Podcast 271: Landlord's Role in a 40 Year Murder Mystery

A landlord acted too late and a family is still missing…

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Show Transcription:

Speaker 1: (00:00)
Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of RentPrep for landlords. This is episode number 271. I am your host Eric Worral. And today we’re going to be diving into a 40 year old mystery that is really haunting some people. We’re going to be talking about how a landlord and what they did or maybe didn’t do could have prevented this tragedy from happening. So we’re going to be kind of diving into that story, a kind of more of a dateline NBC kind of Vibe, today’s podcast, uh, but we’re going to be getting into that and then talking about, uh, your responsibility as a landlord and things that you can be doing and making sure that your communities are safe and that your tenants are safe. All right guys, let’s get to all that right after this [inaudible] landlords podcast and now your host, Steven White and Eric Worral.

Speaker 1: (00:50)
So I was researching some articles for today’s podcast and actually came across an old article from the Kansas City Star. Yes, that’s the name of the paper is written by blind Burns in November 10th, 2014. I use this tool, uh, that kind of pulls up a recent content to give you guys what’s going on, uh, on the landlord real estate front, uh, wasn’t finding anything I really liked, but for whatever reason this article popped up. But the article itself is pretty interesting and the story is interesting and it talks about a landlord’s role within the story, maybe a minor role, but could have been a pretty pivotal role if you could go back and Redo time. So the title here is 40 years ago this week, a mystery began that still haunts investigators much of Shelley Denman’s life for the past 14 years, fits inside her personal wheeled shopping cart instead of fruits or vegetables.

Speaker 1: (01:39)
It is stuffed with police reports, FBI blood analysis and framed photos from 40 years ago. There’s pounds of hurt, but no feel good ending. It’s plenty to push around, but demond doesn’t mind the heavy lifting needed while searching for too long. Lost Children, Sherry Lynn and Michael Johnson, who are four years and 10 months old respectively when they and their mother disappeared from their independence home 40 years ago this week. There are many families out there facing the same frustration that I am not being able to experience closure and what happened to their loved ones said Denman and overland park mortgage banker who grew interested in the case after learning of it from her husband who was an uncle to the children. The children could be done shit or it could be dead. She had met. There was also the reality that Sherry Lynn and Michael could still be out there and don’t know who their family really is.

Speaker 1: (02:24)
The National Center for Missing and exploited children recently released a 40 year anniversary flyers seeking information about the case. It included the 1974 photographs to the children plus artists renderings of what they might look like today. It could bring new leads for demond and her sisters, Shannon Stevens, who once worked for a Dallas private investigation firm and who agreed to help her sister crack the case. That was 14 years ago. We thought we were to have this solved and no time. Today’s nationwide network that helped the authorities and missing children didn’t exist when Sherry Lynn and Michael Vanished on around November 10th, 1974 technological advances since that time, such as DNA tests that offer hope of confirming blood relationships of aided demond sleuthing. She also was accessed national missing children databases, websites like ancestry.com where users post digitized family documents. She wants received funding from HBO after producers affiliated with the cable channel, wondered whether the children’s bodies if ever located it, could be featured in a program showcasing the methods of celebrity forensic pathologist and yet the fates of Sherry Lynn and Michael as well as their mother continued to allude them and also still unknown just what role Henry Lee Harbison, the children’s father and their mother’s husband played in the disappearances.

Speaker 1: (03:35)
He’s been missing for 40 years to Henry was a total condom and said a master manipulator back payments in demond shopping cart detailed his troubled early life, an orphan adopted by an independent family. He began getting into trouble as a teenager in the 1950s twice federal judges sentenced him to prison for transporting stolen cars across state lines. He served time in leavings worth and Alcatraz federal penitentiaries. By the early 1970s he was living in Montgomery, Alabama under the alias Michael Johnson. That’s the name that appears in the 1973 marriage license that he and Fred a bem and sign that Christmas Eve. By the following summer, the Johnson’s had placed or had moved to independence. According to a timeline. The cellie demond and Stephen’s compiled free to dem and Johnson worked at Denny’s restaurant on Nolan road from June to September of that year and then she switched to another restaurant where she worked until November 9th she apparently disappeared the next day.

