Over the years, the Kansas city, Missouri zip code 64130 has earned the name ‘The Murder Factory’ and that title seems to be holding tight. Its eight square miles, straddling Brush Creek downstream from the Country Club Plaza, is home to 101 convicted murderers who’ve been incarcerated in Missouri prisons.
No other ZIP code in Kansas City,St. Louis or any other part of the state comes close. Though its 26,000 residents make up about 6 percent of the city’s population, it accounts for 20 percent of Kansas Citizens in prison for murder or voluntary manslaughter.
Although the majority of 64130’s residents live lawfully, few interviewed said their families have been untouched by the violence. Longtime residents can point out where someone was killed, where drugs are sold or where a neighbor’s kid lived before he went to prison.
“It can get rough around here sometimes with all the crime and the peer pressure from older guys,” said Arshell Avery, a mother of 16 and 8-year-old sons. “There are a lot of negative things they (kids) can get into. It’s easy to lose them.”
Though each inmate has a unique story, many shared common experiences.
Born mostly into poor families, nearly 60 percent grew up without fathers. As young men, they were thrust into a prevailing street mentality that demanded a violent response to any insult. Guns could be obtained as cheaply and easily as illegal drugs. Two-thirds possessed guns as teenagers and nearly three-fourths were regular users of drugs and alcohol.
Once caught up in that lifestyle, there’s no easy way out, the inmates say.
“From what I’ve seen, this is more or less like a trap in the 64130 area,” said convicted killer Keith Carnes.
Victims ranged from family members to rival drug dealers to innocent bystanders and motives have varied. Some headlines for cases in the area read: ‘Two teens beat a 15-year-old boy to death with a baseball bat to steal his tennis shoes’ and ‘A 19-year-old massacred four family members, including a 9-year-old half-sister, after fighting with his stepfather.’ Sometimes it seemed they killed for no reason at all. “He looked at me wrong,” one assailant told police after killing a man with four shots from a .357-caliber handgun.
Many who became killers said they had few examples of legitimate success to follow in their neighborhoods. Instead they were drawn to the fast life of hustling, stealing and dealing drugs. Jewelry, stacks of cash and new cars, often displayed by older family members, lured them.
Many think things have only gotten worse.
“I’m scared to get back out there,” Joe Theus said, despite the fact he won’t be eligible for parole until 2037. “These youngsters are way out of control.”
Except for two whose cases date to 1968 and 1977, all of the 64130 killers entered prison in the 1980s, 1990s or this decade. The social dysfunction and violence that swirled around them continues today. In the last two years, prosecutors have charged 18 more of the region’s residents with murder. Most are still awaiting trial.