave him “pause and concern" about the sheriff's department, including the way they handled a dig for evidence at Rader's former property in Park City, Kansas, last month. And he called his relationship with the sheriff “broken.”

“I’m not trying to create a conflict with the sheriff of Osage County,” he said. “But, there are certain ways to investigate a case, and I’m concerned that those proper investigative techniques have not been used. That’s why I asked the OSBI to assist.”

Virden defended his handling of the investigation in an interview published Sunday in the Tulsa World. He also said Rader denied when he spoke to him in prison in January that he had killed anyone but his 10 victims in Kansas, but volunteered that one of his favorite unfulfilled fantasies had been to kidnap a girl from a laundromat.

The prosecutor said he was also concerned for Kinney’s parents, with whom he met for about two hours on Friday. He said they are both in their 80s, and the renewed speculation has taken a physical toll on them.

“Cynthia went missing 47 years ago. They’ve got no answers,” Fisher said. “We have reason to believe that it may have been a homicide. We can’t say that with any absolute certainty, but we’ve seen nothing to suggest otherwise as there’s been no contact with Cynthia Dawn since 1976, since her disappearance.”


Lawrence School Board Approves Budget, $23 Million More than Last Year

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) — The Lawrence school board officially adopted a budget Monday night that increases the local property tax rate while also providing approximately $6.6 million in pay raises for staff. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the board adopted a nearly $243 million operating budget for the 2023-24 school year. That’s almost $23 million more than last year. Several members of the public expressed their opposition to the plan because of the closing of two elementary schools. Several also objected to the tax hike.


Coalition Promotes Cost-of-Living Adjustments for State Retirees

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Higher inflation in recent years has eaten up the value of pension payments for thousands of retired teachers, first responders and other public employees in Kansas. Cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, are meant to supplement pension payments that are shrinking because of inflation. Yet the Kansas Legislature has not provided a cost-of-living adjustment in decades. Alan Conroy, executive director for the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, known as KPERS, recently told state lawmakers that the most recent payment increase was in 1998. “So, that means 90% of our retirees and their beneficiaries have not received a cost-of-living adjustment," he said. A coalition of retirees wants those adjustments and is proposing a plan that would provide an increase to the pensions. Kansas lawmakers have been reluctant to take up the issue because the plan could cost the state more than $250 million annually. (Read more.)


Former Kansas Credit Union Advisor Indicted for Embezzling Money

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KPR) – A Kansas woman has been arraigned on federal charges in connection with a years-long scheme to steal money from her employer. Prosecutors accuse 68-year-old Rita Hartman of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Muddy River Credit Union in Atchison. Hartman was indicted by a grand jury in August and arraigned today (MON). Hartman was the manager of Muddy River Credit Union from the early 1990s through January 2021.

Muddy River served the employees of the Bradken foundry located in Atchison. As manager, Hartman had responsibility for and control over all aspects of Muddy River’s finances, books and records. She's accused of using her position to steal money from the credit union. The FBI investigated the case. (Read more.)


County Group Calls on Kansas to Provide Property Tax Relief

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR/KNS) — An advocacy group for Kansas counties is calling on the state to provide property tax relief by restoring funding to a program that sends money to local governments. The fund, called the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, previously used state tax money to help offset rising property taxes, but that ended in 2003. Republican House Speaker Dan Hawkins opposes restoring the fund, saying some local governments used it to grow their budgets and didn’t cut property taxes. Executive Director of the Kansas Association of Counties Bruce Chladny disagrees, and says the money was tightly controlled by state law. “By the law, they have to be accounted for and the amount of money counties collect has to be reduced by the money coming in from the state.” Chladny says the transfer would have been $128 million for local governments if it had been funded last year.
Read more about Kansas property taxes here.


High School in Poor Kansas Neighborhood Gets $5 Million Donation from Graduate's Estate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The estate of a woman who died last year has donated $5 million to her former high school in a poor Kansas neighborhood.

The Topeka Public Schools Foundation announced the gift Tuesday from the estate of Susan Guffey, a former graduate. The money won't be used to build something in her honor, but rather will support students and programs at Highland Park High School, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Among those who might benefit are students who had to participate in bake sales and other fundraisers in the past to pay for things like out-of-state trips, said Pamela Johnson-Betts, the foundation’s executive director.

