Suspect charged in 2002 slaying of K-State student

? A 29-year-old Connecticut man was charged Tuesday with killing a teenager whose death gripped the region and prompted relentless efforts by the girl’s family to find the killer.

Police in Connecticut arrested Benjamin Appleby, of Bantam, Conn., on Monday, for the attempted rape and murder of Ali Kemp in Leawood on June 18, 2002. He later confessed to the crimes, according to an affidavit filed by Connecticut State Police.

On Tuesday, prosecutors in Johnson County charged Appleby with first-degree murder in the death of Kemp, a 19-year-old student at Kansas State University who was working at a swimming pool in the Kansas City suburb. Johnson County Dist. Atty. Paul Morrison said Kemp was strangled.

The girl’s father, who found her body in the pump room of a neighborhood swimming pool, worked with authorities on the manhunt, helping to set up a $50,000 reward fund, and making the case the subject of billboards, “America’s Most Wanted” segments, even advertisements in USA Today. The case never fully faded from the public eye.

“It’s just a little girl minding her own business and a predator went after her,” said the victim’s father, Roger Kemp. “I think that gets to people.”

Phil Howes, a Kansas University senior who had dated Ali Kemp for five years before her murder, learned of the arrest Tuesday morning when his mother called him in Lawrence.

“It’s a bittersweet day,” Howes said. “It’s a great day because this guy is behind bars now, but that doesn’t bring Ali back, and we still have to deal with that. We’ve been waiting for this day for two years.”

Howes said there had been times when he worried a suspect wouldn’t be arrested, but he commended the diligence of the Leawood Police Department and Roger Kemp for keeping his spirits up.

Appleby could face the death penalty, Morrison said. He waived extradition to Kansas and is expected to arrive in the next few days, Morrison said.

Bond was set at $1 million.

Ali Kemp, left, is pictured with Phil Howes during Howes' fraternity formal. Kemp's body was found June 18, 2002, in the pump room of the Leawood pool where she worked. A suspect has been charged in the slaying.

Authorities said they received two tips on Appleby: one several months ago and one in the past two weeks. They were among thousands of calls on the case received by police during the past 2 1/2 years.

“I never thought we wouldn’t get this predator,” said Roger Kemp. “And we got him. We wanted him and we wanted him bad. We say this is our guy.”

State police picked up Appleby on Monday on an unrelated warrant from 1997, when Appleby lived in Connecticut under the alias of Teddy Hoover II, police said. Those charges include risk of injury, disorderly conduct and public indecency, state police said.

While in custody, Appleby was questioned about Kemp’s death.

“He did provide information and evidence that caused Kansas detectives to conclude that this accused was to be charged,” Connecticut State Police said in a statement.

Appleby has been arrested several times in Missouri and was convicted on felonies including second-degree robbery and second-degree sexual misconduct, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

The Connecticut warrant application lists several other Missouri charges for Appleby.

Morrison said Appleby had family in the area and had a small pool-cleaning business when Kemp was killed. The Connecticut affidavit said Appleby’s father lives in Kansas.

Leawood police asked authorities in Connecticut to get a DNA sample from Appleby to possibly match it with blood found at the crime scene, including on Kemp’s shirt and bra, according to the application for an arrest warrant.

Police have that sample, Connecticut authorities said, but testing was incomplete. Morrison would not comment about DNA evidence.

Kemp’s killing still reverberates in her upscale Leawood neighborhood.

“We still pray about it,” said Charlotte McGahan, 55. “It was just so tragic, it just hits you hard.”

Bill Akright, 77, said his wife called him three times Tuesday to ask if he was watching television coverage of the developments in the murder case.

“When we tell people where we live, we say by the swimming pool where the girl was murdered,” the retired accountant said.

The victim’s family has set up a foundation in her honor that gives scholarships to local students and offers self-defense classes. They hope to eventually offer the classes nationwide.

“Any father of any family would think their daughter was a saint,” Roger Kemp said. “Ali was ours.”

— Staff writer Mike Belt contributed to this story.