After a year, family still struggles with loss
Robin Bell was brutally murdered Nov. 13, 2005; her killer is still unknown
In the year since her body was discovered at the Dollar General store in north Bonner Springs, Robin Bell's family members have tried to move on with their lives. But it's difficult, they say.
Don Bell, her husband, moved away from the home they shared in Tonganoxie to new quarters in Edwardsville. "It's easier not to live there," he says.
Melissa Mathia of Basehor, her daughter, who gave birth to Bell's first grandchild this year, thinks of her mother often --"every time I have something to tell her."
This weekend two events will mark the one-year anniversary of Robin Bell's murder. Bonner Springs police found the body of the 44-year-old Tonganoxie resident and manager of Dollar General, 612 S. 130th St., Bonner Springs, in the store the morning of Nov. 12, 2005. She had suffered "severe head trauma."
There will be a prayer vigil Saturday at her grave at Maple Grove Cemetery in Tonganoxie, and a fund-raiser the next day to increase the reward for information leading to the arrest of her killer.
The events were organized by her husband.
"We're going to do a fundraiser every six months so we don't have to do this anymore," Bell said.
On the night of Nov. 11, 2005, Bell called police after realizing his wife hadn't come home by 2:30 a.m. The store closed at 8 p.m.
Police forced an entry into the store and found a scene they later described as "gruesome."
A metro squad of 14 detectives from throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area investigated some 150 leads in the following week, then disbanded.
Bonner Springs Lt. Rick Schubert said the metro squad typically disbands after three to seven days.
A year later, Bell's murder is unsolved, and the reward for information leading to the arrest of her killer stands at $15,000. Of that, $10,000 came from Dollar General, and $1,000 came from Ameristar Casino, which employs Don Bell. Another $4,000 was raised by friends and family. Bell hopes to raise another $5,000 this weekend with a fundraiser at Muddy Waters restaurant in Kansas City, Kan.
While Schubert said the department is "still actively pursuing leads," there have been no breakthroughs. Detective Vickie Fogarty is assigned to the case.
Fogarty admitted the case was "frustrating," but said, "I think it'll be solved."
She added, "We work on it every day."
As to whether the crime was perpetrated by someone who had knowledge of the store's operations, such as an employee or ex-employee, Fogarty said, "I don't want to comment."
When police arrived at the store that morning they found no sign of forced entry and the doors were locked. Investigators said Bell's keys were with her. Money was taken from the store, but police and Dollar General have refused to disclose the amount.
Last spring, Bonner Springs detectives traveled to FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., where they presented the case to the Behavioral Analysis unit, which provided a profile of the killer. This resulted in new leads, Schubert said.
The profile included displaying the following traits in the weeks after the murder: having extra money, anxiety, showing an unusual amount of stress, absences from work, missing appointments, disposing of a vehicle or having it detailed, and increased drug and/or alcohol abuse.
One ex-employee of Dollar General, Aaron Clark, was arrested in November for felony theft in connection with a September report that $1,641 was missing from Dollar General. Clark was not considered a suspect, but continues to be a "person of interest" to the case, Fogarty said.
Don Bell has his own ideas on the crime.
"I don't think it was robbery," he told the Chieftain in September. "I think it was something else ... something personal, beat as bad she was," he said.
Still, Bell said his wife had no enemies he knew of.
DNA evidence was recovered at the murder scene, Schubert said, from "everything you can imagine," including blood other than Bell's. The DNA is registered in a federal database so that it can be compared to DNA taken from convicted felons, Fogarty said.
The investigation has included a search for Chuck Davis, Robin Bell's ex-husband and father of her daughter, Melissa Mathias. Fogarty said Chuck Davis was not a suspect, but that all possibilities were being considered. Fogarty said Chuck Davis hadn't been located and Mathias said she last saw him 24 years ago in Arkansas.
Davis said someone from "America's Most Wanted" had tried to contact the Bonner Springs Police Department, but that the investigation had been dropped for lack of returned calls from the department. No one who could be reached at the department said they knew about the television show's interest in the case, and no calls from the Chieftain were returned by the show's producers.
Fogarty said she had searched for Robin Bell's ex-husband, Chuck Davis, in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, as a person of interest. Davis isn't considered a suspect, Fogarty, said, and was never found.
Mathias said she wasn't optimistic about her mother's murder being solved by the police.
"If I had the money and the sources I'd just try to do it myself, she said. "I feel so helpless -- there's nothing I can do myself, other than try to make a personal connection" with anyone who might have information, in order that they would be more apt to talk.
Mathias said she planned to call the television show "Cold Case Files" after this weekend to see if a segment might be done on her mother's case.
"I know somebody knows who did it," Mathias said, "and they just don't understand what her being murdered -- especially because I was at my most vulnerable point because I was pregnant -- has done to me."
Unsurprisingly, Bell's murder also affected those who worked with her at Dollar General. In September, a former coworker of Robin Bell, who still worked at the store, said all the other employees who had worked with Bell had been "weirded out" by the crime had transferred to other stores. The coworker didn't want to give her name, but said that working at the store had been "weird" for a while afterwards for her as well. She had just started back at the Dollar General store a few weeks, and said working there does not feel as strange now.
The store implemented new security precautions and procedures after Bell's murder, but for obvious reasons, the employee couldn't explain what those were.
While Bell's murder was a blow to her family, their lives continued.
Don Bell moved to Edwardsville from the home he had shared with his wife.
"It's easier to not live there," Bell said. "I still have pictures of her around. I meet new friends now that I moved."
What also made his life easier, Bell said, was being cleared as a suspect in his wife's death. Besides the stress and sting his status as a suspect brought him, it also prevented Bell from collecting life insurance.
The most poignant illustration that life goes on for those who knew Robin Bell may be the birth of her grandson, Chapter Alexander Mathias, to her daughter, Melissa Mathias.
In addition to her promotion to general manager and her purchase of a Mustang, Robin Bell's wish list would have been complete with seeing the birth of her grandson, Chapter Alexander Mathias, Don Bell said.
Chapter, so named because his mother writes short stories, was born in March. Mathias said he recognizes his grandmother in pictures.
"We have one of the fliers on our fridge -- every time he goes by, he smiles and grabs for it," Mathias said.
Mathias married in September, and said the wedding made her miss Bell even more than she usually does.
"Yeah, I still think of her a lot," Mathias said. "Especially when I was having my baby and getting married. Every time I got to Bonner Springs over there. Every time I have something to tell her -- so all the time."
Anyone with information on Robin Bell's murder is asked to call the Bonner Springs Police Department at (913) 422-7800, or anonymously to the TIPS hotline at (816) 474-8477.
Robin Bell's family and friends will hold a prayer vigil for her beginning at 7 p.m., Nov. 11, at her grave in Maple Grove Cemetery in Tonganoxie. The following day there will be a fundraiser at Muddy Waters Restaurant, 6720 1/2 Kaw Dr. The event will include a car show, a live band, a dance and a raffle. Don Bell, Robin Bell's husband, said he hoped to raise $5,000 with the raffle, to bring the total reward amount for information leading to the arrest of his wife's killer to $20,000. To donate items for the raffle, call Don Bell at (816) 806-1025. Monetary donations may also be made to the Robin Bell Memorial Fund at 10902 Parallel Ave., Kansas City, Kan., 66109.