February 20, 2012
Ronald Miller, Chief of Police
City of Topeka Police Department
320 S. Kansas Avenue
Topeka, KS 66603
Dear Chief Miller,
Ever since my husband Keen and I learned that Jeffery A. Sutton’s mother-in-law Karen Harkness was murdered, we have been unable to shake the feeling that he may have been involved in the death of Karen and Michael Sisco. Put simply – we know enough about Jeff Sutton to believe that he is capable of committing this crime, and we know too much about Jeff Sutton to remain silent.
In the spring of 2009, I compiled a book of information about Jeff Sutton titled [person of interest] and distributed it to several law enforcement agencies and individuals throughout the state. In the cover letter sent with this document, I stated:
Although I do not know who murdered Karen Harkness and Michael Sisco, by submitting the enclosed information I know that I have done everything in my power to inform members of law enforcement about the personal and criminal background of someone who not only had access to weapons and a history of violence and fraud, but was closely connected to Karen Harkness and stood to benefit from her death. That person is Jeffery A. Sutton.
A list of individuals who received a copy of [person of interest] in 2009 is enclosed (Exhibit A).
Our initial introduction to Jeffery A. Sutton dates back to 1994 when he was appointed to serve in the capacity of Wabaunsee County Attorney (Exhibit B).
A friend of ours was Jeff Sutton’s legal secretary for a time, and she began noticing irregularities and improper conduct on the part of Mr. Sutton. When she reported this information to the Wabaunsee County Commissioners, Jeff Sutton promptly fired her. Unfortunately, the commissioners did not support her as a whistleblower or protect her from Jeff Sutton’s retaliatory firing. She later sued the county for wrongful termination and reportedly settled the case out of court.
After her firing, Mr. Sutton’s legal secretary relayed information about the alleged improprieties to my husband Keen, who in turn investigated the claims. Then, with the assistance of a retired attorney from Alma, Keen documented the various allegations and filed a formal complaint against Jeff Sutton with the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator. (The retired attorney recently recounted a time when he was serving as pro tem judge in Wabaunsee County and Jeff Sutton became so angry over a decision he made that he got right in his face and was yelling loudly, with his fists clenched at his side.)
During this same period of time, the former legal secretary told Keen that Magistrate Judge Blaine Carter told her that Sheriff Richard Old had stopped by his office one day and revealed that he had an “ethical dilemma”. Sheriff Old went on to explain that he had been approached by Jeff Sutton with a proposal to “get something” on Keen.
After learning that Jeff Sutton may be attempting to frame Keen, I immediately called the investigator from the Disciplinary Administrator’s office, as well as John Kite from the KBI. I told them that, as Keen’s wife, this news concerned me greatly, and I feared for Keen’s safety. I explained that I didn’t think it was much of a stretch to go from threatening or attempting to hurt someone legally and wanting to hurt them physically.
I later received a call from one of the two men, I believe it was John Kite, explaining that they had spoken to Sheriff Old about the situation and he stated that Jeff Sutton had presented the idea in a “hypothetical” way. As a result, no further action was taken.
Articles from The Parsons Suns
I am enclosing four articles from the Parsons Sun which recount the story of Jeff Sutton’s prior arrests for acts of violence against others. See Exhibits C:1-4: (Exhibit C-1); (Exhibit C-2); (Exhibit C-3); (Exhibit C-4). In one case, Sutton threw a man through a 4-by-6 foot window at a tavern in Noel, Missouri. The City of Noel arrested Sutton on June 14, 1992, for fighting in public, and he was charged on August 14, 1992, with property damage. (Case No. CV 1-92-27MR.)
In a separate incident two months later, Sutton was arrested for battering a female highway worker named Jessie Mahoney after she attempted to prevent him from bypassing a line of cars waiting in line for a pilot car in a construction zone. Sutton was arrested on August 4, 1992, and charged in Cherokee County District Court with battery, disorderly conduct, and disobeying a stop sign. I have summarized what occurred in greater detail under #4 of the enclosed document titled “Ten Unanswered Questions” (Exhibit D).
