Neighbor heard struggle

Investigators think an MU student’s slaying was not a random act.
Tuesday, June 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:20 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

When Ryan Kepner heard dull thuds and muffled moans coming from the apartment next door, he shouted at his neighbor to pipe down. It was about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, and he wanted some peace and quiet.

“The walls are pretty thick,” Kepner said, “but they sure weren’t on Saturday morning.”

Kepner said he felt bad about shouting at whoever was in the apartment and planned to apologize to its occupant, Jesse Valencia, first thing in the morning.

He would not get the chance.

That afternoon, Valencia — a 23-year-old junior at MU — was found dead in the back yard at 1517 Wilson Ave., less than a tenth of a mile away from his apartment at 1414 Wilson Ave.

On Monday, medical examiner Valerie Rao ruled the cause of Valencia’s death an “incised wound to neck.” Where Valencia was killed, how he got a half-block away from home and, above all, who killed him are questions the police are still trying to answer.

Capt. Mike Martin, investigative commander for the Columbia Police Department, said investigators think Valencia, whose body was found clad only in a pair of blue running shorts, was not slain in his apartment.

“Our investigation leads us to believe that the death was caused by actions that happened between the two houses and not at the apartment,” Martin said.

Martin said he also thinks Valencia knew his killer.

“There’s no indication that we have someone out there that is randomly selecting victims,” Martin said. “We believe there is some type of association between our victim and our suspect in this homicide.”

Kepner said he now thinks what he heard was a scuffle in Valencia’s apartment. At one point, he heard someone pleading “stop it,” he said.

Valencia’s body was found on a knoll outside the apartment of MU senior Jay Kanterman. Kanterman said he slept through Saturday night without hearing anything outside.

“I just can’t believe it happened,” said Kanterman, whose father lived in the East Campus area when he attended MU. While he doesn’t plan on moving out of the neighborhood, Kanterman said the homicide leaves him feeling uneasy.

“Is it disturbing?” Kanterman said. “Absolutely.”

Many residents of East Campus said they still felt safe. MU senior Ryan Cesla, who lives at 1415 Wilson, across the street from Valencia’s apartment, said he’ll take extra precautions for a time being.

“We’re just locking our doors now,” Cesla said. “I don’t really think it was a random act.”

Kepner said he didn’t know his neighbor all that well, but said Valencia, a history major from Kentucky, seemed like “a real nice kid.” He said he hopes what he heard early Saturday morning was not Valencia’s murder.

“I’d really like to find out what happened between here and there,” Kepner said.

—— Missourian reporter Kate Moser contributed to this report.

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