Speaker 1: (04:31)
Bill five months would pass before investigators learned that the family’s landlord did not notify authorities until March, 1975 we think the landlord had been intimidated by Henry Demond said when detectives entered the Johnson’s home and the 100 block of East Kansas Avenue near the Independence Square, they found a TV guide and a couch left to open to Sunday, November 10th, 1974 although they found women’s clothes in a closet, they recovered only a few items of men and children’s clothing. They also found blood on a chair, a shirt, a pair of men’s pants, and a pair of socks. They sent at least one item to the FBI, which later reported that blood grouping test proved inconclusive. At July, 1975 independence police report noted that Michael Johnson actually was Henry Lee Harveson wanted for check forgery in Alabama and still sought by the FBI. However, there was no reason to consider the children missing the report said as there is no indication that fall play had occurred, it was more likely the report said that the children’s parents simply had changed their names to avoid arrest and that the children were with them.

Speaker 1: (05:34)
The case is completed. The report concluded. The investigation remained closed until 2004 that’s when Shelley demond sought help from us. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, members of his staff requested the FBI list the children and their mother in the National Crime Information Center. Missing person file it. Kansas City based FBI special agent opened a case file several times since then. Demond and her sister have had their hopes rise and then fall in 2004 they grew interested in Sharon Marshall, who’s kidnapping in the 1970s is a young girl and suspicious death. In 1990 had been detailed in the book of beautiful child. Marshal had been about Sherry Lynn’s age, but tests using DNA from the two siblings are free to dem and Johnson did not provide a match. The producer of an HBO Documentary Series Featuring Forensic Pathologist Michael Baden, grew interest in the case and advanced a small amount to Shelly Demme and to pay for a researcher who looked into harvest and circle of convict acquaintances.

Speaker 1: (06:32)
The researcher found little that was new in 2006 the independence police department issued a press release regarding the family’s disappearance after redemption received funds towards the case from the family of Carole Sund, a California woman murdered in Yosemite National Park in 1999 nothing surfaced. Two years ago. A young, a woman searching for her mother’s spotted demond name on the website or the doe network, a volunteer organization that seeks to resolve missing person cases. She contacted them and to see if Sherry Lynn might be her mother. The National Center arrange DNA testing. It showed no match. The likelihood of finding these children obviously diminished as after 40 years said Robert Lowery, vice president of the National Center for Missing Children’s division. While not wishing to describe the odds. Lowery emphasized that other children who had been missing for 40 years or longer had been located and reunited with family members. Usually the younger the children are when they disappeared, the greater the chance that we will find them.

Speaker 1: (07:28)
He said Stephen Colbert and independence police detective doesn’t know any other missing children’s cases in his department that go back. As far as 1974 the Johnsons children’s case presents several unique challenges including navigating the many handwritten police reports. He said the case is older than he is, but the case remains open. He said and adding. We would be excited to be able to help the demond family. Devin is realistic about the chances of witnesses coming forward and doing the right thing by offering information. We were past the point of appealing to anyone sense some morality. She said still, she believes a long longshot could come through. After all. This is just a year. Investigators use DNA testing to confirm the two identity of Sharon Marshall, the subject of a beautiful child. 24 years after her death. Harbison would be 80. Now. Demond believes that if he’s still alive, he may be living under another name.

Speaker 1: (08:17)
Since he was a counterfeiter, I think he changed his identity again and was successful in lying low either for the rest of his life or still she said to reach Brian Burns. Call (816) 234-4120 or send an email to be burns at Casey [inaudible] dot com anyone with information regarding Sherry Lynn and Michael Johnson can contact the national center for missing exploited children@eighthundredeightfourthreefivesixseveneightandtheindependencepoliceinvestigationsunitateightonesixthreetwofiveseventhreethreezeroorshellydenmanatasdenmanfiftyfiveatyahoo.com. I’ll all of that information in the show notes. Uh, you know, obviously this is quite the long shot, but, uh, I wanted to share this article because obviously you picked up on the mention of their landlord during the, uh, during the article in the middle of it. So we’ll go back to that section and see if we can kind of a recap that, uh, what it sounded like was the landlord had suspicions that there might be something going on here, uh, but felt intimidated by the tenant themselves.

