A Columbia man killed in a robbery in Moberly last Friday was a competitive athlete and a caring father, his son told the Missourian on Friday. He also was a cook at the iconic Bull Pen Cafe for many years.

Darren Stacey Tharp, 51, was shot and killed during a robbery. His body was found in a Moberly parking lot last  Saturday alongside that of Shaun Austin Hare, 24, of Jacksonville, Florida.

Tharp had a competitive streak reflected in his love of sports: he fished, golfed and was an avid bowler. He frequented Oakland Plaza Lanes before it closed in 2008, then bowled at AMF Town & Country Lanes. He was a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan.

His son, Josh Tharp, 24, said he was very close with his father. Darren Tharp and his wife divorced when their son was a few years old.

Throughout Josh Tharp's early education, Darren Tharp would pick him up at school after work. They spent many afternoons together, and he spent every other weekend at his father's home, later living with him full time at the start of high school.

Sports were a big part of their relationship. Darren Tharp coached his son's baseball teams and later helped him get started in bowling around the sixth grade.

"He got me my very first bowling ball," Josh Tharp said. "I still have that." 

Over time, the sport became a dominant part of Josh Tharp's life. Darren Tharp coached the Hickman High School bowling team while his son was a member, and he would take him to state and national tournaments, traveling to cities such as St. Joseph and Indianapolis.

When he started attending MU, Josh Tharp studied hospitality management, based on the years spent in the restaurants where his dad cooked. In time, he switched his major to sports management based on his inherited love for athletics.

More recently, Josh Tharp ran the pro shop at AMF Town & Country Lanes. He'd see his father two or three times a week there, whether he was there to bowl or just to check in.

The Tharps would compete as a father-son team in the annual International Family Tournament held by the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America, making it past the local and regional rounds to the state level twice. Josh Tharp said looking at the trophies fills him with pride.

"I know it made him proud that we were competitive," he said. "He wanted to win, and I wanted to win, too."

Despite his competitive nature, Josh Tharp said, his father preferred to stay out of the spotlight.

"(A)ll the reporting that includes him would have driven him crazy," he said of news reports since his father's death. "He didn't want all of the attention."

Darren Tharp was a cook, most notably at The Bull Pen, a historic cafe on Business Loop 70 that closed in 2007. The owner, Jackie Cockrell, now 59, was looking for a new person in the kitchen. One of her employees, Rosemary Dews, said her son could do it — that was Tharp. He stayed for 12 to 13 years.

He worked alongside her in the restaurant, at events like recreational baseball games, and while they were out catering. Cockrell described him as "dependable."

"He was a heckuva good cook," she said.

Darren Tharp was a friend to her family as well. He would come to family functions such as birthday parties, baby showers and graduations. He loved children, and would joke with her nieces and nephews.

After the restaurant closed, Cockrell said that she and Darren Tharp lost touch. 

Josh Tharp said he didn't really know what else his father was up to in Columbia in recent years, and Darren Tharp wouldn't let his son meet most of his friends.

"He kept me out of the loop," Josh Tharp said. "I think he kind of got caught up in stuff later on in life."

Shane Hare, the other victim of the shooting, lived in Moberly years ago. His family said he was visiting friends in Missouri when he was killed. He also had a disposition hearing scheduled for Wednesday in Randolph County Circuit Court on a 2017 methamphetamine possession charge to which he had pleaded not guilty.

Hare and Tharp were in a parking lot between two Moberly bars when they were robbed of methamphetamine and shot, according to probable cause statements written by Moberly police. Police have arrested four Moberly men — Christopher Esry, 20, Aaron Bloss, 40, Travis Koenig, 29, and Steven Bell, 22 — in the case. 

Esry and Bloss each face two counts of first-degree murder, while Koenig, who allegedly drove a getaway truck, faces two counts of felony second-degree murder. Bell faces two counts of tampering with evidence.

All four were in the Randolph County Jail in lieu of $1 million cash-only bonds. 

Josh Tharp had spoken with his father two days before he died, he said. Darren Tharp was working on finding a job and was close to getting one at Rusk Rehabilitation Center, he said.

Darren Tharp and his son liked to attend Cardinals games and fish and golf together. They used to cast lines on a lake in Fulton next to the home of Darren Tharp's brother, and sometimes would make the trip to Millersburg to fish at Little Dixie Lake.

Since Darren Tharp's death, his son has received a lot of calls.

"The one thing I've gotten from everyone over the past few days is that he was caring," Josh Tharp said. "He would do anything for anyone. He wanted to take care of people the best he could."

"He was always there when I needed him," Josh Tharp said.

Another consistent theme in the calls was that Darren Tharp was proud of his son, which Cockrell echoed.

"He was crazy about his son," she said. "He loved that boy to pieces."

Josh Tharp said he'd gotten almost all of the information about his father's death from the news, and that police officers had not informed him of the arrests in the case. He said he was hurt by some of the comments left online that painted his father as a drug user of bad character.

"That wasn't who my dad was," he said.

Darren Tharp was born July 15, 1967, in Columbia, the son of Charles Tharp and Rosemary (Baker) Dews. He graduated from North Callaway High School in Kingdom City. He served a short time in the U.S. Navy before receiving a medical discharge.

Along with his son, he is survived by his mother, Rosemary Dews, of Columbia; two brothers, Scott Tharp of Columbia and Doug Tharp (Mary) of Kansas ; his daughter-in-law, Jennifer Garmon; three nephews, Alex, Dylan and Jesse; a niece, Hannah; and a host of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.

He was preceded in death by his father, Charles Tharp; his grandparents, Speed and Dollie Baker; an aunt; Violet Polson; and a cousin, Loretta Wise.

Services are from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at Memorial Funeral Home. Memorials can be made to the family.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

  • First-year graduate student, on the public health and safety beat.

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