KALHER KILLINGS: Former Columbia utility director charged with murdering wife, daughters

Monday, November 30, 2009 | 12:44 p.m. CST; updated 4:01 p.m. CST, Monday, December 7, 2009
James Kraig Kahler is handcuffed Monday after his first court appearance on a capital murder charge in connection with the shooting deaths of his wife and their two daughters in eastern Kansas. Kahler also faces charges of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of his wife's 89-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Wight.

*CORRECTION: Kraig Kahler was at his first court appearance on Monday. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the name of this proceeding.

COLUMBIA — After his court appearance* this morning in Lyndon, Kan., former Columbia city official James Kraig Kahler was charged with the murder of his wife and two teenage daughters.

Kahler, who was the director of Columbia Water and Light for 14 months, has been charged with capital murder in the deaths of his estranged wife, Karen Kahler, 44, and their daughters, Emily Kahler, 18, and Lauren Kahler, 16.


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The three were shot around 6 p.m. on Saturday in Burlingame, Kan., at the home of Karen Kahler’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89. Wight was also shot during the incident and was in critical condition at noon Monday at Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka, Kan.

Kraig Kahler was charged with attempted first-degree murder in Wight's shooting. He was also charged with aggravated burglary because he is suspected of breaking into her home.

Ashley Anstaett, a spokeswoman for the Kansas attorney general's office, said the couple's son, Sean Kahler, 10, was in the house at the time of the shootings but was unharmed.

Kraig Kahler was being held in the Osage County Jail in Lyndon on a $10 million cash-only bond.

Anstaett said that Kahler could face the death penalty if convicted of capital murder, but that it was too soon to say whether prosecutors would seek that punishment.

Kahler served as director of Columbia Water and Light from July 14, 2008, to Sept. 9, 2009. Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins asked him to resign because of “difficult family issues” that he was facing, according to an official statement at the time from Watkins' office.

City of Columbia spokeswoman Toni Messina said the city has been asked by the Kansas attorney general’s office not to comment.

In January — during Kraig Kahler's tenure at Columbia Water and Light — Karen Kahler filed for divorce. Two months later, Kraig Kahler was arrested at the couple's home at 3001 Shoreside Drive after a fight with his wife and was later charged with third-degree domestic assault. Karen Kahler filed for an order of protection against her husband after that incident.

Kraig Kahler was scheduled to be tried in Boone County on Wednesday on the domestic assault charge, according to court documents. He reportedly was living in the Topeka area. According to court documents, he was jobless with no prospects.

His estranged wife, daughters and son had remained in Columbia, where Lauren Kahler was a junior at Rock Bridge High School and Emily Kahler had just graduated from the school in the spring. Emily was in her first year at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy at the time of the shooting.

Rock Bridge Principal Kathy Ritter said school personnel had learned about the girls’ deaths on Sunday and decided that the school’s counseling staff should speak to students in each of Lauren’s classes about what happened over the weekend.

The girls had both been on the school’s honor roll. Ritter described them both as “personable” and “very positive.”

Ritter said in conversations with Lauren Kahler’s teachers that problems at home had begun to weigh on Lauren emotionally.

“Her parents were going through a divorce that was weighing heavy on her,” Ritter said.

Betsy Jones, the director of Rock Bridge’s counseling center, said she had personally met with the Kahler family when the girls transferred to the school.

“They were both just so positive, delightful, focused on their studies,” Jones said.

Jones said the school’s counselors would be available to students and that counseling staff from Hickman High School would be made available in case more assistance is needed.

“When we lose a student it’s like losing a member of a family,” Jones said. 

Missourian reporters Matt Pearce, Tram Whitehurst, Matt Willman, Ben Wieder and Mina Mineva contributed to this report.

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Charles Dudley Jr November 30, 2009 | 2:06 p.m.

R.I.P. Ladies and I hope the other family member has a swift recovery.

Also prayers up for the boy. He will now have to deal with all of this at such a young age.

(Report Comment)
Bradley Griffin November 30, 2009 | 2:14 p.m.

Bradley Griffin
Emily and Laruren Kahller were both great friends.Before they transfered they went to Weatherford High School and Emily played percusssion in the Fighting Roo band. Lauren had dropped out of band but was a great friend to many.They were friends you could pnly hope for.they were always so postive even in the worst situtations and We love them both. Both these girls will be in our hearts here in Weatherford Tx we will miss yall deeply.
ps. sorry bout spelling and grammar errors

(Report Comment)
Brian Jarvis November 30, 2009 | 11:44 p.m.

The entire city has no comment on this? I can't say that surprises me, but on the other hand how is a jury in Kansas going to be influenced by a quote from a newspaper in mid-Missouri? What's the harm? Kahler spent 14 months employed by Columbia. Coworkers can speak objectively to his behavior during that time, at the very least in a professional capacity, and people deserve to know. Otherwise city officials give the impression they know something they're not telling.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 1, 2009 | 12:22 a.m.

When does an "entire" city comment on anything?
Is this not enough for you?

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