Friday, August 25, 2006
Cops Put Decades-Old Case to Rest
By T.J. Wilham
Copyright © 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
For 25 years, the disappearance of Bucky Kephart has haunted Marty McGuire.
When the now-retired Albuquerque police detective was assigned the case 25 years ago, he suspected the 11-year-old boy wasn't just missing. He thought the boy was dead and that his parents were responsible.
McGuire was never able to find a body or gather enough evidence.
"This case has messed me up for many, many years," said McGuire, who retired from APD in 1992. "I couldn't finish it. I knew what happened deep down in my bones ... I tried. We all tried."
This week, on the 25th anniversary of Bucky's disappearance, cold case detectives said they solved and closed the case.
And they say McGuire's suspicions were right, formally concluding that Bucky was "beaten and killed" by his parents, Barry Kephart Sr. and Josephine Kephart.
But neither will be prosecuted. Josephine Kephart died of cancer in 2005. Barry Kephart can't be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations that existed in 1981.
"We feel we have probable cause to take this to a grand jury," said Trish Hoffman, a police spokeswoman. "We feel they would indict him, but we can't. Our hands are tied.
"We can't prosecute for reasons out of our control."
Barry Kephart no longer lives in Albuquerque and couldn't be reached for comment.
A late report
Cold case detectives re-examined the case in February after records supervisor Marlene Lindstrand asked them to review it.
Lindstrand first took an interest in the case in 1984 when the file mysteriously appeared on her desk during her first year on the job.
Since that time, she followed the case and kept pushing detectives to investigate. She went as far as celebrating the boy's birthday every year with ice cream and cake. She has a picture of Bucky in her office.
"Over the years, something about this case tugged at my heart strings," she said. "It's like his spirit watched over me ... I always felt that before I retired I wanted to know what happened to Bucky."
According to police reports at the time, on Aug. 23, 1981, Barry Kephart called Albuquerque police and reported his son was missing. He told officers he found a note, "I went down the block ... be back soon."
Police said Kephart was never able to produce the note and had waited more than 24 hours before he reported his son missing from their home on Texas SE, three blocks south of Central.
One officer noted in a 1981 police report that the "parents of the child seemed very calm and nonchalant about the situation."
Police interviewed friends, sisters, neighbors and classmates. They also spent hours searching for the boy. Authorities never came close to filing charges.
Sister came forward
At Lindstrand's urging, police re-examined the case in 1994.
According to police reports:
The boy's sister, Beverly Kephart, came forward and told police she was at home the night her brother went missing. She told police she believed her father was responsible for her brother's death.
Detectives then found an aunt who reported that Josephine Kephart told her that her husband had "something to do with his disappearance and that Barry had placed Bucky's body in a Dumpster."
Barry Kephart waited to call police to report his son was missing until after trash in the Dumpster was picked up.
The parents again denied they were involved. Once again, the case went cold.
When the case was reviewed in February, detectives interviewed Beverly Kephart again. She told police her father got mad at her brother for stealing a neighbor's chicken.
Beverly Kephart told police she was told to go to her room but could hear her parents beat her brother with a belt buckle.
She said she heard the boy's screams, cries and "thuds." Then the sounds abruptly stopped. She told police she cried herself to sleep.
Detectives interviewed Barry Kephart again in April.
Kephart admitted beating his son that night, according to police reports, but denied killing him.
He told police that, after the beating, he passed out drunk and couldn't remember what happened. He said he remembered waking up the next day.
When police asked Kephart if he could have killed his son and not remembered, he paused for several seconds and responded, "I don't think so."
"That is the closest we are going to get to the truth about what happened to Bucky," Hoffman said.
Police say there is enough evidence to file charges, even though Bucky's body hasn't been found.
As for McGuire and Lindstrand, they say they are sleeping easier knowing case 81-53819 is officially closed.
This week, Lindstrand took down the picture of the boy. McGuire called his ex-wife, with whom he shed tears over the case, and told her it was solved.
"I feel like now I have retired in peace," he said.