Victim in fatal shooting received $4.9 million settlement after 2005 fire

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 | 9:19 p.m. CDT; updated 9:48 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 24, 2013

*An earlier version of this story misstated the name of The Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal.

COLUMBIA — A September 2005 apartment fire left Brian Daniels, who was found dead from three gunshot wounds in his Columbia home on April 10, with serious burns and diminished use of his hands.

On the night of Sept. 3, 2005, Daniels awoke to his Warrensburg apartment ablaze, according to a 2008 story in *The Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal. While he was recovering in the University of Kansas Hospital, his mother filed a civil suit against his apartment's management company and his landlord. Daniels won a total of $4.9 million in a settlement with the two parties and the smoke alarm manufacturer.

In September 2008, he bought a house at 2416 Cimarron Drive in south Columbia that's now valued at $368,000 on the Boone County Assessor's website.

Columbia police have accused James Thompson, 23, of murdering Daniels to access his money. Thompson, who was arrested April 13 on charges of first-degree murder, was given power of attorney and made sole beneficiary of Daniels’ estate in forms notarized two months before his death.

Some of Daniels’ neighbors said they never got to know him and rarely saw him outside. That doesn’t surprise Tamela Gibson, who became friends with Daniels after meeting him in 1990 while she was an art student at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

Daniels also lived for a time in Clinton, south of Warrensburg.

“When he was in Clinton he wouldn’t go out that much,” Gibson said. “He was very private in his home, but when he came out he was very out.”

Behind the reclusive shell lay a man Gibson described as "passionate." Daniels was a good conversationalist, she said, with a charismatic presence and intensity behind his words. He was interested in ancient religions, particularly Egyptian religion and history.

“He was like a teacher passionate about a subject, and that was evident in his manner of dress and the jewelry he chose,” Gibson said. “He was covered in Egyptian jewelry."

Daniels liked to paint and write poetry, Gibson said. She liked to hear him read it aloud.

Gibson and Daniels weren't talking much when the fire happened, she said. She visited him twice while he was in the hospital, and remembered how the first time she visited "he was almost completely covered up except bits of his face."

Daniels remained in the University of Kansas Hospital for 10 months from 2006 to 2007. The hospital couldn't find earlier records, said Dennis McCulloch, director of public relations.

In September 2008, Daniels' mother, Lucille Daniels, who stayed by his side in the hospital, moved with him to Columbia. They lived together until September 2009, when she died.

Daniels was left to rely on the assistance of caretakers like Elizabeth Travis, who worked as his home care attendant for a short time in late 2011. Although she only visited Daniels once and spoke with him a couple times on the phone, she remembers the emphasis he placed on motherhood.

"He was really excited that I was a mother," Travis said. "He talked very fondly of his mother, a lot. He showed me her room, her favorite things, paintings she procured. She was a great loss in his life because she would help him and it was obvious that they were close."

Daniels needed a lot of help because of his disabilities from the fire, Travis said. He couldn't grasp things well, constantly dropping things and knocking things over. She remembered "very significant scarring" on his hands.

Travis also saw evidence of his interest in ancient religions. His living room and basement were full of Egyptian artifacts, she remembered.

But Daniels worried about people stealing from him, Travis said, complaining about past caretakers who had taken things from his home.

Travis said she understood his paranoia, given his need to trust strangers while unable to defend himself.

"He was a good person who'd been hurt in the past," Travis said. "He was confused about things and needed a friend."

Daniels had reported to police several times that Thompson had stolen items, including gold pieces, from him, according to a probable cause statement.

Homicide investigators found that Thompson pawned gold items four times, receiving more than $18,000. The pawn shop owner's description of the items matched what was reported stolen.

When a burglar alarm went off at the home on March 1, officers spoke with Daniels and Thompson and learned the two had been in a fight in which Daniels had been cut on his forehead, according to the statement.

Daniels told police he was going to change the locks on his home because Thompson had a key, and he did so on April 5. His body was found in his home, with the back door broken into, on April 10.

Supervising editor is Richard Webner.

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