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Cold case unit identifies suspects in 11 KCK killings dating back to 1979, police chief says

The Kansas City, Kansas, police department’s newly formed cold case unit has identified suspects in 11 homicides dating back to 1979, Chief Karl Oakman said.

Three cases have been referred to the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office for charging review, Oakman said.

“Detectives are conducting further investigations to determine what (other) cases can be filed for criminal charges,” Oakman told the United Government Board of Commissioners on Thursday as part of a presentation on the police department’s new initiatives.

About a week after being sworn in as chief in June 2021, Oakman announced plans to form a cold case unit, which was operational by January 2022. This consists of three full-time detectives.

Nancy Chartrand, a police spokesperson, said Friday that the department cannot identify the cases Oakman refers to because it could compromise them.

But Chartrand called identifying suspects in 11 murders since the unit’s founding a “huge success” as some cases remained unsolved for decades. Suspects who think they have evaded justice will soon be ‘severely disappointed’, she says.

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“Our first priority is always the families of these victims,” no matter how long ago their lives were taken, Chartrand added.

Activists in Wyandotte County had called for a cold case unit, specifically pushing for investigations into the unsolved murders of mostly black women.

One of those cases, the 1998 murder of 33-year-old Rhonda Tribue, gained the attention of the FBI in 2021, which offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction. She lived in KCK and was found dead in the 500 block of South 94th Street near Edwardsville.

Melissa Underwood, a spokesperson for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which worked with the FBI, said earlier this year that Tribue’s killing remained an open investigation.

“We still urge everyone to come forward with even the smallest information that could help law enforcement complete its case,” Underwood said in May.

At the time of Tribue’s murder, KCK detectives tracked down a drug dealer with whom she was believed to have had a relationship, according to a recent Star review of the case file. Police searched his truck, but he was not charged.

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When the department announced the creation of the cold case unit, it noted that only 7% of law enforcement agencies have a dedicated cold case unit. At the time, Oakman said there were approximately 285 unsolved murders in the KCK over the past five decades that could benefit from a “reassessment.”

During the meeting Thursday, Oakman also said certain crimes are down compared to this time last year, including a 38% and 39% drop in murders and rapes, respectively. For homicides, that means there have been 18 homicides this year, compared to 29 in 2022, he said.

Among other updates, Oakman said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has committed to sending the department four officers to create a team to investigate illegal weapons.

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