The FBI has been in Kansas City, Missouri, since its earliest days. In 1920, the office was designated as one of nine “divisional headquarters” that was administratively in charge of field offices in the region.
By 1924, M. Eberstein was serving as special agent in charge. At the time, as it is now, the division was responsible for Kansas and the western portion of Missouri. From 1932 until 1934, Kansas City also covered Nebraska and southern Iowa while the Omaha Division was closed.
During its early years, the Kansas City Division chased bank robbers, searched for fugitives, and investigated violations of the White Slave Trade and Selective Service Acts. In the early 1930s, agents helped pursue the notorious “public enemies” Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who committed some crimes in the division’s territory.
In June 1933, a brazen attack that came to be known as “The Kansas City Massacre” ended the lives of four lawmen and ultimately led to significant changes in the young Bureau. A group of police officers and special agents — including Kansas City Special Agent in Charge Reed Vetterli — were transferring a bank robber, Frank “Jelly” Nash, to Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. They had just put him in a car outside the Union Train Station when machine gun fire erupted. Four officers were killed, including Kansas City Special Agent Raymond J. Caffrey, two police detectives, and the police chief of McAllister, Oklahoma. Following an extensive investigation, the FBI determined that Nash’s friend — bank robber and assassin Verne Miller — had plotted the murders and enlisted help from Adam Richetti and his colleague, the notorious bank robber Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd. Before he could be arrested for his crime, Miller was killed in a dispute with underworld figures, but agents tracked down and apprehended Richetti. Soon after, they found Floyd in Ohio, where he was shot and killed. The massacre ultimately led to stronger federal crime laws, including a provision that enabled special agents to carry firearms.
FBI Kansas City lost another special agent in 1937 when Wimberly W. Baker was murdered. When two men entered the building that Baker and another agent were investigating in Topeka, Kansas, the agents believed one man was a bank robber. As Baker tried to arrest him, the second man started shooting, striking Baker. The two men escaped as the other agent went to Baker’s aid. The gunmen were captured that night in Nebraska; Baker died the next day.
1940s and 1950s
By 1946, the Kansas City Division had 31 agents handling more than 1,000 cases. Aided by the recently passed National Stolen Property Act, the division worked on many large-scale thefts and continued searching for and arresting fugitives.
In March 1950, the FBI launched its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program. Soon after, Kansas City agents captured one of the list’s “charter members” — Glen Wright — at a Salina, Kansas drugstore. Wright, a former member of the violent Karpis-Barker Gang, had committed armed robbery and had attempted to kill several law enforcement officers. The following year, agents also captured Top Tenner and bank robber Ollie Embry, who was working in a Kansas City, Missouri, gas station. After getting a tip from a private citizen, agents staked out the gas station while one investigator took his car in and asked Embry to look at his radiator. Distracted, Embry was quickly and peacefully captured.
During the 1950s, the field office continued to work on bank robbery, kidnapping, extortion, interstate shipment theft, espionage, and internal security matters. Agents also investigated civil rights and Selective Service Act violations.
1960s and 1970s
In 1960, FBI Kansas City employed 73 agents and 43 support personnel. The office handled 1,136 criminal cases, 94 national security investigations, and 461 other matters. By 1969, the office had the FBI’s second-highest number of convictions and had grown to a complement of 121 agents and 71 support staff. In 1971, the division handled 2,237 criminal, 674 security, and 226 other cases.
The division’s fugitive apprehension rate was high. In the 1960s, Kansas City agents captured six fugitives from the Top Ten list. In 1962, agents arrested Franklin Alltop after he escaped from a county jail while awaiting trial for armed robbery. That same year, the division captured Henry Young, who had escaped from a state penitentiary. Duane Pope gave himself up in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1965 when he learned he had been on the famous list. Pope had robbed a bank, killing three bank employees and wounding another. The following year, Ralph Owen was apprehended after he had escaped from a medical facility and ambushed and disarmed the police deputies chasing him. Bank robber Robert Van Lewing was captured in 1967 along with Clyde Laws, who had robbed a supermarket and shot a police officer.
Organized crime cases grew during this time, and agents led raids on large bookmakers, seizing gambling paraphernalia and ill-gotten proceeds. In one of the division’s major cases in this area, agents arrested Kansas City mob boss Nicholas Civella. In 1977, Civella was sent to prison after being convicted of illegal gambling charges. The division also investigated mobsters behind a large theft ring that targeted Sears stores. In 1976, undercover agents broke up this ring and arrested six, including a Sears security chief and several Kansas City police officers. Stolen property valued at $46,000 was recovered.