Recently I spoke with Ms. Mahoney over the phone about the incident. Ms. Mahoney said that Jeff Sutton threw the bottle of Pepsi at her with such force – like a quarterback throwing a football. And, as a result, her health has never been the same. She also said there was an eyewitness who submitted a written statement saying that Sutton seemed so enraged that they believed if he had a weapon he would have killed her. (The witness was reportedly a courier on her way to a bank in Columbus, Kansas.) I have included some excerpts from the transcript of Ms. Mahoney’s testimony about the incident at the very end of the final exhibit (Transcript).
The Parsons Sun also reported that a man who was charged with arson for burning down a cabin had alleged in court that Jeff Sutton and some of Sutton’s friends beat him up at the cabin the previous year. I was informed that Jeff Sutton allegedly continued to kick the man after he was incapacitated and unable to defend himself.
Also according to the Parsons Sun, Jeff Sutton was charged with fighting in Columbus Municipal Court in August of 1991, but those charges were eventually dismissed. (See Exhibit C-1). And those are just the cases that we know about.
Talking with Detective Volle
I first spoke with Detective Volle (now Sgt.) about Jeff Sutton back in 2002. At the time, he told me about the gas cans and said that they were very close to arresting Dana. He was very polite and professional, but as I exited his vehicle where we had been talking, he didn’t seem interested in the envelope of information I had compiled on Jeff Sutton, so I just left it on the passenger seat of his car.
In February of 2008 I met with Sgt. Steve Taylor in one of the conference rooms at TPD headquarters, and he was also extremely polite and professional. I told him about Jeff Sutton’s criminal history and discussed my theory of the case. He acknowledged that the case had gone cold, but indicated that he felt that they were on the right track with Dana Chandler. He said that she was very angry and the crime was one of rage. He also said that she had some issues and was “a real daisy.” After I finished my spiel about Jeff Sutton, Sgt. Taylor commented that they had looked at Sutton, but he was “pretty sure” he had an alibi. [Review Erin Sutton’s testimony and get more information about Sutton’s alibi on the night of the murder.]
I personally believe that the reason neither Sgt. Volle nor Sgt. Taylor have ever made a definitive statement that Jeff Sutton passed his polygraph and/or had an airtight alibi is simply because they can’t. I don’t believe Jeff Sutton would have agreed to take a polygraph, and I don’t think he had a verifiable alibi. An unverified alibi is nothing more than a good story.
Without someone being able to verify Jeff Sutton’s whereabouts on the night of the crime, I feel that he should remain a person of interest in the double homicide. After all, he directly benefited from Karen’s murder – and greed is one of the oldest motives in the book. To illustrate this point, I have enclosed a photograph of the house Jeff and Erin Sutton lived in before the murders, and a photo of the home they purchased after the murders. (Exhibit E).
Pursuit of Justice
I want to assure you that our reasons for becoming involved in this case have nothing to do with a grudge or vendetta – and everything to do with the pursuit of justice and truth. I am also on the record as stating that if any of this information should lead to the conviction of Jeffery A. Sutton for the murder of Karen Harkness and Michael Sisco, I will not accept any reward money. I am simply endeavoring to do everything I can to ensure that the right person is held responsible for the brutal murders of Karen and Michael.
What we have uncovered so far:
1. On December 31, 1996, former Wabaunsee County Sheriff Richard Old sent a letter to Kyle Smith at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) seeking advice about the permissibility of giving weapons from the evidence locker to the county attorney (Jeff Sutton) as compensation for forfeiture work which Mr. Sutton had performed for the Sheriff’s Department (Exhibit F.)
2. On January 3, 1997, Kyle Smith sent a response to Sheriff Old and informed him that it would be impermissible to dispose of weapons in that fashion or as compensation for work performed. Kyle Smith did indicate that it was permissible to transfer weapons, with a written court order, from one investigative agency to another. He further indicated that the Wabaunsee County Attorney’s office would qualify as an investigative agency for the purpose of an inter-departmental transfer (Exhibit G).
3. For some unknown reason, on January 10, 1997, exactly one week after receiving Kyle Smith’s letter, (and just prior to Jeff Sutton’s last day in office), Richard Old transferred two weapons from the sheriff’s department inventory into the County Attorney [Jeff Sutton’s] inventory. I do not know whether Sheriff Old obtained the required written court order before transferring said weapons. The document titled “Weapon Disposal” lists these weapons as:
1) Winchester 12 gauge Pump, Model #1300 XTR, S/N LX035005, and,
2) Taurus PT 101 AF .40 caliber pistol [S/N 86995]. (Exhibit H).
