Secret group uncovers new clues in their search for a missing Belton teenager

Posted at 4:25 AM, Feb 13, 2012
and last updated 2018-07-25 19:56:58-04

A civilian cadaver dog working as part of a secret Kara Kopetsky sleuth group has made a “hit” on an occupied home and members of that group say Belton police are threatening them with a grand jury aimed at exposing their identities and their efforts to find the missing teenager.

“I think there's a possibility that yeah, she could possibly be there,” Kara’s mom, Rhonda Beckford told the 41 Action News Investigators shortly after our cameras documented the cadaver dog signaling its trainer.

Beckford fears police threats against members of the secret group could halt progress in the search for clues that could explain what happened to the teenager the day she disappeared in May 2007.

“From what I've been told from the individuals, yeah I do believe that they've been trying to intimidate them and scare them off so they'll quite helping us,” Beckford said Jim Beckford, Kara’s stepfather said.

Belton police have declined requests from 41 Action News for interviews, but the police chief says officers are in talks with Cass County Prosecutor Teresa Hensley about a possible grand jury investigation.

Hensley's office said police have not submitted any information supporting a grand jury investigation request.

"She hasn’t threatened anyone and she hasn’t given the police permission," Hensley's spokeswoman Georgia Sanders told the 41 Action News Investigators shortly before the story was broadcast.  "There’s been nothing submitted to us at all."

Sanders said Hensley would meet with the Beckfords to discuss the case.

The department, which has been criticized for treating the case like a runaway instead of abduction, issued a written statement.

“The Belton MO Police Department has had conversations with the Cass County Prosecutor’s office about the possibility of utilizing the grand jury to question otherwise uncooperative potential witnesses,” said Police Chief James Person. “The Belton MO Police Department remains committed to the investigation into the disappearance of Kara Kopetsky.”

Sanders could not rule out the possibility some officer may have spoken to someone in the office, but said Hensley said there is no plan for a grand jury.

Some of the Kopetsky sleuths are retired law enforcement officers, others bring civilian expertise in psychology, research, or, like the woman leading the cadaver dog the night our cameras followed the search, help search for human remains.

The group came together as an earlier 41 Action News investigation identified what police experts called missteps in Belton’s investigation into Kopetsky’s disappearance.

In addition to a reported confession, the 41 Action News investigation identified a box of Kara’s possessions turned in to police two years after her disappearance, a report that Belton police did not return calls about suspicious behavior the day after she vanished, an official report that puts Kara’s initial disappearance two days earlier than previously reported, and other evidence never made public until now.

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In addition to body searches, group members have interviewed people who knew Kara and her friends at the time she disappeared, reviewed extensive police reports related to the case created by the Kansas City Police Department, researched internet chatter, followed-up on town gossip, and explored areas with ghoulish graffiti looking for clues.

Our cameras followed group members inside an abandoned building that looked like the set of a horror film. The walls are sprayed with satanic messages and references to Kopetsky.

“This here says, ‘Kara is gone,” said a group member, who like all members says they fear reprisal from police or suspects in the case and do not want to be identified. “It says,' I did it.'”

Although it was daylight outside, the corridors in the building were so dark, we needed several flash lights to make our way through the halls and rooms with spray paint covered walls.

One hallway has “Murder makes me happy” spray painted sideways next to references of death and Satan.

Is it the work of attention-seeking kids, or could the building be linked to Kara’s disappearance?

The Kopetsky sleuths don’t know.

Kara Kopetsky may be best remembered from the Belton High School video that shows her the day she disappeared in May 2007. Kara vanished just days after she filed a restraining order against her boyfriend, Kylr Yust, alleging he kidnapped her, restrained her, and threatened to slit her throat.

Last year, Yust pleaded guilty to domestic assault on a new girlfriend.

“I’ve killed people before, even ex-girlfriends out of sheer jealousy,” a report quotes the victim as telling police Yust said during the attack. “I will kill you.”

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Belton police have said Yust passed a lie detector test and had an alibi in the Kopetsky case.

The family flies a flag with Kara’s picture outside her home and new family heirlooms are further proof they haven’t given up.

Anchoring their living room walls is a quilt with a half dozen pictures of the teen made by volunteers.

“This is Kara's sophomore picture,” Kara’s mom said softly giving a tour.

More pictures of the missing teen are on the family bible.

“It's opened up to, yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the 23rd Psalm,” Rhonda Beckford said before saying a crochet-chain next to pictures of Kara is the most precious of the mementos.

“Oh, probably the figures crochet, because Kara made them with her own hands and her own love,” Rhonda Beckford said.

The Kopetsky sleuths fear Belton police aren't following up on clues the group has uncovered, and instead accuse police of trying to intimidate them into ending the family's investigation.

Group members are especially concerned about the home where the cadaver dog signaled the scent of human remains.

“Specifics of this on-going investigation cannot be discussed without disclosing confidential information,” Chief Person said in a written statement. “I can say that the Belton Police Department and FBI have searched many locations and properties, some with the assistance of dogs. Some sites have required the use of specialized personnel and equipment including excavation, divers, canine, equestrian, and information technology.”

The office of Belton’s chief of police is an elected position.

The family that lives in the house says after the Kopetsky sleuths notified the FBI about the cadaver dog hits, Belton police searched the house for 40 minutes.

The Beckfords say they feel betrayed and worry Belton Police risk the potential of forever losing key evidence.

“I don't believe you can do a thorough search in 40 minutes,” Rhonda Beckford said. “Those dogs are hitting on something.”

Although members of the Kopetsky sleuths acknowledge they don’t trust the Belton Police Department and that they turn over evidence to the FBI or Kansas City police instead, they say do ultimately hand over all evidence they find.

The Beckfords say they can’t think of a case where the group has done anything bordering on illegal.

“Not to my knowledge,” Jim Beckford said. “No, any of the people that's in the group to help bring Kara home, everything has been front and center and within the law.

When we went to Belton at night to see for ourselves, the Kopetsky sleuths asked us not to disclose even what part of town we were in to protect the possible crime scene.

For years the home has been mentioned in online chat rooms as a possible murder site.

“There's been a lot of rumors and innuendos about that house,” Beckford said. “I don't know if she is or isn't there, but there's a lot of unanswered questions.”

The cadaver dog we observed is trained to sit when it smells human remains.

As our cameras rolled the dog sat repeatedly, whined excitedly, and sat in the same area.

The dog’s trainer, who says both she and the dog are certified for cadaver searches, said the dog identified the scent consistent with a body that is or could have been in the house.

“At some point there were human remains,” the trainer said after the search. “I am 100% sure he is alerting on human remains.”

The cadaver dog trainer said a second dog working with a second trainer hit in the same area of the home.

Upstairs in the home, a family lives there in fear Kara’s body could be there.

“I am convinced that something happened to her,” the homeowner told the 41 Action News Investigators. “It’s very scary. It’s very possible that Kara is here and there’s nothing being done about it.”

Except for that 40 minute search, the homeowner says Belton police haven’t returned to the basement where that cadaver dog hit, but the Kopetsky sleuths say today Belton Police continue to investigate them.

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