The Kansas City Division is also notable for the number of high-ranking Bureau leaders who have served as the special agent in charge. Clarence Kelly — FBI Director from 1973 to 1978 — was born in Kansas City and later served as an agent and special agent in charge. Floyd I. Clarke, the city’s special agent in charge from 1980 to 1982, became acting FBI Director. In addition, W. Mark Felt led the Kansas City Division from 1958 to 1962 before he became an FBI deputy director and later admitted to being Watergate’s “Deep Throat.”
1980s and 1990s
During this time, FBI Kansas City saw increases in energy-related crimes (the territory has many oil and gas wells) and illegal drug cases. The office also assisted other field offices in several significant cases. One involved the murder of federal judge Howland Wood, Jr. in San Antonio, Texas — code-named WOODMUR. Kansas City agents gathered critical evidence in the investigation, including information passed at Leavenworth Penitentiary about the murder-for-hire plot. In 1995, after Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, the axle of his explosives-laden Ryder truck was found in the rubble and linked to a Kansas body shop. Within hours of the bombing, Kansas City agents were interviewing body shop employees, who helped develop a composite picture that led to the identification of McVeigh as the one who rented the truck.
The field office also played an integral role in the STRAWMAN case, a Las Vegas Division investigation that probed Mafia control in the Nevada gaming industry. Wiretaps contributed significant evidence of a large-scale conspiracy by mob families in Kansas City and three other major cities, and the investigation uncovered several murder plots. Eleven individuals, including members of the Civella family, were indicted in 1981. This mob family was also investigated in RAQNET, a large stolen property ring case. At its conclusion, 22 criminals were identified, and $250,000 in stolen property was recovered.
In the 1980s, Kansas City and five other divisions launched teams to investigate white-collar crime nationwide. Kansas had the highest rate of bank failures of any state in 1980. In one case, agents discovered that an out-of-state brokerage firm, First United Fund, was obtaining money from insurance agencies on a bid basis. In a “linked financing” scheme, First United placed certificates of deposit into financial institutions that made loans to its friends and associates. The associates filed fraudulent financial statements to secure the loans and defaulted on them. Insurance agencies involved in this scam had to pay off the loans and other financial instruments. Several Kansas banks using First United Fund failed; losses reached $24 million. The case was complicated because of the widespread distribution and complexity of the financial records, but Kansas City’s investigation ended with many indictments and guilty pleas.
Vehicle theft was another issue for the division. In the early 1990s, truck and tractor theft tripled in Kansas City’s territory. The division responded with two undercover operations. In SOKIT, agents determined that criminals were salvaging vehicle identification numbers, retagging stolen autos, and then selling the cars out of state. In HAMMERJACK, agents dismantled chop shops and gangs stealing trucks and tractors. Kansas City agents faced significant danger in this undercover work; for instance, while they infiltrated these criminal enterprises, one of its members was violently murdered, and others began suspecting the true identities of the agents.
In 1985, the Hostage Rescue and SWAT teams of the Kansas City and Little Rock Divisions helped negotiate the peaceful surrender of a heavily armed, white supremacist group known as the Covenant Sword and Arm of the Lord (CSA.) The FBI began to close in on the group — which was founded in southern Missouri and had set up camp there and in northern Arkansas — after it started targeting law enforcement and killed a Missouri state trooper. The FBI’s teams set up roadblocks and contacted CSA leader James Ellison. After two days of negotiation, Ellison surrendered with two dangerous fugitives. FBI and other federal agents searched the camp, not knowing if other dangerous persons were hiding out there. They located 150 guns, 40 hand grenades, land mines, a live anti-tank rocket, and other explosives. Stolen vehicles used in a 1984 robbery of a Brinks armored car in Ukiah, California, were recovered as well.
FBI Kansas City also began building partnerships through training and task forces. Working with the Kansas City Police Department, the office launched the first teleconference to train law enforcement in 1986, with some 1,500 officers in 50 locations participating. During the 1990s, it formed the multi-agency Wichita/Sedgwick County and Topeka/Shawnee County Violent Crime/Gang Task Forces in Kansas, resulting in several investigative accomplishments.
Such cooperation played a crucial role in solving crimes against children, too. In 1991, a man abducted, sodomized, and released four young girls in Kansas City. He later attempted three other abductions. Despite extensive work, the Kansas City Police Department was unable to solve the case, and the community began to panic — at one point, severely beating an innocent person who resembled a composite drawing of the abductor. The FBI joined the case after one child was transported across state lines. The ensuing partnership paid off when William A. McClinton was identified as a suspect after his latent fingerprint was found on a stolen vehicle used in one of the abductions. McClinton was arrested and confessed to all the crimes.