4. After Jeff Sutton lost his bid for reelection, Craig Spomer was sworn in as his successor. When Craig Spomer was made aware of this situation and discovered that the weapons were not located in the county attorney’s inventory, he reportedly contacted Jeff Sutton and directed him to return the two weapons.
5. On January 21, 1997, a document titled “Weapons Transfer” was signed by newly-elected County Attorney Craig Spomer and Sheriff Richard Old, documenting that the weapons had been transferred back into the Wabaunsee County Sheriff Department’s inventory from the Wabaunsee County Attorney’s inventory. (Exhibit I).
6. In early 1997, Keen received a call from (Then) Wabaunsee County Deputy Sheriff Rachele Weddle. The purpose of Rachele’s call was to alert Keen to the fact that Jeff Sutton had shown her what she described as a “9mm Uzi-style weapon” in the trunk of his car when he was moving his personal belongings out of the courthouse.
7. Keen then began investigating the situation to learn what he could about Jeff Sutton receiving weapons from the evidence locker, as well as an additional allegation that Jeff Sutton took a 386 computer from the county attorney’s office. (By some accounts Jeff Sutton was required to return it – and when he did, it had been wiped clean.)
8. On February 10, 1997, Keen attended the Wabaunsee County Commissioners’ meeting to inquire about the guns and computer arrangement. A heated debate took place between (Then) Commissioner Fred Howard and Keen. This conversation was documented in an affidavit written by Keen, a copy of which I have enclosed (Exhibit J). That same day, Keen filed a second complaint against Jeff Sutton with the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator’s office alleging that he had improperly converted county property to his own use. (Two years later the Disciplinary Administrator notified Keen that the review panel did not find probable cause to believe that Sutton had violated any rules of professional conduct in that case.)
9. Newspaper reports about the gun controversy appeared in three separate area newspapers during the month of February, 1997. The Flint Hills Independent, Eskridge, Kansas – February 20, 1997: “Jeff Sutton causes concern over guns”; The Signal-Enterprise, Alma, Kansas – February 20, 1997: “Handling of Wabaunsee County confiscated items creates questions and investigation”; The Smoke Signal, Wamego, Kansas – February 26, 1997: “Guns raise concern over conduct of area officials” (Exhibit K-1); (Exhibit K-2); (Exhibit K-3).
11. On May 29, 1998, the Kansas Supreme Court handed down their decision, finding that Jeffery Sutton had violated the codes of Professional Conduct and should be disciplined/sanctioned by published censure. (Exhibit M-1); (Exhibit M-2).
12. Fast forward to early 2008, when I contacted Wabaunsee County Sheriff Doug Howser and asked if we could arrange a meeting (785.765.2217-w). Sheriff Howser later came to our house where I showed him my 3-ring binder full of information I had compiled on Jeff Sutton and explained my theory of the case. I told him how former Sheriff Richard Old had reportedly compensated Jeff Sutton with weapons from the evidence locker and how Rachele Weddle had called Keen to inform him that she had seen Jeff Sutton with a 9mm Uzi-style weapon. I also discussed the possible connection to the double homicide since Karen and Michael had been shot multiple times with a 9mm weapon. I then asked if he would be willing to check the sheriff’s inventory to see if that type of weapon had ever appeared, and whether it was still there. Sheriff Howser agreed.
13. Several months later Sheriff Howser stopped Keen in the hall at the Wabaunsee County Courthouse and informed him that he located a weapon matching the description of the one Rachele Weddle had reported seeing in the trunk of Jeff Sutton’s car. He identified the brand of weapon as a Norinco. Keen then asked Doug to spell Norinco so he could write the name down on a piece of scrap paper. Doug told Keen that the Norinco brand weapon was in the inventory at one time, but later did not appear on the inventory list.
14. Keen and I had never even heard of a Norinco brand of weapon, so we looked it up on the Internet and were surprised to find a Nornico brand 9mm Uzi-style weapon on a gun auction website. This gun seemed to match the weapon Rachele Weddle described seeing in the trunk of Jeff Sutton’s car (Exhibit N).