"We now are going to be able to say to those students and staff: ‘Come to us. We have a pot of money that will make sure that the students we serve are going to be able to take every opportunity they want,’” she said.

Guffey spent her later years in the Seattle area, where she often contributed to programs, while favoring anonymity.

Former principal Dale Cushinberry recalled that he met her more than a decade as she toured the school. When she asked how she could help, he said the school had a goal of having every student read three modern novels. Cushinberry said the problem was that the school didn't have three modern novels.

The next week, he had a check to meet that need, and then some. Other gifts followed, one for $200,000. But her last is the largest in the Topeka school district's history.

“I think it’s because of where she grew up, and I would say that, for many of us who grew up on the east side of town, there’s a desire to prove ourselves,” Johnson-Betts said. “A lot of times, people think that because you live in a certain ZIP code, you’re not as worthy as others.”


School Bus Driver Suspected of Failing to Yield Before Crash that Killed High School Student in Car

TOWANDA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities suspect a school bus driver is at fault in a crash the killed a high school student riding in a car. The bus was crossing Kansas state highway 254 on Friday afternoon when another high schooler who was driving the car slammed into it, Butler County Sheriff Monty Hughey said in a news release. It is believed the school bus driver “failed to yield the right of way,” the sheriff said. The Wichita Eagle reports that the car's passenger later died at a hospital. The car's driver was seriously injured. Circle Public Schools Superintendent Don Potter identified the passenger as Halie Friesen, a junior at Circle High School. He provided no information about the injured passenger. There were 14 children on the school bus at the time of the crash, the sheriff’s office said, and none reported any injuries. An investigation into the crash is ongoing. Circle High School, in Towanda, is about 25 miles northeast of Wichita.


USDA Offers Schools Funding for Fresh, Local Foods

WICHITA, Kan. (HPM) — More schools are offering students fresh, locally grown food in their cafeterias. And there’s a lot of federal investment behind the Farm to School food movement. That money aims to reshape school lunch menus and strengthen local farm economies. It seems like a simple idea that benefits everyone involved. But according to Harvest Public Media, getting local food into schools has proven frustratingly complicated. Cindy Long administers the Farm to School program at the USDA. Long’s agency has been funding farm to school efforts at the federal level for more than a decade. She says challenges have included the cost of local food, training cafeteria staff and an admittedly bureaucratic purchasing system. "Schools and producers really just needed an ongoing source of support to help take folks from interest to actually being able to execute," she said. Recent policy changes at the federal level make providing that support a new priority. Last school year, the USDA started funneling unprecedented amounts of money to states specifically to get more local food into schools. At least $260 million directly funds local food purchases and related farm to school infrastructure. There’s just one catch: that firehose of extra funding isn’t permanent. It runs out at the end of this school year.


Kansas Autumns Getting Warmer

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) — Scientists say climate change is making the fall season warmer in Kansas and across the Midwest. Warm days aren’t unheard of in the fall. But compared to 50 years ago, Wichita now gets an average of two extra weeks per year of unseasonably warm autumn days. A new report from Climate Central says a typical autumn day in Wichita is now 3 degrees warmer than it used to be. Topeka’s fall weather has warmed more than 2 degrees. And Kansas City’s – more than 1 degree. A warmer fall extends allergy and mosquito seasons. It can also increase wildfire risk and disrupt animal behavior, like bird migration.


Missouri Clinic Halts Transgender Care for Minors in Wake of New State Law

ST. LOUIS (AP/KPR) — A Missouri clinic will stop prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to minors for the purpose of gender transition, citing a new state law that the clinic says "creates unsustainable liability" for health care workers.

A statement released Monday by the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital said patients currently receiving care will be referred to other providers. The center will continue to provide education and mental health support for minors, as well as medical care for patients over the age of 18.

"We are disheartened to have to take this step," the statement read. "However, Missouri's newly enacted law regarding transgender care has created a new legal claim for patients who received these medications as minors. This legal claim creates unsustainable liability for health-care professionals and makes it untenable for us to continue to provide comprehensive transgender care for minor patients without subjecting the university and our providers to an unacceptable level of liability."