The division again faced tragedy in 1992 when Special Agent Stanley C. Ronquest, Jr. was murdered. A 21-year veteran of the FBI, Ronquest had infiltrated the Teamster’s Union in an organized crime investigation. While returning to his hotel where he was living while undercover, two men tried to rob him at gunpoint. They fired on Ronquest, killing him. Division personnel helped investigate, running down numerous leads and conducting surveillance and interviews. They got a break when one of the killers’ relatives provided a tip, describing it as a robbery gone tragically wrong. Half-brothers Richard L. Primm and Robert L. Pearson were captured and confessed to the murder.
In 1993, the division helped deal with a disgruntled bomber named Jack McKnight. On the day in August that he was due to be sentenced for drug and weapons violations, McKnight parked his explosives-laden truck in front of the sheriff’s office in Jefferson County, Kansas, and detonated it using a timer. Later, he drove a second “car bomb” to the federal courthouse in Topeka, Kansas, and blew it up as well. McKnight then entered the building, shot a security officer to death, and began to fire at approaching police from a window in the clerk of the court’s office. FBI personnel from the Topeka Resident Agency, who were housed in the courthouse, responded immediately. Other FBI personnel and city and state police SWAT teams converged on the scene. After a quick planning session, they coordinated the rescue of victims in the building, located unexploded bombs, and cleared the courthouse. Upon reaching the clerk’s office, they found ten hostages — some seriously injured — and a deceased McKnight, a victim of the premature explosion of one of his own bombs. The scene was filled with active explosives and guns. The fast, cooperative actions of the FBI and its partners may have saved lives on that day of tragedy.
FBI Kansas City also worked on several public corruption cases during this time. For example, following a division investigation, Kansas City council members and a local mayor were indicted for paying bribes and making decisions favorable to adult entertainment clubs. In another case, a Kansas congressman was convicted for taking union payoffs. In a third investigation, a Kansas senator and the state attorney general pled guilty after the senator sold the attorney general property just before the latter made a favorable ruling on the land.
Following the attacks of 9/11, the Kansas City Division joined the entire FBI in making preventing terrorist attacks its top priority, working through its Joint Terrorist Task Force and a Field Intelligence Group created in 2003.
The division’s growing capabilities paid off in the investigation of Khalid Ouazzani, a Kansas City resident who swore allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2008. Following an investigation by FBI Kansas City — led by the Heart of America Joint Terrorism Task Force in concert with a host of partners — Ouazzani pled guilty to various terrorism charges in May 2010. A Moroccan native who had become a naturalized U.S. citizen, he admitted providing $23,000 of his own money to Al Qaeda and discussing ways to support the terrorist group overseas. He also pled guilty to bank fraud and money laundering as part of the case.
FBI Kansas City has also continued to work all manner of criminal cases. One of the most important involved a serial killer who came to be known as the “BTK killer” — short for “Bind, Torture, and Kill,” a name he gave himself that described his murderous style. In 2005, the Kansas City Division — along with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Virginia — helped the Wichita, Kansas Police Department unmask him as the BTK killer. From 1974 to 1991, Rader killed at least ten women and attempted to murder several more in Kansas. Throughout this serial spree, he sent taunting letters and crime scene photographs to law enforcement and the media. He ceased communications for several years, but in 2004, he sent police a photograph of a murder victim not previously linked to Rader. After corresponding further with the sender, law enforcement got a break in the case — hidden in a deleted file on a computer disk sent by Rader was the name “Dennis” and a church in Wichita. After more information was developed, Rader was arrested and began to confess to the killings. The Kansas City Division’s search of his home revealed “souvenirs” from his victims, “abduction kits,” and other telling evidence. Rader received multiple life sentences in 2005.
FBI Kansas City has also tackled human rights abuses. In a 2007 human trafficking case, division agents investigated three Chinese citizens who ran massage parlors in Kansas. Agents received information that the massage parlor owners were smuggling women from China and promising them fortunes. The investigation revealed that the three individuals had sent more than $83,000 to China and had women brought into the U.S. to work as unpaid prostitutes 14 hours a day, seven days a week. When arrested, one of the subjects threatened to kill workers who testified, as well as their families. The three ultimately pled guilty to money laundering and coercing persons to engage in prostitution. They were sentenced to prison and ordered to pay up to $500,000 in fines and/or restitution. All face deportation upon their release from jail. The FBI is currently seeking two subjects concerning this case — Wei Li Pang and her husband, Shu Gang Li.
As the FBI continues its second century of service, the Kansas City Division remains committed to protecting its communities and defending the nation.