Speaker 1: (09:24)
It said that she had disappeared on November 10th, but it said that the family’s landlord did not notify authorities until March of 1975. So, you know, you’re going forward several months and it says that they think the landlord had been intimidated by Henry. So I don’t know what exactly that meant. Uh, obviously a lot of this is just kind of a people trying to fill in the blanks. Uh, but I do believe as a landlord, if you believe that there is criminal activity going on in your rental, you need to look at it from a few different perspectives, uh, as a perspective of, you know, running a good business. And making sure that, you know, you don’t have somebody in there that’s going to be a problem, but a big piece of it is a just doing the right thing and making sure your community is safe.

Speaker 1: (10:04)
Uh, in this particular case, uh, sounds like that Ay woman in her children’s lives were endangered and a landlord kind of just felt weird about calling in to the police station and saying, Hey, I don’t know what’s going on here. I can say to for myself, it’s one of those weird things where this happened to me recently. Um, I was in this park in a really nice area of town and there was a little festival going on and all of a sudden, uh, this gentleman was getting very loud with, I don’t know if it was this girlfriend wife, I’m not sure what the relationship was, but he was yelling at her pretty, uh, pretty loud. And then I saw her grab her arm and yelling at her to get into the car and she was trying to force, uh, he was trying to force her into the car.

Speaker 1: (10:47)
So you get that weird kind of like moment where you’re like, what am I supposed to do in this scenario? Uh, how much do you get involved? You call the cops, what do you do? So I looked over at this other guy, I think, uh, we were both pushing our kids and uh, in our strollers and we were both Kinda like, ah, should we call the cops at night? I’m like, I’m not sure. And the car kind of peeled out of there and then as the car went down the street, I saw the side door opened up and the woman tried to jump out of the car. So clearly this is not headed in a good direction if she’s trying to jump out of a moving car. So, uh, he actually ended up getting on the phone and calling nine one one we tried to describe, uh, the car the best we could and um, but you know what, chances are they weren’t going to get there.

Speaker 1: (11:30)
And maybe in that situation, if the cops had been called a few seconds earlier, I don’t know what happened, but it’s just that weird like situation you find yourself in where you’re like, I don’t want to get involved. I don’t want to be the person that you know, blows a whistle on. Somebody else may be, that’s their own business. Uh, but there’s been a lot of documented times in history where people don’t blow the whistle, they don’t call in. And as it comes to domestic violence and things of that nature, if you have a tenant that you think might be a victim of domestic violence, and a lot of states, the laws are starting to trend where there’s opportunities for these individuals to get out of the lease and be able to move on with their life. Uh, actually right now, uh, in Missouri, um, the, the House voted to expand, uh, the Casey domestic violence rental protection statewide.

Speaker 1: (12:22)
Uh, what, this is an article actually from a February 19th, um, where, uh, we had talked about this on a previous podcast, but basically, um, the ability for, uh, somebody who’s experiencing domestic violence to break a lease and also for that information not to be used against them, uh, as they try to get a, a new place to live. So I know that this is obviously domestic violence has been, uh, in the news quite a bit, um, uh, in the last few years, uh, especially with the me too movement, but as a landlord, there is a role for the landlord. And I kind of think, again, going back to that story of seeing something happening in, uh, in that park and just being in afterwards thinking, wow, like I kind of wished that I hopped on the phone, uh, a minute earlier. I don’t know what that, what that evening led to, uh, for that couple.

Speaker 1: (13:11)
Um, maybe that’s the extent of it or maybe it got even worse once they’re out of the public eye. Um, but I guess that’s the weird place. You know, you’re running a business, you don’t want to mess with people’s lives. You don’t want to be calling the cops and your tenants for, you know, a simple who knows what the situation is. But at the same time to you, uh, you don’t want to be that landlord that waited five months after a family had to been abducted and who knows what happened. So again, I’ll have a link to the Kansas City star article. Uh, if by chance during that area and you know something or you know somebody out there or you have a suspicion, you know, you can check it out and, uh, yeah, uh, feel free to, uh, let us know what your thoughts are. I, you can always email me or hit me up in the Facebook group and be curious to know what your thoughts are when you’ve dealt with a touchy situations where you think there might’ve been an issue with the tenants and how you handled that. And if you got the police involved. All right guys, until next week, take care and have a great rest of your week.