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Archive for Thursday, November 11, 2004

Exclusive focus key in investigating slaying

November 11, 2004

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— In the 2 1/2 years since his teenage daughter was found slain at her poolside job, Ali Kemp's father never considered giving up his hunt for the killer.

He had reason to hope: Solid DNA evidence was apparently left at the scene. Widespread publicity pumped in thousands of leads. And investigators were willing to scour the country for the culprit.

But perhaps the greatest advantage was where 19-year-old Ali Kemp died. In Leawood, Kan., one of the area's most affluent suburbs, Kemp's death was the only homicide detectives had to solve.

Since Kemp was found strangled June 18, 2002, Leawood's seven-member police investigations unit -- responsible for looking into all types of crimes -- has largely been preoccupied with her death. Two patrol officers were added to the investigations team and four detectives focused full-time on the case.

It's something far less likely to happen in a major metropolitan department, something police in Leawood said may have helped catch the man authorities suspect killed Kemp.

"Had those detectives been required to go back to normal duty, they'd have never gotten anywhere," said Maj. Craig Hill, deputy police chief in Leawood.

On Tuesday, prosecutors in Johnson County charged 29-year-old Benjamin Appleby, arrested the day before in Bantam, Conn., with first-degree murder in connection with Kemp's death. He has waived extradition to Kansas and, according to a Connecticut police affidavit, has confessed to the crime.

Homicides rare in city

Leawood has only had a handful of homicides in its history. Kemp was its last; the town's first, in 1981, is the only one that remains unsolved.

Just 15 miles northeast, in the metropolitan center of Kansas City, Mo., police have confronted 79 homicides so far this year. More than 900 in the city's history remain unsolved.

Sgt. Barbara Eckert, of Kansas City police's homicide unit, said the department was able to deploy a significant number of officers in the immediate aftermath of a killing, but would not be able to devote officers solely to one case for a sustained time.

"We don't have the manpower to do that and we have too many homicides," Eckert said. "That's the luxury of only having one homicide every several years."

Big vs. small

Kansas City police follow up on all of the thousands of homicide tips they get, Eckert said, just as Leawood officers did in Kemp's case. But a big-city police force is unlikely to respond to a case in the same way Leawood did to Kemp's death.

Leawood detectives traveled across the country, even visiting prisons where some leads originated. They mass-mailed a poster on the case to every police department in the country. Police even set up a booth at Kansas State University, trying to cull pertinent information from the victim's classmates.

"They put together a puzzle from literally thousands of pieces," Hill said.

Family help

At their side was Roger Kemp, who found his daughter's body in the pump room of the community pool where she worked. He helped set up a $50,000 reward fund, got billboards put up around the Kansas City area seeking information on his daughter's killer and bought advertisements in USA Today.

The case appeared on "America's Most Wanted" and never fully faded from the public eye.

In Kansas City, police continue to struggle to solve their own high-profile homicide of a young person. Detectives still don't know the identity of the young girl -- named "Precious Doe" by the community -- whose decapitated body was found on April 28, 2001.

"She's never been forgotten." Eckert said.

While the notoriety of those cases makes them unique, large and small police forces alike enjoy benefits in trying to crack a "typical" homicide, experts said.

Smaller departments tend to have lighter caseloads, can dedicate more time and money to a single slaying and often have more cooperation from residents, said Ken Novak, a criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

"The most important thing for detectives is information," Novak said. "Larger departments sometimes have a larger hurdle to get over in that they may not enjoy the best community relations."

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