For the first few years, Harold and Alberta Leach kept hoping their missing son, Randy, would come home.
Twenty-six years have passed since the high school senior and the family car vanished from a graduation party, but the Linwood parents still want to find their only child.
They’re desperate to know whether law enforcement left no stone unturned in the search for Randy, in part because they’ve felt for years that investigators were secretive, refusing to keep them abreast of developments. But law enforcement agencies refuse to release the records, citing an ongoing investigation, even the broad outlines of which they decline to reveal.
The Leaches’ desire for information is only stronger since they learned earlier this year that law enforcement, including the KBI and the FBI, had had a suspect in the 1990s who died in prison four years ago.
That suspect, Eric Montgomery, also had been a suspect in two 1990 homicides that occurred seven miles from the Leaches' home.
In a hearing and subsequent trial, Montgomery testified that the FBI and the KBI had considered him a suspect in the disappearance of Randy Leach, according to court transcripts obtained by the Lawrence Journal-World through an open records request.
In the two homicides that occurred near Linwood, Montgomery told authorities he had helped two killers by hiding the bodies in barrels and tossing them in the Missouri River. The bodies were never found.
The Leaches had heard about those cases through news reports. But law enforcement officials never told them that someone involved was a suspect in the disappearance of their son.
Harold Leach, now 73, said he was saddened when he found out law enforcement had withheld information from him and his wife.
“No one ever said a word about this to us,” he said.
After learning about Montgomery, the Leaches want to review law enforcement investigation records to determine what detectives have done over almost three decades.
The couple has long contended that detectives failed to talk to important witnesses. Law enforcement hasn't given them an update on the case in years, the Leaches said.
“We just want to see what's been done,” Alberta Leach said. “We have done a lot of stuff to find Randy, and we just want to make sure they did, too. We know they didn't do some of the things they said they were going to do.”
The Leaches have been unable to see the records. The KBI and Leavenworth County sheriff's deputies say they are still investigating the case and have refused requests from the parents and the Lawrence Journal-World to release them.
The Legislature approved the closing of such records to the public in the 1970s, leaving it up to a law enforcement agency to decide whether to release them. They almost never do.
What is being investigated after all this time is unknown even to Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson. Thompson said that no KBI agents or Leavenworth County deputies have even mentioned Randy Leach since Thompson took office six years ago.
“Honestly if we had something we could do we would,” Thompson said. “There has never been a discussion with me about this case.”
In response to the Journal-World's request for records, Laura Graham, KBI general counsel wrote: “While I understand the curiosity that led to your request, our position remains...We will not permit your review of the KBI's criminal investigation records. Regardless of how old criminal investigation records are ... they often contain sensitive material that ultimately has been determined irrelevant to a case.”
Tai Vokins, a civil rights attorney who has an unrelated legal dispute with the state over release of criminal records, said its important for the public to have access to criminal records so they can determine whether law enforcement agencies are doing their jobs.
“It's bull,” Vokins said. “Nothing bad could come from releasing the records. We either see (law enforcement) has done a great job or there are changes made for the better. I don't see why they are so reluctant.”
From the time Randy Leach disappeared from the party with his mother's 1985 gray Dodge 600, the Leaches’ relationship with law enforcement has sometimes been contentious.
They say, for example, that law enforcement hasn't taken some of the clues seriously enough, failed to interview some witnesses and refused to hold an inquisition.
Law enforcement officials have acknowledged they were slow to act initially because of a mandatory 24-hour waiting period to begin searching for a missing person unless there was clear evidence of foul play.
Even after the investigation got underway, investigators tended to believe there was a good chance that the 17-year-old honor student might have just gone off on a spree or maybe had a fight at home and ran away, which may have dampened the initial response, said former Leavenworth County prosecutor Frank Kohl.
Two years after Randy Leach disappeared, Kohl was criticized for not holding an inquisition, which would have given prosecutors a chance to question witnesses under oath. He and sheriff officials said they didn’t think an inquisition would draw any more information from witnesses.
