Log Out | Member Center

58°F

72°/47°

NEWS Chilling secrets cling to Ozarks’ secluded hills

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, at 8:43 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, at 7:34 a.m.

— Well off the freeway and past all the chain restaurants, Missouri 125 winds to this place in the southern part of the state with one store, four churches and an old town dog.

Tipsy, a portly gal turning gray around the eyes, spends her days lying on cool concrete outside the store’s door, hoping a regular will come along with ice cream or potato chips, her favorites and everyone knows it.

South of Chadwick, the blacktop passes small farms where cattle graze on rocky hillsides. Red gravel lanes lead into the trees and brush. No store going that way for nearly 20 miles, where the ferry crosses Bull Shoals Lake.

Secrets can hide along this stretch. They can even live in peace. Jeanette and Al Bishop learned how well last week.

For years, they rented 34 acres from neighbors Alice and Gerald Uden. Al kept up the fences. Jeanette bought eggs from Alice and kept her company when Gerald, a long-haul trucker, was on the road. They talked grandchildren and sewing across kitchen tables.

When one was sick, the other fixed supper.

Then came Monday morning. Alice Uden’s daughter came to the Bishop house.

“I need to tell you about Mom and Dad,” she told them.

Then she began to cry.

Alice Uden, 74, and Gerald Uden, 71, were locked up in the county jail for murder. Authorities say they killed spouses decades earlier in Wyoming.

Authorities say Alice, whom Jeanette Bishop described as a “sweet, old grandmother,” shot her husband while he slept, put his body in a barrel and dumped it down the shaft of an abandoned gold mine. Last month, searchers found the remains of Ronald Holtz 40 feet down, a .22 slug still in his skull.

Gerald Uden also is charged in the shooting deaths of his wife Virginia’s two young sons.

Sometime after the killings, Alice and Gerald married and left Wyoming for a farm on Missouri 125 in the secluded hills of Christian County.

“They probably figured they could live down here and nobody know their secret,” said the woman working the counter at Kay’s Country Store in Chadwick. “It worked too. For a long time, it worked.”

Jeanette Bishop is a bedtime reader. But one night last week she set her book aside and could think only of her friend across the pasture.

“How could you live like that — with that — all these years?”


Ronald Holtz disappeared in 1974. A judge granted Alice a divorce the next year by default because Ronald could not be located to serve papers.

Virginia Uden and her sons disappeared on Sept. 13, 1980. Gerald had adopted the boys, Richard, 12, and Reagan, 10, while he was married to Virginia.

The disappearance of Virginia and her sons was investigated at the time — and ever since — by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office. During that probe, according to court documents, “information was obtained about another disappearance and possible death in Laramie County.”

That would be Ronald Holtz.

Investigators linked the disappearances — court documents don’t say how — but no charges were filed in either case. Not even in 1989 when a witness told investigators that Alice had admitted killing Holtz and putting his body in a mine shaft on a ranch where her family had lived in the mid 1970s.

In January 2005, two Wyoming investigators traveled to interview Alice Uden at her place on Missouri 125. They asked her to draw a family tree. The next day, the detectives returned and confronted Alice: Why hadn’t she put Holtz on the tree?

According to court documents, Alice fell back against the wall.

“My kids told you,” she said.

She later told the detectives she had not included Holtz because their marriage was so brief.

Didn’t look good, but detectives still didn’t think they had what they needed to arrest her.

In 2008, investigators in the other case, with the help of college students, searched an area near Riverton in Fremont County for the bodies of Virginia Uden and her two sons. A hogpen had occupied the site years earlier. They didn’t find anything.

Finally on Aug. 27, investigators conducted a “thorough excavation” of the gold mine shaft and found a man’s remains. An autopsy and DNA testing confirmed it was Ronald Holtz.

Authorities returned to the Missouri Ozarks and arrested Alice Uden on Sept. 26. Gerald Uden was on the road.

When he got home the next day, documents say, he started talking. He said that on Sept. 12, 1980, he drove Virginia and the boys to an isolated location and shot all three with a .22 rifle. That was his plan, he said. He’d even asked Virginia to bring the gun.

For “bird hunting,” he told her.

In April, Virginia Uden’s mother, Claire “Peg” C. Martin, 92, went to her grave never knowing the fate of her daughter and grandsons. Her obituary in The Riverton Ranger noted that “Mrs. Martin spent the remainder of her life with the hope of learning what happened to them.”


Chadwick history: logging, railroading, and in 2005 the Lady Cardinals went 27-4 and won a state basketball championship.

With the Mark Twain National Forest nearby, the town gets some tourists, but most customers who come into Kay’s Country Store are local and need something for dinner. On Thursday, the woman behind the counter — she didn’t want her name in the newspaper — shook her head at the Uden news.

“People just can’t believe it,” she said. “Everybody comes in saying how nice they are. Most everyone around here minds their own business, but still, little town like this, you think you know people.”

The Udens shopped at the store. They attended functions at the local school their grandchildren attended.

Store owner Bill Oldaker didn’t get it either.

“What kind of life could that be — how could you live with yourself?” he asked.

The Uden place is about five miles away. Small white house at the end of a gravel lane, black shutters, outbuildings, shaded yard. Enough room for Gerald to park his 18-wheeler. For several years, Alice went on the road with him.

She quit when she got cancer. After that she stayed home, gardened and raised chickens.

Now several “Private Property” signs line the front.

Up the road, Al Bishop talked about getting fooled.

“I would have bet the farm — and lost it — that those two couldn’t be involved in anything like that,” he said.

He and Jeanette had traveled to Kansas to visit grandchildren last week.

“When we got back, they were gone,” Al said. “We’ll never see them again.”

Jeanette sat nearby and told how when she returned home from a hospital stay, Alice fixed supper for her and Al. Over years, they had shared so much about their lives.

Then she cried for her friend.

In exchange for pasture land, all the Udens took in return was a half beef a year. The Bishop herd includes 30 or so cows, some calves, a bull, three donkeys and a horse.

The donkeys are to keep coyotes away.

Nothing, though, scares off secrets. Not around here. Too many places to hide.

To reach Donald Bradley, call 816-234-4182 or send email to dbradley@kcstar.com.

Subscribe to our newsletters

The Wichita Eagle welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views. Please see our commenting policy for more information.

Have a news tip? You can send it to wenews@wichitaeagle.com or consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Wichita Eagle.

Search for a job

in

Top jobs