As of August 28, health care providers in the state are prohibited from prescribing gender-affirming treatments for teenagers and children under a bill signed in June by Governor Mike Parson. Most adults will still have access to transgender health care under the law, but Medicaid won't cover it. Prisoners must pay for gender-affirming surgeries out-of-pocket under the law.

Parson has called hormones, puberty blockers and gender-affirming surgeries for minors "harmful, irreversible treatments and procedures." He said the state "must protect children from making life-altering decisions that they could come to regret in adulthood once they have physically and emotionally matured."

The American Medical Association has opposed bans on gender-affirming care for minors and supported the medical care for youth when administered appropriately. Lawsuits have been filed in several states where bans have been enacted this year.

Governor Parson also signed legislation in June to ban transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams from kindergarten through college. Both public and private schools face losing all state funding for violating the law.

Shira Berkowitz, of the state's LGBTQ+ advocacy group PROMO, said in a statement that Parson, Attorney General Andrew Bailey and the state legislature "blatantly committed a hate crime against transgender Missourians."

The St. Louis clinic fell under scrutiny early this year after former case manager Jamie Reed claimed in an affidavit that the center mainly provides gender-affirming care and does little to address mental health issues that patients also faced. Missouri GOP Senator Josh Hawley and Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced investigations after Reed's claims.

Missouri is among nearly two-dozen states to have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors.


Dry States Taking Mississippi River Water Isn't a New Idea. But Some Mayors Want to Kill It

ST. LOUIS (AP/KPR) — Community leaders along the Mississippi River worried that dry southwestern states will someday try to take the river's water may soon take their first step toward blocking such a diversion. Mayors from cities along the river are expected to vote on whether to support a new compact among the river's 10 states at this week's annual meeting of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, according to its executive director Colin Wellenkamp. Supporters of a compact hope it will strengthen the region's collective power around shared goals like stopping water from leaving the corridor." It is the most important working river on earth," said Wellenkamp. "It's a matter of national security that the Mississippi River corridor remain intact, remain sustainable and remain ecologically and hydrologically healthy."

The Southwest has long struggled to find enough water for its growing population in a region prone to drought that climate change is making worse. Transporting water from the Mississippi River basin, which drains roughly 40% of the continental United States, has always been a long shot that many say isn't practical or remotely cost-effective. But Wellenkamp worries that conversation around the idea hasn't stopped.

A formal compact is still far off. The mayors' support would be just the first step in a lengthy, politically fraught process that would require buy-in from all 10 states along the river and federal approval, experts said. Those states range from left-leaning states like Minnesota, where the river begins, to thoroughly conservative states like Louisiana, where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The others are Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.

Proponents say a compact would protect the river's water levels and ecology, make it easier to coordinate when floods or other disaster strikes and provide a way to resolve conflict among the river states. A favorable vote would ask the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative to pursue a new river compact, according to a draft copy of the motion. "This is not going to be easy and it's not going to happen overnight," said Wellenkamp. "But, you know, every journey begins with a first step and a cash advance, I like to say."

Fear of water export has ignited political action before. Plans by a Canadian company in the 1990s to fill up tankers with Great Lakes water and ship it to Asia "was probably the tipping point" for establishing the Great Lakes Compact that went into effect in 2008. It strengthened cooperation among Great Lakes states that work with two Canadian providences to manage water from the lakes effectively, monitor its use and prevent it from leaving the basin. "The Great Lakes are better protected today than they ever have been before," said David Strifling, director of Marquette Law School's Water Law and Policy Initiative.

But Strifling said it was difficult to get an agreement together decades ago and it would be even harder to do so now "just due to the increased level of political polarization that exists." Wellenkamp said a Mississippi River compact, besides blocking diversions, would ensure that nearby water users also act in a sustainable way.

The river's water levels can be precarious. Last fall, they fell so low that they disrupted ship and barge traffic that moved soybeans, corn and other goods downriver for export. Much of the river is once again facing drought. People realize that the river "is not some stable resource," said Melissa Scanlan, director for the Center for Water Policy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "People are aware of how those low levels on the Mississippi River affect commerce and the communities," she said.

