Hotel clerk recounts troubling phone call

Monday, November 26, 2007 | 10:59 a.m. CST; updated 11:52 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA— Candra Draffen, 22, wonders if she could have helped more.

When an agitated man called the Fairfield Inn in Jefferson City twice early Saturday morning insisting on a key-card and immediate entry into the Comfort Inn at 2904 Clark Lane in Columbia, Draffen just knew she couldn’t help him.

What Draffen didn’t know was that she couldn’t help Cynthia L. White either.

In what Columbia police believe was a robbery-motivated homicide, White, 55, the general manager of the Comfort Inn, was shot in the head and killed early Saturday morning as she worked the front desk.

Columbia police Capt. Brad Nelson said White was killed between 1:30 and 6:15 a.m. Saturday. A suspect, Dwight T. Hayes, 21, of 1411 Carter Lane, was arrested Sunday afternoon at the home of relatives at 1812 McKee Road, less than two miles from the hotel where the homicide occurred. In a news release Monday morning, Columbia police said Hayes made incriminating statements about the murder and an earlier armed robbery of the same hotel.

At approximately 5:15 a.m. Saturday, a man called Draffen, the night auditor at the Fairfield Inn in Jefferson City, saying he was locked out. He said his sister was staying at the Comfort Inn and he couldn’t get in, Draffen said.

The Comfort Inn on Clark Lane had been the Fairfield Inn until about two weeks ago when it changed hands.

Draffen told him there wasn’t anything she could do for him.

“Then, I tried to call the hotel (in Columbia,)” Draffen said. “I tried for about 20 minutes, and then he called back.”

The man’s second call was at approximately 5:50 in the morning, Draffen said.

“‘Is there any way you can make me a key card?’” Draffen said the man begged. “‘I really gotta get in here.’”

Draffen said she again refused him, pointing out that she couldn’t make a key card for a different hotel nearly 40 miles away.

The man was polite in the beginning, Draffen said, but then when she told him she couldn’t help him, “he was getting an attitude.”

Draffen doesn’t know why the man called the Fairfield Inn in Jefferson City for a lock-out key.

“I don’t understand that at all. Why call another hotel?” Draffen said.

Draffen thought it was also odd that she had tried for 30 minutes and couldn’t reach anyone at the front desk of the Comfort Inn in Columbia.

“So, I was the one that called the (Columbia) police department and asked them to do a drive-by,” she said.

Draffen said that the police told her they hadn’t had any calls from other guests but that they would check it out.

At approximately 6:20 or 6:30 a.m., the police called Draffen back and asked her if she was the one who had called and requested the drive-by.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I was the one who called’ and they said, ‘Okay, you need to talk to homicide.’”

Curious and afraid, Draffen asked why she needed to speak with a homicide detective.

“‘We had to call an ambulance, because of a health issue,’” she said police told her. “That’s all the police told me.”

The Columbia police tried to contact Draffen at her home at approximately 3 p.m. Saturday, but Draffen, who works nights, was sleeping. “And, I still didn’t know what happened when I came back on my shift at 11 p.m. the next night, Saturday night,” she said.

But, “I was already worried,” she said. “I was like, what happened?”

A friend found the story about the homicide in the Missourian.

Since then, Draffen has been asking herself troubling questions. She wonders whether the man she spoke to twice on Saturday could have been White’s killer.

But she also wonders if she did enough. “Could I have done something different by calling the police earlier?” she said. “And that’s what’s been going through my head.”

On Sunday night, Draffen found out more about what’s been happening in Columbia: that the Comfort Inn where White worked had been robbed on Nov. 16, that White had told a KRCG, Channel 13-Jefferson City reporter that she was scared to even be there, and that, a few months ago, there had been another homicide at the McDonald’s just down the road from the Comfort Inn.

Draffen said she knew White only slightly.

“I’ve only talked to her a couple times to ask questions, like, if they had any availability or anything,” Draffen said. “If somebody’s coming up there (to Columbia) I would call.”

“She seemed really nice, though. She didn’t seem like she deserved this,” Draffen said. “But, I’m not saying that anybody deserves it.”

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