A district attorney recently notified Gloria Thelen that the man who killed and then dismembered her mother was sent back to prison a year ago.
Public comment sessions
The Kansas Parole Board will have public comment sessions later this month on inmates who are eligible for parole.Among those eligible is Ronnie A. Caldwell, a former Lawrence firefighter convicted of first-degree murder in 1993. Convicted of second-degree murder and eligible for parole is L.V. Luarks Jr. He was sentenced in 1981 to 15 years to life in prison.Public comment sessions are scheduled:¢ 10 a.m.-noon June 18, City Hall, 701 N. Seventh St., Kansas City, Kan.¢ 10 a.m.-noon June 21, Hays Public Library, 1205 Main St., Hays.¢ 8:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. June 22, Landon State Office Building, 900 S.W. Jackson St., Topeka.¢ 11 a.m.-1 p.m. June 25, Finney State Office Building, 230 Williams St., Wichita.
The news didn't surprise the Overland Park woman.
"Somebody who did a horrendous crime like this, I don't think they can be rehabilitated. I'm sorry," Thelen said.
What did surprise her was that he is eligible for parole.
James R. Gardner was 18 when he stabbed 46-year-old Margaret Maxey to death 30 years ago in the Lawrence apartment he shared with his older brother Joe Gardner, then 22.
"I can't believe they let him out the first time," Thelen said of the Kansas Parole Board's decision in 2001. "Obviously they don't live next door to him."
Carroll Crossfield, a retired Lawrence police detective who investigated Maxey's murder, also thinks Gardner should stay behind bars.
"I remember this case fairly well," Crossfield said.
In February 1977, Joe Gardner met Maxey at a Lawrence bar, according to statements made by police in court. She accompanied him back to the brothers' apartment at 740 R.I.
When James Gardner returned home, he became upset and stabbed Maxey. Hours later, James Gardner cut Maxey's legs off at the knees so he could stuff her torso into a trash bag.
While James went about his gruesome work, Joe Gardner cooked pizzas.
The brothers put the bag in a shopping cart and pushed it through the snow to an area north of Seventh and Connecticut streets. They shoved the cart down the hill toward the railroad tracks, and disposed of the legs in the trash bin behind a grocery store that existed then at 846 N.H. The legs were later recovered by sheriff's officers searching a landfill.
The brothers were arrested following a police investigation. James Gardner was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. Joe Gardner was sentenced to two to 10 years in prison for attempting to help his brother cover up the crime. He was released from prison several years ago.
James Gardner was released on parole in 2001. Thelen and other relatives had appeared before the parole board opposing the release. She was stunned when she later learned he was free.
Thelen was angered when she found out parole board meeting records didn't show that anyone had appeared to oppose the parole. A letter to then Gov. Bill Graves requesting a revoke of the parole was not heeded.
In June 2006, Gardner was detained in Missouri and his parole revoked because he had been drinking. He is now in the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.
Thelen will appear at a public session the parole board will have this month for people who want to speak out about possible paroles for eligible inmates.
"I'll say what I always do - how he ruined several lives," Thelen said. "It's pretty hard for me to go through. I have to relive the whole thing, and it's pretty ugly."
At the time of the murder, Thelen, then 23, was just starting to build a relationship with her mother, who had not raised her. Thelen would visit her mother and sometimes take her to visit her grandson and other relatives.
"My daughter never had a chance to meet her, nor has my grandbaby," Thelen said.
Shortly after James Gardner was paroled in 2001, Thelen learned that Maxey had another daughter who had been sent to South America, her father's homeland, Thelen said.
"She came back and started searching and found me," Thelen said. "I had to meet her and tell her that she would never see her mother. It was really sad."