There are protections against some water diversions now. If one of the five states on the upper portion of the river wants to move large amounts of water out of the basin, it must notify and consult with the other four states first. The Upper Mississippi River Basin Association has existed for decades to foster cooperative management of the river. Currently, there's an effort to quantify water use among the upper basin states and understand how that use affects the river, officials said.

John Fleck, a water expert at the Utton Center at the University of New Mexico School of Law, said he is rooting for a Mississippi River compact so that what he calls the unworkable idea of a water pipeline to the west will die. "This is a waste of our time because (diversion) is magical thinking and it will never happen," he said.

Jennifer Gimbel, senior water policy scholar at Colorado State University, said the obstacles to a pipeline are high. It would need approval from Congress and from legislatures in each state it passes through, payments for landowners and condemnation procedures for those who didn't want the pipeline through their properties, and expensive permitting. Then there is the engineering nightmare and huge costs of moving huge amounts of water west. "It becomes pretty complicated real fast," Gimbel said.

The talk of diverting water to the Southwest will hopefully "light a fire under some states" to approve a Mississippi River compact, said Olivia Dorothy, director of river restoration with the conservation group American Rivers. Diverting water can harm the river's ecology, depriving species of the water they rely on. It could also slow the movement of sediment that's vital to the health of Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico, among many other problems, she said. Dorothy said a compact would be a good way to say, "this is our water."

"If you want the Mississippi River water, you can move here," she said.

According to Kansas Public Radio, similar proposals to divert river water have surfaced in Kansas. One proposal would divert water from wells near the Missouri River during times of flooding and send it to much drier parts of western Kansas to recharge the Ogallala Aquifer. The idea has already been studied. Part of the problem is the cost. Shipping water from eastern Kansas to western Kansas would be expensive. It would involve pushing large amounts of water uphill for hundreds of miles and would require a number of pumping stations along the way. The idea is also fraught with legal and environmental concerns.


JM Smucker Acquiring Hostess in Deal Valued at $5.6 Billion

UNDATED (AP) — Hostess, the maker of snack classics like Twinkies and HoHos, is being sold to J.M. Smucker in a cash-and-stock deal worth about $5.6 billion.

Smucker, which makes everything from coffee to peanut butter and jelly, will pay $34.25 per share in cash and stock, and it will also pick up approximately $900 million in net debt.

Hostess Brands Inc. shareholders will receive $30 in cash and 0.03002 shares of The J.M. Smucker Co. stock for each share of stock that they own.

“We believe this is the right partnership to accelerate growth and create meaningful value for consumers, customers and shareholders. Our companies share highly complementary go-to market strategies, and we are very similar in our core business principles and operations,” Hostess President and CEO Andy Callahan said in a prepared statement Monday.

Twinkies went big when Hostess put them on shelves in 1930, and it followed up with a string of sweet concoctions like DingDongs, Zingers and Sno Balls.

In an interview with The Associated Press this year, Callahan talked about how Hostess Brands managed some of the most well-known brands in America, and also how balance was needed as Americans' tastes changed.

The company motored along for decades, but its struggles began to grow in this century, with workers blaming mismanagement and a failure to invest in brands to keep up with changing tastes. The Lenexa, Kansas, company said that it was weighed down by higher pension and medical costs than its competitors, whose employees weren’t unionized.

By 2012, the company with roots dating back to 1925, began selling off its brands in chunks to different buyers. Wonder was sold to Flowers Foods. McKee Foods, which makes Little Debbie snack cakes, snapped up Drake’s Cake, which includes Devil Dogs and Yodels.

The rest, including Twinkies and other Hostess cakes, was acquired by Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo, for $410 million.

Apollo Global Management, founded by Leon Black, buys troubled brands and tries to turn them around before selling them. It's done so with fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. Metropoulos & Co., which has revamped then sold off brands including Chef Boyardee and Bumble Bee, also owns Pabst Brewing Co.

Hostess reemerged in 2013 with a far less costly operating structure than its predecessor company and was no longer unionized.

Morgan Stanley's Pam Kaufman said that Hostess offered attractive revenue growth through its U.S. sweet snacks business and opportunities for international expansion. She anticipates merger and acquisition activity ramping up in the packaged food sector due to slowing revenue growth and strong balance sheets.

