As Steven Gibbons started his last walk, a stranger tagged along.
It began at a bus stop in Missouri. In south Kansas City, 67th Street cuts across Troost Avenue at the edge of Forest Hill Calvary Cemetery. When the city bus slowed to a halt there just after noon on Aug. 13, the 57-year-old white man stepped from the back side door, strolled down Troost, then went east at the cross street, past the silent rows of tombstones at his right. He was returning from his daily run to the grocery store. His 80-year-old mother was waiting back home.
Before the bus pulled away, a young black man — gangly, his six feet topped in braids, wearing a white T-shirt, black drop crotch pants and red sneakers — emerged from the vehicle’s front exit. He looked around, then followed Gibbons at a distance, sipping Brisk Ice Tea from a screw top bottle as he went.
Not long after, a gunshot snapped. Security camera footage from a nearby business caught the young man — identified by police now as Fredrick Demond Scott — bolting down 67th Street in the opposite direction. Gibbons was found dead with a gunshot wound in the back of his head.
This week, authorities in Kansas City charged Scott in connection with the death of Gibbons.
But the August killing is apparently not an isolated incident. As investigators began scratching for the clues that would eventually implicate Scott, they discovered leads also tying the 22-year-old Burger King employee to a series of crimes that put Kansas City on red alert.
Beginning in August 2016, four random murders occurred in south Kansas City. All the victims were shot. All were middle-aged white men. And all were killed on or near the popular Indian Creek trail, a 26-mile concrete loop winding between green space and parks. Police charged Scott in connection with one of those killings and said he is the prime suspect in the remaining three.
Authorities have yet to commented on a motive. But reports this week supercharged the issue along racial lines.
The suspect previously threatened to shoot up his high school and “kill all white people,” and exhibited other erratic behavior, according to the Kansas City Star. The revelation comes as the country struggles with racial inequality and the high profile reemergence of white supremacy groups.
The first of the bodies was found on Aug. 19, 2016. John Palmer, a chef at a local cafe who loved the outdoors, was dead and lying in the woods just off the Indian Creek trail near Bannister Road, according to police reports. The 54-year-old had been shot several times, and investigators guessed Palmer was killed first then moved into the brush. Two 9mm shell casings were found in the nearby grass. Police also discovered a red shirt close to the body. Reports indicate the piece of clothing was sent to the regional crime lab, where analysts determined Palmer’s blood and “another source of unknown DNA” were found on the shirt.
David Lenox was next. Around 10:51 on Feb. 27, Kansas City police rushed to the Willow Creek Apartment Complex after a reported shooting. The 67-year-old was found with a single bullet wound in the back of his head outside his building, which was located near the Indian Creek trail. Lenox had been walking his dog. The animal was still standing next to its owner when police arrived. They discovered a single .380 caliber shell casing lying under the victim, according to police reports.
At the lab, the evidence turned out to be curious. From the markings, the technicians determined the bullet could have been fired from a 9mm handgun, not a .380. Further analysis showed it was likely used in a SCCY XP-1 brand handgun.
Two months later, on April 4, Timothy Rice, 57, a homeless man, was discovered under a weather shelter on the Indian Creek trail. He had been shot multiple times, including in the head, reports stated. Multiple 9mm casings were located and bagged.
Finally, on May 5, Mike Darby’s body was found — again on the trail, again with a single gunshot in the back of his head. This time, however, the 61-year-old restaurant owner had been felled by a .22 caliber bullet. But investigators did have a strong lead: A security camera caught an individual walking the trail near where the crime occurred on the same day. The footage was released to the public.
Scott became a prime suspect in the four Indian Creek killings after last month’s fatal shooting of Steven Gibbons near the cemetery.
As Kansas City police began searching the area where Gibbons was killed, they hit a run of luck. A discarded 32-ounce screw top Brisk Ice Tea bottle — like the one sipped by the young man following the victim on the security footage — was discovered on 67th Street. Working backward with the bus schedule and footage from various security cameras, detectives eventually found a suspect matching the earlier footage on tape at a gas station near the Troost Avenue bus stop. The recording showed the young man purchasing the same drink just before noon.
The printout of the suspect was circulated among law enforcement. On Aug. 16, an officer spotted a young man matching the picture smoking a cigarette while sitting on a wall not far from the murder site. The officer started chatting with the young man, who said his name was Fredrick Scott. According to police reports, the officer spotted where Scott’s cigarette butt landed after he flicked it away. The officer grabbed the butt, and submitted the evidence to the crime lab.
The DNA on the cigarette matched the DNA from the tossed iced tea bottle. But when the lab ran the DNA through the system, they pinged a second hit — it matched the “unknown DNA” on the red shirt found with the victim’s blood at the John Palmer crime scene in August 2016.
Scott was arrested in August 2017 and questioned by detectives. Confronted with the evidence, he confessed to both the Gibbons and Palmer murders. Police records indicate Scott told police he had been walking to visit a friend on 67th Street — not following the victim — when he shot Gibbons “removing the gun from his pocket when it accidentally went off.” He also said he shot Palmer a year earlier and “admitted to dragging the body away from the trail into the overgrowth.” Scott told police he reported the handguns used in both killings missing later in order “to disassociate himself” from the weapons, police records say.
The suspect denied involvement in the three other homicides, although his own statements have helped the state sew together their case.
Scott denied killing Lenox at the Willow Creek Apartments. But he admitted he had a friend who lived in the complex and had reported a handgun stolen five days after the crime.
Scott also confirmed he was the individual caught on a security camera footage in the area and on the day Mike Darby was killed.
He additionally told police he was familiar with the Indian Creek trail because he used it regularly for a shortcut. According to police records he also repeatedly said “that he was angry over the death of his brother.”
And at one point he was overheard saying under his breath: “they didn’t see it coming.”
And finally, police records indicated Scott had purchased four handguns between August 2016 and August 2017. Three were SCCY 9mm pistols — the make possibly tied to the Lenox shooting.
This week, Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced that Scott was being charged with two counts of first degree murder and two counts of armed criminal action, both charges related to the Gibbons and Palmer murders. Authorities also reiterated a plea to the public for more information linking Scott to the three additional trail crimes.
Following Scott’s arrest, local news reports have turned up troubling aspects from his record. The Kansas City Star reported Scott was “cited in Kansas City municipal court in 2013 for assault on his mother, accused of shoving her several times.” A year later, when he was a student at Center Alternative School, Scott allegedly threatened to “shoot the school up, Columbine-style,” and also said he wanted to kill himself and “kill all white people,” according to municipal court documents.
The threat landed Scott a municipal citation for harassment, and he was later given probation. He graduated from the same school in 2015 when he was 20.
In an interview with the Kansas City Star, Scott’s mother said this week her son suffered from untreated mental illness, and has never showed signs of any prejudice that may have fueled the attacks. “As far as I know Fredrick never had a problem with white people,” his mother said. “He would do odd jobs for people and some of those people were white men.”
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