Deputies, however, apparently acknowledged that they hadn't conducted interviews of witnesses under oath because of conflicting schedules and a heavy caseload during the two-year investigation, according to news articles.
Some rumors about Leach's demise seem to have leaped from the pages of a Stephen King novel. Among the bits of gossip was that Leach had fallen prey to devil worshipers, was held hostage for a time and eventually sacrificed. The house where the pre-graduation party was held actually burned to the ground not long after Leach disappeared.
Gov. Joan Finney issued an executive order in 1991 offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of a perpetrator.
Every few years, a Leavenworth County sheriff would announce the reopening the Leach case. Investigators would reinterview kids who were at the party who had grown into adults with jobs and families and even lived in other parts of the country.
If law enforcement gleaned any information about Leach's disappearance, they never reported it to the public.
In 2001, the Leaches had their son declared legally dead.
'A very scary guy'
In April 2014, Kim Srubas, Patrick Santoyo and Danielle Fergus were at a bar in Kansas City, Kan., and the topic of missing people came up.
Leach was never far from Kim Srubas' mind. She attended Linwood Elementary School in 1991 and 1992, and Leach's disappearance and rumors of satanic cults had left her and many students puzzled and worried. The three decided to surf the Internet to see if they could find any information about Leach.
Srubas was surprised when she quickly found court records that tied Leach to Montgomery and a convicted killer, Sherrell Gary Brinkley. Srubas had never heard or read this information before.
They decided to contact the Leaches to see if they had been told about Montgomery. They had not.
The newest Leach mystery opens in 1987 with Everett “Skeet” Bishop, whose family owns a lumber business in Bonner Springs.
Bishop was living alone just a few miles from the Leaches in the home he grew up in.
Former prosecutor Kohl said Bishop, who did not have a criminal background, had an attraction for dangerous men and had complained to a friend who was in prison that some teens were “terrorizing” him by shooting at his house. He told the friend, Jerry Singer, that he feared for his life.
Singer had been in prison with Montgomery, so he called him. Montgomery was now living in Northeast Kansas City, Mo. According to court records, Singer asked Montgomery for a favor: protect Bishop from the hoodlums.
Bishop and Montgomery became good friends.
“Bishop was a thrill seeker,” Kohl said. “Montgomery was an ex con and spun some wonderful stories about doing dangerous things.”
If you believed Montgomery's tales and court records, he was dangerous. He had several felony convictions and had been confined in a state hospital and received shock treatment in the 1950s, according to his testimony as a prosecution witness in a murder trial in 1993.
Montgomery also said he had beaten people, killed a man allegedly in self defense and killed while he was in the military in Vietnam in the late 1950s “before anyone knew we were in Vietnam.”
“He was a very scary guy,” said Gary Fuller, the defense attorney in that case. “During the trial he talked about people he killed. He never murdered anyone. It was always ‘self defense.’”
Bishop was a “convenient” friend for Montgomery because he could buy guns and ammunition, according to court records.
Montgomery had another friend, Sherrell Gary Brinkley. Brinkley met Montgomery while in prison for bank robbery.
After getting out, Brinkley got a job in the technology field making about $80,000 a year. But he loved stealing expensive cars, and was asked why he stole cars when he made so much money.
“I can tell you why I did it...There was the thrill and the adrenaline rush,” Brinkley testified during a murder trial.
Bishop and Montgomery had another friend, Lloyd Folsom, who also had a criminal background, authorities said. Folsom was from Prairie Village and liked mules and gambling.
He boarded his mules at Bishop's farm, according to court records.
In April 1990, almost two years after Leach disappeared, Folsom, 52, vanished.
A month later, Bishop, who was last seen by a lumber employee at his farm not too far from the Leach home, disappeared, too.
Three missing men
Leavenworth County sheriff's detectives were still deep into the Leach case when Bishop and Folsom went missing.
But the KBI joined the search for Bishop and pieced together Bishop's relationship with Montgomery. When they went to Montgomery's home in Kansas City to talk to him July 5, 1990, they discovered a stolen car and began putting together the Montgomery-Brinkley relationship.