15. Based on this information, Keen submitted a letter to the KBI (and a copy to ATF) asking them to initiate an investigation into possible missing weapons from Wabaunsee County (Exhibit O-1).
Approximately two weeks later Keen received a response from KBI director Robert Blecha declining to investigate [possible missing weapons from Wabaunsee County]. Mr. Blecha copied his reply to AD Kerr, AD Weingartner, SAC Sabel and AAG Graham. (Exhibit O-2).
16. Last August Keen and I were driving through Council Grove when we stopped for gas and ran into former Wabaunsee County Sheriff’s Deputy Ray Fowler. Ray is currently employed as an officer for the City of Council Grove, Kansas. Keen told Ray about the Harkness-Sisco murders and asked him if he remembered a semi-automatic weapon from his time at the Wabaunsee County Sheriff’s Department. Ray stated that he recalled the gun and even remembered shooting it on Sheriff Richard Old’s property outside of Alma (24180 Nehring Branch Road). He said that the weapon had a collapsible stock with a 30-round magazine, and he remembered they used aluminum casings because they were cheaper. Lastly, Ray said he recalled that the gun used to jam. (Note: When Keen informed Ray that testimony from the preliminary hearing revealed that the shell casings found at the murder scene were IMI 9mm ammo, Ray replied that is a heavy-duty, more expensive form of ammunition that might be used to prevent a gun from seizing up.) Ray later followed up with an email to Keen containing additional information about this particular type of ammo (Exhibit P).
17. I recently discovered that Jeffery Arthur Sutton is a former Federal Firearms Licensee (No. 01491) [Jeff Sutton’s FFL license expired on June 1, 2010.]
A Mysterious Turn
Now, here is where the story takes a troubling and mysterious turn.
1. Keen has since spoken to Rachele Weddle and she is now saying that she doesn’t recall seeing a weapon in the trunk of Jeff Sutton’s car. Rachele stated that she does remember seeing Sutton moving his personal belongings out of the courthouse into a U-Haul trailer, but that she doesn’t remember seeing the gun or even recall the telephone conversation with Keen._
2. On December 27, 2011, Wabaunsee County Sheriff Doug Howser stopped by Keen’s law office around 6:30 a.m. and informed him that there was no Norinco brand weapon in the Sheriff’s inventory after all, as he had previously reported. Sheriff Howser told Keen that it was some other type of weapon.
3. Keen replied by informing Sheriff Howser that former deputy Ray Fowler had already indicated that he remembered shooting the weapon out at Sheriff Richard Old’s shooting range.
4. When Keen called Ray Fowler around 8:00 later that same morning, he learned that Ray had inexplicably changed his story. Ray now claimed that it was some other weapon that he shot out at Richard’s house, not a 9mm semi-automatic rifle with a collapsible stock holding 30 bullets – as he had reported to Keen last August when they talked at the gas station in Council Grove.
5. During the aforementioned, early-morning meeting in Keen’s law office, Sheriff Howser also informed Keen that there were no inventory lists kept for the sheriff’s department until after he took office and hired someone to handle that specific job.
6. Later that afternoon, Keen ran into the former Wabaunsee County Clerk at the Alma post office. Keen asked her if she remembered the controversy involving Jeff Sutton and weapons. She replied: “I know the Harkness family and Jeff didn’t have anything to do with this. He loved Karen.” Keen said, “But you and I both know that Jeff was no choir boy.” When Keen told her he was investigating what weapons Jeff may have received, she said, “That should be easy enough to prove; they turned in inventory lists at the end of every year. I was a stickler for inventory lists because the county commissioners needed to know what property was on hand.” This information directly contradicted Sheriff Howser’s earlier claim that no inventory lists were kept.
7. On December 28, 2011, Keen submitted an open record request to Wabaunsee County Clerk Jennifer Savage requesting the sheriff’s department inventory lists for the years of 1993–1998 (Exhibit Q-1).
8. Jennifer’s response stated that she was able to locate and provide the inventory lists for 1993, 1994, and 1998, however, she did not have copies on file for the years 1995, 1996 and 1997 – which coincidentally covered the majority of the time Jeff Sutton served as Wabaunsee County attorney(Exhibit Q-2). Mrs. Savage told Wabaunsee County Attorney Norbert Marek that she could not understand or explain why she would have the years prior to 1995 and after 1997, but not the three years in between.
