The tiny house on a tree-shaded street in Shawnee, Kan., stank of bleach when police pushed inside with a search warrant.
For the previous week, investigators had been combing the Kansas City area for a missing 43-year-old woman named MeShon Cooper. Her cellphone signal was traced to the location, and on July 14, police knocked. The resident was Ronald Lee Kidwell, a 47-year-old nicknamed “One Eye” because of a disfigurement from a childhood pit bull attack, the Kansas City Star reported. At first, he claimed he knew nothing about Cooper’s disappearance.
But soon Kidwell admitted to investigators that he wasn’t telling them the truth, according to an arrest affidavit filed recently and quoted by Fox 4. Kidwell had something to say. He prefaced his confession by telling police that what he was about to reveal would probably land him in prison for the rest of his life.
“When I get mad, I make the exorcist look like a b—-,” he said, according to the affidavit.
Kidwell pointed police to the garage. There, wrapped in garbage bags and stuffed in a trash can, was Cooper’s body. Kidwell was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. In his interview with police, he said the incident started when his anger flared during an argument.
People who knew the suspect, however, offered another motive: race. Cooper, who was African American, was attacked because Kidwell was an avowed white supremacist, they claim.
“This was a hate crime,” a neighbor told the Star. “One hundred percent a hate crime.”
More unusual, that depiction was backed up by a member of Kidwell’s family.
Kidwell’s estranged daughter Crystal Foster told the Star that her father had a swastika tattoo on his arm, posed for pictures draped in a Confederate flag, proclaimed himself a member of the Ku Klux Klan and regularly spoke about attacking African Americans. “He’s been a monster his whole life,” she told the paper. “He’s the true definition of evil.”
On Tuesday, an FBI spokeswoman confirmed to the Associated Press that the bureau was investigating the murder as a possible hate crime. Court records indicate Kidwell has yet to enter a plea in the case. A call to his attorney for comment was not immediately returned.
Cooper’s family members are grieving for a woman who was a “very loving, caring, sweet individual that would give anything to anybody,” her niece Darnisha Harris told Fox 4. “She touched a lot of souls.”
The mother of a 25-year-old son, Cooper had struggled with her health over the years. She was diagnosed with lupus, prompting a kidney transplant. To socialize with other people, she took a part-time job at a Subway franchise. She was last seen leaving work July 6. When Cooper failed to call or show for a family event, they knew something was wrong, according to Fox 4. She needed to take daily medication and wouldn’t just vanish on her own.
Thirteen hours after Cooper was last spotted, her car was found abandoned in a Kansas City park. The engine was still running. On July 14, police followed her cellphone signal to Kidwell’s address.
The extent of Kidwell and Cooper’s relationship is unclear.
In his interviews with police, Kidwell claimed the two got in a fight at his house after Cooper threatened to “tell everyone” Kidwell was HIV positive, according to the affidavit quoted by the AP. After saying that, she pulled a knife from her purse and hit Kidwell on the hand, Kidwell told police. Kidwell struggled for the knife, gained control and stabbed Cooper.
Kidwell’s criminal career has been significant. According to the AP, he spent a total of 15 years in prison on a number of charges. In 2011, he was convicted of attacking and sexually assaulting a black woman, forcing her to engage in sexual activity with him without a condom when he was HIV positive.
Foster, his estranged daughter, told the Star that it fit with an alleged pattern.
“He pretends to be” black people’s friends “and then he harms them,” Foster said.