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Harrisonville man charged with murder, statutory rape, incest

Saturday, January 24, 2009 | 4:33 p.m. CST; updated 8:14 p.m. CST, Saturday, January 24, 2009

HARRISONVILLE — Details of incest, murder and home-delivered babies have neighbors and family members just as shocked as the investigators who first pieced together the tale of a dysfunctional rural Missouri family.

A 47-year-old man is facing charges of murder, statutory rape and incest, among others, and has admitted to investigators he is the father of at least two of his daughter's four children. The man's wife is accused of not reporting the abuse of her daughter, and she admits she helped deliver all four of the girl's babies.

The bodies of two of the children were found earlier this month in coolers on property just outside of Harrisonville, where the family lived for more than three years in a truck camper and larger trailer behind the man's mother's home.

A third child, born before the others, also is dead and believed to be buried somewhere in Oklahoma, authorities said. The surviving child is a 3-year-old boy who is in state custody, prosecutors said.

Both the father and the daughter have told investigators that all four children were delivered at home. Two of them died within four months of being born, and a third was stillborn, according to court documents in the case.

For now, the father is charged with the death of only one of the infants found in the coolers — a boy born in November 2006 who died of pneumonia in February 2007 after he didn't get needed medical treatment.

The Associated Press is withholding the names of the suspects and a relative interviewed for this story to protect the identity of his daughter, an alleged sexual assault victim.

Cass County prosecutor Teresa Hensley said it's hard to imagine how the family's troubling lifestyle went unnoticed for so long.

"I certainly would like to think this is rare," she said. "Why this slipped through the cracks, I don't know."

Family members say the parents kept their daughters isolated and didn't allow them to go to school. The relatives say none of them ever suspected what is alleged to have been going on.

The suspect's mother, who lived in a house on the property near Harrisonville but has since moved, said she had complained to her son about keeping his family in seclusion, but it did no good.

Afterward, she said, "I left them alone."

"They had plywood all up and down by the garage door against the fence, and the fence was padlocked," the 76-year-old woman said Saturday. "They would sleep back there. They would come in when I fixed dinner. I would holler at them to come."

She said that during the time the family stayed on the property, from May 2005 to last October, she never suspected any abuse. She also said she didn't notice her granddaughter was pregnant, even though investigators believe three of the babies were born there.

"I did not know nothing," the woman said. "I didn't even see that that girl was pregnant. I just didn't see it."

Residents of Harrisonville, a town of just under 10,000 about 40 miles south of Kansas City, say it used to be that everyone knew each other. Less than 9,000 people lived there at the time of the 2000 census, and some say the community has lost a bit of its small-town appeal because of that growth.

The 3-acre property where the family stayed is about a mile from one of the town's main highways. Other families live along the same gravel road, but their houses are far apart and surrounded by farm fields.

The family lived at the end of a long gravel driveway, behind a fence that still has a "No Trespassing" sign attached.

"We visited and got along with them," said Robert Blessman, a neighbor who lives on the road.

"We gave the girls clothes," added his wife, Edith Blessman.

The couple said they sometimes paid the father to mow fields or do other work on their property, and while they described the man as "easygoing and lighthearted," they found some of his stories to be a little far out.

"He never showed anything that would leave you to believe that he was violating his daughter," Robert Blessman said. "I just can't picture how any man would be low-life enough to violate his own child like that and then hide it and carry it on for years.

"I feel like he betrayed us."

In October, the family's secrets began to emerge when one of the suspect's daughters told police that her sister was being molested by their father and had birthed four of his children.

"I think they were afraid. But I think they were embarrassed, too," a cousin, Tammy Allison, said of the reluctance of the girls to seek help.

She said she and other relatives feel guilty for not noticing that the girls were in trouble.

"It breaks our hearts," Allison said. "You know somebody your whole life and you get slapped in the face with this sick, dark secret."

The father, who is being held in the Cass County jail in lieu of a $500,000 bond, is due back in court Thursday. He didn't have an attorney during his initial court appearance on Friday, and it's not clear whether he has one now.

The man's wife is free on $10,000 bond. Calls to multiple phone numbers under her name went unanswered, and it's also not clear whether she has a lawyer.

Although the father hasn't been charged in the death of the second infant found in the coolers, investigators say they still are looking into how that child died. The baby's mother told investigators her father assisted with the birth in April 2008 and that he told her the child was stillborn, court records show.

"It hurts me," said the suspect's mother, who is worried about her granddaughters. "He's my son, and he still has a part of my heart. But I will not stand in the way for what has to be done to him."

 


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