9. Keen then decided to submit an open records request to Sheriff Howser asking for copies of the missing inventory lists from 1995, 1996 and 1997 (Exhibit R-1). On January 5, 2012, Keen hand-delivered the KORA request to the sheriff. The letter included a line at the bottom of the page for Sheriff Howser to sign indicating that he had received the request. However, Sheriff Howser appeared agitated and refused to sign the document. Keen then asked the receptionist to acknowledge receipt by signing the document, but she also refused.
10. Keen received a response dated January 9, 2012, signed by the Records Custodian for Sheriff Howser, which stated in part: “. . . our records for the years 1995, 1996, and 1997 have been searched and we have been unable to locate the requested records” (Exhibit R-2).
The bottom line is this: due to the fact that Rachele Weddle reported seeing a 9mm Uzi-style weapon in the trunk of Jeff Sutton’s car – and knowing Jeff’s propensity for violence and history of fraud – when Keen and I learned that the murder weapon was a 9mm semi-automatic carbine rifle, [per TPD Officer John Sanders’ testimony on Day Four of the preliminary hearing, December 15, 2011], all the pieces of the puzzle seemed to come together. Now we are more convinced than ever that Jeff Sutton needs to be investigated more thoroughly and should be considered a prime suspect in the double homicide.
Connecting the Dots
Here is how we believe the dots are connected:
1. BEFORE Rachele Weddle changed her story, she told Keen that Jeff Sutton showed her a 9mm semi-automatic weapon in the trunk of his car.
2. BEFORE Sheriff Howser changed his story, he informed Keen that there was a Norinco brand weapon that appeared in the sheriff department’s inventory, but did not appear later on.
3. BEFORE Ray Fowler changed his story, he said he remembered shooting the 9mm semi-automatic rifle at Richard Old’s property outside of Alma. He also described the weapon as having a drop-down stock holding 30 shells and reported that the weapon often jammed.
4. Jeff Sutton’s mother-in-law Karen Harkness and her boyfriend Michael Sisco were murdered with a 9mm carbine rifle five years after Jeff was reportedly seen leaving the Wabaunsee County Courthouse with a 9mm Uzi-style weapon, and nine months after Jeff Sutton married Karen’s daughter, Erin.
The questions that loom largest in our minds are as follows:
1. Why would Sheriff Howser initially agree to search the inventory for a weapon matching the description of the gun Jeff Sutton was seen in possession of, and then later deny that there were any inventory lists at all during that period of time?
2. Why would Sheriff Howser initially inform Keen that he had located a Norinco brand semi-automatic weapon in the inventory, only to change his story four years later?
3. Why are the inventory lists missing for the years Jeff Sutton was in office?
In an effort to put every possible theory on the table and leave no stone unturned, I would like to include a document we recently retrieved after receiving a tip that former Sheriff Richard Old personally took possession of a John Deere riding mower that was originally confiscated in a Maple Hill drug bust in 1993 (Exhibit S). It has been suggested that Sheriff Old kept the John Deere riding mower for himself and allowed County Attorney Sutton to take the semi-automatic weapon.
We know that the two weapons Richard Old transferred to the County Attorney’s inventory just days before Jeff Sutton left office – and which Sutton removed from the courthouse – (Exhibit H). were eventually returned (Exhibit I). However, we believe that the 9mm Uzi-style weapon which Jeff Sutton showed to Rachele Weddle in the trunk of his car in 1997 was a separate weapon that Richard Old gave Jeff Sutton from the sheriff department’s inventory – one that was not documented in writing, as the other two weapons had been.
We base this theory on Rachele Weddle’s eyewitness testimony that Jeff Sutton showed her an Uzi-style weapon on the day he moved his belongings out of the Wabaunsee County courthouse, and on Sheriff Howser’s initial report that a weapon matching that description [Norinco brand] was located in the sheriff department’s inventory and later showed up missing. Additionally, prior to changing his story, Ray Fowler acknowledged the existence of the 9 mm semi-automatic weapon with a collapsible stock and 30-round magazine which he personally shot out at Richard Old’s property.
