Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2007

Suspects in Robin Bell murder in custody

September 27, 2007

Twenty-two months after her brutal murder, three youths were charged this week in the death of Robin Bell.

John Backus, 20, of Bonner Springs, is in custody in Wyandotte County Jail. Robert Haberlein, 19, Kansas City, Kan., and Amber Russell, 17, Lenexa, are being held in the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center. Each has been charged with first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery in connection with the murder of Robin Bell.

Bell was found dead Nov. 12, 2005, at the Dollar General store where she worked as a manager at 612 S. 130th St. in Bonner Springs.

Backus, who is the only one of the three who was not a minor at the time of the crime, is being held in Wyandotte County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bond. The other two are scheduled for a detention hearing Sept. 27.

The announcement was made Wednesday afternoon at a press conference in the Bonner Springs City Hall council chambers by Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman and Bonner Springs Police Chief John Haley. Gorman credited the Bonner Springs Police Department for following "countless leads," and staying "relentlessly" on the case.

Backus' first court appearance will be Thursday afternoon in Division 11 of Wyandotte County District Court, Haberlein and Russell are scheduled for detention hearings at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 27, in the juvenile division of Wyandotte County Court. Gorman said his office would seek continued detention of Haberlein and Russell.

Gorman thanked the family of Robin Bell for their patience.

"I believe it was the hard work of Chief Haley and his people, especially Detective (Vickie) Fogarty," Gorman told the room that was nearly full with reporters and television cameras from at least five stations.

Gorman said neither he nor Haley could comment on the kind or quality of evidence against the three, but "suffice it to say, I believe we have sufficient evidence to file charges against all three."

Gorman said there had been no decision on whether to charge Haberlein and Russell as adults.

Haley then took the lectern and said the break in the case came Friday night, during an investigation of an unrelated crime.

The department worked "round the clock since then."

The two then took questions.

Gorman said there was no evidence any of the three suspects had any previous connection to Dollar General or Robin Bell, but that they did know each other.

Haberlein had been taken into custody on three counts of felony theft, and the other two were apprehended without incident Tuesday. The thefts all took place in the last two to three months, Gorman said, and they were not businesses.

Although he was not from Bonner Springs, Gorman said Haberlein "spends lots of time in Bonner Springs."

Gorman appeared confident there were no other suspects to round up.

"We don't believe anyone else was involved," he said.

In answer to a question, Haley said he was in fact surprised that the people charged turned out not to be previously suspected by his department in the crime.

Afterwards, the family of Robin Bell spoke to reporters.

Her widower, Don Bell, said he had "no words" when he first learned of the arrests and charges, just "so happy -- surprised."

Bell, who lives in Edwardsville, wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of his wife, which read "You can take us from her/but you can't take her from us."

Bell said he felt no anger, "not now." He said he had just recently told family members that he had "given up" that his wife's killers would be caught.

Later, Bell thanked Fogarty.

Robin Bell's mother, Kay Bundy, said she had never liked her daughter working at the store late at night alone.

She recalled her daughter fondly, saying "she could work on cars ... she was my baby."

Bundy said when she first heard the news "I began to shake to pieces. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I'm glad they got 'em."

Melissa Mathia, Robin Bell's daughter, who lives in Basehor, said if there were one thing she could say to the suspects, it would be to ask them whether it was worth the money or the prospect of such money to take away someone who was a mother, daughter, sister and granddaughter.

Mathia later added that a planned memorial event for her mother this Sunday in Chieftain Park in Tonganoxie would still go on.

The event will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and there will be raffle prizes, food and face painting, and tethered hot-air balloon rides. The event had also been planned to raise money for the reward fund to find Robin Bell's killer.

It was not immediately clear whether anyone would qualify for the reward, which amounts to more than $16,000.

Now, Mathia said, that money would either go to a foundation or the TIPS hotline.

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