Past stories on the Gardners ( .PDF )
The daughter of a Lawrence woman brutally murdered 30 years ago learned this week that her mother's killer will be released from prison.
James R. Gardner was 18 when he stabbed 46-year-old Margaret Maxey to death Feb. 6, 1977. He cut off Maxey's legs and dumped her body in east Lawrence. After pleading guilty to second-degree murder, he was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. In 2001, Gardner was released, but returned to prison after he violated his parole by consuming alcohol.
If Gardner successfully completes two programs to help him transition to post-prison life, he could be released as early as Oct. 1. Libby Scott, Kansas Parole Board administrator, said the board considers these factors when granting parole: circumstances of the offense; the inmate's criminal and disciplinary history; prison capacity; and comments from victims, public officials and community members.
Gloria Thelen, who lives in Overland Park, attended a Kansas Parole Board public hearing in June during which she fought to keep Gardner behind bars. She said she and her family were shocked when they learned that the 48-year-old Gardner had been freed.
Although parole board meeting records from 2001 say no one opposed Gardner's release, Thelen said she did.
"I did everything I could to keep him in," said Thelen, 53, who petitioned then-Gov. Bill Graves to revoke Gardner's parole. "With (Gardner), his main thing is he never showed remorse. He thought it was a big game - he and his brother both."
According to statements made by police in court, Gardner's older brother, Joseph, then 22, met Maxey at a Lawrence bar and brought her to the apartment the brothers shared at 740 R.I. When James Gardner returned home, he became upset and stabbed Maxey. Hours later, while Joe cooked pizzas, James Gardner cut Maxey's legs off at the knees so he could stuff her torso into a garbage bag.
The pair later dumped Maxey's legs in a trash bin behind a store at 846 N.H. and pushed a shopping cart with the rest of her body toward railroad tracks near Seventh and Connecticut streets. Joe Gardner was sentenced to a two-to-10 year prison term for helping his brother cover up the crime. He was released in 1982.
Carrol Crossfield, one of the Lawrence police officers who arrested the brothers, said he has mixed feelings about James Gardner's parole.
"I just keep thinking about how gruesome this thing was that he did," Crossfield said. "I'm just concerned that this might happen to somebody else. Hopefully not."
Gardner is participating in Therapeutic Community, a program that helps offenders make the transition to life outside of prison. If successful, he will be paroled and released in about six weeks to a halfway house in Wichita.
Once he completes a program there, Gardner could be allowed to move to St. Louis to live with relatives.
"I hope the guy has some kind of remorse and finds forgiveness from God," Thelen said. "But I have a feeling he'll be back in. And the next time they won't give him another chance."