(Information regarding rumors about Sheriff Howser contained in Exhibits T and U intentionally omitted.)
After reviewing the information relayed to Keen about Sheriff Howser possibly owning property in another state, I decided to see if I could find any information about this on the Internet. Whether the information I found is accurate or not, I do not know, but my research uncovered a property on Melody Lane in North Palm Beach, Florida, that is reportedly owned by Douglas William Howser, age 56, who previously resided in Alta Vista, Manhattan, and Alma, Kansas. A photograph showing a bird’s eye view of the area where the property is located is enclosed (Exhibit V). Information about names of family members and cities where Doug Howser has lived or owned property is also enclosed (Exhibit W).
In addition, I recently learned that Wabaunsee County Sheriff Doug Howser was also a former Federal Firearms Licensee. Records on the ATF web site reveal that his license No. 01161 expired on December 1, 2011.
If in fact Sheriff Howser owns a second home in North Palm Beach, Florida, one might ask how he is able to afford that on a county sheriff’s salary. If the rumors about Sheriff Howser Exhibits T and U intentionally removed . . . are also true, then that would explain how he could afford a second home. It would also explain the sudden change in his story and his unwillingness to cooperate with our investigation into a missing weapon from the Wabaunsee County Sheriff Department’s inventory. Admittedly, this is mere speculation on my part, but if Sheriff Howser is involved in selling weapons, then it stands to reason that he would not welcome an in-depth inquiry [into missing weapons] for fear that the investigators might uncover some of his own improprieties.
On January 13, 2012, Keen submitted another KORA request to Wabaunsee County Clerk Jennifer Savage seeking the year-end inventory lists from the sheriff’s department for twenty-three years covering 1983-1992 and 1999-2011 (Exhibit X-1).
On January 19, 2012, County Clerk Jennifer Savage fulfilled Keen’s KORA request and provided the records that she was able to locate in her files (Exhibit X-2).
Strangely enough, after reviewing the records, we learned that the inventory lists from Doug Howser’s first four years in office as Wabaunsee County Sheriff (2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008) were also missing. (Sheriff Howser took the oath of office on January 10, 2005.)
If Sheriff Howser did not keep inventory lists during his first four years in office, this would technically be a violation of K.S.A. 19-2687, which addresses the duties of officers and heads of departments to create an inventory of the “kind, amount and location of all personal property owned by said county and located in or under the supervision of such office or department” (Exhibit Y).
Lastly, I have enclosed a collection of miscellaneous information about Jeff Sutton that I have compiled over the years (Exhibit Z).
In new news, Richard Dwyer, a California attorney and crime blogger, has weighed in on the Dana Chandler case, calling it an outrage.
In summary, despite the fact that Rachele Weddle, Doug Howser and Ray Fowler have all changed their stories, we have based our theory on what we believe to be the truths each individual relayed initially, to wit: the weapon seen by former Wabaunsee County Deputy Sheriff Rachele Weddle in the trunk of Jeff Sutton’s car (9 mm Uzi-style weapon), matches the description of the weapon that current Wabaunsee County Sheriff Doug Howser reported had once been a part of the sheriff department’s inventory (Norinco semi-automatic rifle). And the weapon Sheriff Howser located and reported had once been a part of the sheriff department’s inventory, matches the description former Wabaunsee County Deputy Ray Fowler gave of the weapon he recalled shooting at Richard Old’s property. Most importantly, all of the weapons match the description of the weapon reportedly used to murder Michael and Karen – a 9mm semi-automatic carbine rifle. It is chilling to see how all four weapons line up perfectly. It seems that for every unanswered question plaguing the Dana Chandler theory, there is a plausible explanation lying within the Jeff Sutton theory. And the Wabaunsee County sheriff department’s inventory records for the three years covering Jeff Sutton’s term as Wabaunsee County attorney are missing from two separate county offices: the sheriff’s department and the county clerk’s office.
In light of the apparent lack of physical evidence linking Dana Chandler to the crime, I sincerely hope that the Topeka PD and Shawnee County DA’s office will remain open to the possibility that Dana may truly be innocent, while the guilty person may be hiding in plain sight, perfectly willing to allow another person to sit in jail and stand trial for a murder that they didn’t commit.