1968 killing of Richard DeLeon Hill solved by Kansas City police with new tips

Sunday, July 24, 2011 | 7:42 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Kansas City police say they have solved a homicide from more than four decades ago, but prosecutors can't file charges because both suspects are dead.

The Kansas City Star reported that the investigation into the 1970 killing of civil rights leader Leon Jordan led police to solve the killing two years earlier of Richard DeLeon Hill.

Now, police have determined that Joe Centimano and James "Doc" Dearborn were involved in both homicides. Dearborn, who was killed in 1985, was a former leader of a drug and murder ring known in the 1970s as the Black Mafia. Centimano died of cancer in 1972.

"I was shocked that they finally found somebody after all these years," said Hill's widow, Lena (Hill) Bruster, 75. "He was a nice father and loved his children. Thank God we were able to get real closure."

Police said the Hill homicide investigation is the oldest cold case to be closed to date. The trail had gone cold soon after Hill's body was found near a bridge in November 1968; he had been shot once in the head.

Key information on the Hill case came from Joe Centimano's son, James D. "Danny" Centimano, who died earlier this year.

Danny Centimano told police that he was in his father's liquor store one night in November 1968 when a man he did not know came in to buy beer.

He described his father as close to members of the Kansas City crime syndicate and said his father seemed to recognize the man and immediately became angry. He said his father accused the man of stealing something and told him, "I'm going to put you in the (expletive) river."

He said his father and Dearborn held a shotgun on the man as they put him in the backseat of a car. The elder Centimano and Dearborn returned about 45 minutes later, the younger Centimano said.

"There was blood on the gun and on my dad's hands," Danny Centimano told police last year.

Police said the younger Centimano tentatively identified Hill as the man he saw that night.

Hill's wife said that she and her husband both knew Dearborn and Centimano and that her husband was in his liquor store all the time. She said she and Hill were separated at the time he was killed because of his drinking.

"We had heard stories for years that the same people who killed Leon Jordan may have also killed Richard," Bruster told The Star.

She said that after the killing, Dearborn and his friends would leave her huge tips — sometimes as large as $100 — when she waited on them at a restaurant near the liquor store. She used the money to help support her children.

Now, she said, the generosity makes sense.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.