Montgomery went to the KBI's Overland Park office on July 10. By then the KBI already considered him a suspect in the disappearance of Leach and Folsom, according to court transcripts.
During his conversation with KBI Special Agent Bill Delaney, Montgomery said he had recently talked to FBI agent Loren McKee about the Leach disappearance. The transcripts do not detail Montgomery's interview with McKee.
The KBI couldn't crack the case on Bishop's disappearance. Almost two years later, the KBI offered Brinkley immunity if he would testify against Montgomery, Brinkley's attorney Fuller told the Journal-World.
Brinkley refused, and the KBI made the same offer to Montgomery, Fuller said.
Montgomery accepted, saying he was tired of constant surveillance by law enforcement and feared Brinkley wanted to “feed him to the alligators,” court records said.
Montgomery said Brinkley, who had only met Bishop a couple times, had given Bishop a stolen Datsun 280Z during a visit to North Carolina. But the car broke down in St. Louis while Bishop was driving it back to Kansas, and he abandoned it in a parking lot.
Brinkley became concerned that if law enforcement contacted Bishop he would crack, Montgomery told authorities.
During a visit at Bishop's house in Linwood, Montgomery said Brinkley and Bishop went outside to do some target shooting. Brinkley, using a Tec-9 semi-automatic handgun with a silencer from Bishop's gun collection, shot Bishop numerous times, Montgomery told authorities.
Bishop had several metal barrels that had contained dough from a donut shop behind a barn, Montgomery told officials. He got one of the barrels, and the men stuffed Bishop's body into it, according to records.
The men put the barrel in the back of Bishop's van, drove to Montgomery's Kansas City home and Montgomery welded the lid on to the barrel, he told KBI agents.
They then drove Bishop's body to the Missouri River near where the Ameristar Casino is today. Montgomery, using a hatchet, chopped holes in the barrel, and they threw it into the river.
Brinkley was charged with first-degree murder even though there was no body.
Brinkley had a different story to tell, according to court transcripts:
Brinkley testified that Montgomery confessed to him about Folsom’s death: Montgomery and Bishop had a falling out with Folsom over a drug deal. Bishop killed Folsom at his farm and then Montgomery helped Bishop stuff Folsom in a barrel and threw him in the Missouri River.
Montgomery then killed Bishop because he was concerned that he would confess the crime to police, Brinkley said.
Brinkley also indicated that Montgomery had something to do with Leach's disappearance.
On the stand, Montgomery said that Bishop had killed Folsom, but he said he did not know anything about Leach's disappearance.
Law enforcement officials have said they don't believe Bishop killed Folsom.
Fuller tried to use the missing men as part of Brinkley's defense to discredit Montgomery's story and lead the jury to believe Montgomery was the true killer.
Fuller asked to review the murder files of Leach and Folsom. The state argued that the cases were the “subject of ongoing investigations” and asked that they remain sealed. The judge reviewed the files containing thousands of pages and concluded there was no relevant material.
Prosecutor Kohl argued to keep any mention of Leach out of the trial, saying Leach's situation had no bearing on the trial.
The jury found Brinkley guilty, and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He also was found guilty on federal felony gun charges in North Carolina.
He is in a federal prison in Florida and has not responded to requests for an interview from the Journal-World. It's unknown if KBI agents ever interviewed him about Leach's disappearance.
In an odd turn of events, 19 years later Montgomery was arrested for aiding in the murder of Folsom.
“My client had been given immunity but no one could find the documents,” Deb Snider, Montgomery's attorney, told the Journal-World. “I thought it was completely unfair.”
By then Montgomery was in his 70s and dying of lung cancer. He was found guilty by a jury and was sentenced to 20 months in prison. He died a few months later in 2010 in El Dorado Correctional Facility.
Officials today won't say why they decided to go after Montgomery when so many years had passed.
Records that would reveal that are sealed in the court, a judge told the Journal-World, and law enforcement won't turn them over.
They could be released if the defendant agreed, the judge said, but Montgomery is dead. Deb Snider, Montgomery's attorney, also said she was prohibited by law from releasing the records. But even if she could, the issue is moot. She shreds her case files after five years.