The boards of The J.M. Smucker Co. and Hostess have both approved the deal, which is expected to close in Smucker's fiscal third quarter.

Smucker's stock dropped 7%, while shares of Hostess surged 19%.


Kansas Book Festival Coming to Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — Dozens of authors will gather in Topeka next weekend for the 12th annual Kansas Book Festival. The festival's executive director, Tim Bascom, says organizers work to focus the festival on Kansas authors. "We're always trying to feature people who are somehow connected to Kansas," he said. "We've got a lot happening here." The Festival takes place Saturday, September 16th at Washburn University in Topeka. All events are free and open to the public. Learn more at KansasBookFestival.com.

Bascom spoke about the Kansas Book Festival with KPR's Kaye McIntyre for her program, KPR Presents.


Big 12 Aims for 3-Game Sweep of Mighty SEC After Longhorns' Win at Alabama

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Big 12 is aiming for a three-game sweep of the mighty Southeastern Conference when No. 15 Kansas State visits Missouri and BYU heads to Arkansas this weekend. The league already has a signature win after Texas won at Alabama. The Longhorns will soon be joining the Crimson Tide in their conference. The SEC won four of its six games against the Big 12 last year. Now the league is out for some revenge. FanDuel Sportsbook says the Wildcats are 4 1/2-point favorites. The Cougars are 8 1/2-point underdogs as they prepare to face the Razorbacks.


Chiefs Sign All-Pro Defensive Tackle Chris Jones to New 1-Year Deal to End Holdout

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs signed Chris Jones to a new one-year contract Monday, which should end the All-Pro defensive tackle's holdout and could mean he will be on the field when they visit the Jacksonville Jaguars for Week 2.

The Chiefs did not disclose terms, but a source told The Associated Press no years were added to his four-year, $80 million deal, that was due to expire. The person, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deal, said it instead includes incentives to substantially increase what Jones will make this season.

“Chris is an elite player in this league, and over the last seven years, he’s really developed into a leader on our team,” Chiefs general manager Manager Brett Veach said in a statement. “He’s been instrumental to our success and Super Bowl championship runs and it was a priority for us to keep him in a Chiefs uniform."

Veach praised Jones' representation, Jason and Michael Katz, for their work on the deal. The agents accompanied Jones to Kansas City last week and sat alongside him in a suite at Arrowhead Stadium to watch the Chiefs' season-opening loss to Detroit.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said hours before the deal was announced that there had been recent communication between the sides.

“Two things were obvious,” Veach said. "Chris wanted to be a Chiefs and the Katz brothers worked diligently on his behalf.”

Jones gave up a $500,000 workout bonus, was fined $50,000 each day for missing a mandatory minicamp and all of training camp, and forfeited nearly $1.1 million in his first game check for holding out through Week 1. It's unclear whether the provisions in his new deal will allow Jones to recoup the millions he already lost.

The statement from the Chiefs did not discuss what could happen next season. The club could still work out a long-term deal with Jones, along with placing the franchise tag on him and allowing him to leave in free agency.

(–Additional reporting –)

Holdout Ends as KC Chiefs Star Defender Chris Jones Agrees to New Contract

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Star) — The Kansas City Chiefs have reached an agreement with holdout defensive tackle Chris Jones. The Kansas City Star reports that the team announced the news this (MON) afternoon. It’s a one-year contract, but it includes multiple incentives for Jones to earn considerably more money this season. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said, “Chris is an elite player in this league and over the last seven years, he’s really developed into a leader of our team.”

Jones had missed organized team activities, training camp, the preseason and the Chiefs’ season opener while holding out. A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Jones is coming off an All-Pro season. He’s won two Super Bowl rings in his seven seasons with the Chiefs.

According to the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, a player under contract with unexcused late reporting or absence from preseason training camp is subject to a mandatory fine of $50,000 per day. His fines for missing this year’s camp and the first regular-season game exceeded $2 million. The Chiefs play at the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.


This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Tom Parkinson and Kaye McIntyre. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day. These ad-free headlines are made possible by KPR members. Become one today. You can also follow KPR News on Twitter.