Eight days before Christmas, one of Rickey Farris’ brothers bailed him out of the Sedgwick County Jail so he could spend the holidays with his teenage son and daughter.
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Just days later, at around 4 p.m. on Christmas Day, someone found Farris dead in a dumpster in southwest Wichita. He was 47.
Two weeks later, Farris’ four brothers are wrestling with questions about how he ended up in the trash bin outside a bakery store outlet. Scavengers going through the dumpster found his body.
One thing the surviving Farris brothers know and believe: Rickey was loved. Rickey was flawed by addiction. He also was a father, a builder and a carefree soul who was not a one-dimensional addict.
Still, the brothers feel guilty and ask themselves what-ifs about Rickey’s death, among them: Would he still be alive if he had stayed in jail?
According to a preliminary autopsy, Rickey died of natural causes, Wichita police have said. The dumpster where his body was found is visible from the street, beside the store, in an industrial area in the 2100 block of West Harry. The dumpster was about a mile north of a house that Rickey sometimes listed as his address.
People looking for food go into the dumpster outside the bakery store, police told Mickey Farris, Rickey’s twin brother.
But it doesn’t make sense to Rickey’s brothers that he would have been looking for food in the dumpster. As of Christmas Eve, Rickey still had money. Despite the fact that he was sometimes homeless and often troubled by substance abuse, they didn’t know Rickey to be a dumpster diver.
Police said the preliminary examination found no sign of anything suspicious on Rickey’s body. They said he died in the dumpster – that the body was not moved there.
Mickey said detectives told him the autopsy showed his twin had extensive heart disease. Mickey expects that the final autopsy report might say a heart attack killed his brother.
Rickey told another brother, Travis – the one who got him out of jail – that he was dying. Mickey doesn’t think his twin had health insurance and doesn’t think Rickey knew he had heart disease.
It will take weeks before a toxicology report will be available. It would show whether Rickey had drugs or alcohol in his system.
For years, Rickey struggled with substance abuse. One of his problems was alcohol, Mickey said. Some court records say he also used marijuana or methamphetamine at times.
The brothers had initially wondered whether they should talk about Rickey for this story. They fear that some people will see only one side of Rickey – his substance abuse. His problem strained his relationship with some of his brothers.
“It’s complicated,” Mickey said. “We loved our brother very much.
“I always wanted Rick to succeed in life.”
Mickey would worry about Rickey and wonder how he was faring. But Mickey also didn’t want to enable Rickey’s problem, he said. If he gave Rickey money, he might spend it on his addiction.
Substance abuse sapped his finances and made him homeless at times, although he had plenty of relatives to go to for help, Mickey said.
“He always had a place to stay.”
Rickey would live with an aunt for a while and have his mail sent there, or stay with his 19-year-old son. “He’d move around,” Mickey said.
Rickey’s court records give a variety of addresses over the years, from Kechi to south Wichita.
Some of his records say, “Homeless.”
From information gathered in court records and interviews, it appears Rickey lived outside the main safety-net agencies that serve the homeless.
Wichita police who help the homeless say they aren’t familiar with him. The extent to which he stayed at shelters appears limited. An employee at the Union Rescue Mission said someone with the same name and age as Rickey’s stayed at their facility on North Hillside on June 1, 2012. Other agencies didn’t know him.
Not the stereotype
People stereotype the homeless, but Rickey didn’t fit the image that many people have, his twin said.
Rickey didn’t look like some disheveled, desperate soul wandering the streets, Mickey said. He regularly washed his hair. He always had a place to take a shower.
He had lost his driver’s license, so he rode a bicycle or walked, Mickey said. One of his most recent tickets was for not using a light on his bicycle, court records show.
Questions about Rickey being found in the dumpster persist.
It’s unlikely that he was seeking shelter in the trash bin. It was warmer than normal, a high of 58 on Christmas Eve and a record high of 67 on Christmas Day.
At his funeral Monday afternoon, people told Mickey they were puzzled that his brother had been found in the dumpster.
“Rick would never do that,” they told Mickey. If Rickey frequented trash bins, his family didn’t know it, Mickey said. “He kept it from us.”
Rickey had at least $49 on Christmas Eve. Mickey knows that because a receipt found with his brother showed that he got that much back after buying Christmas presents for his teenage kids at the Walmart on South Broadway.
That was around 4 p.m. Christmas Eve. “What he did from there, nobody will know,” Mickey said. His body was found 24 hours later.
The receipt also showed that he bought electronics for his kids. Where the gifts ended up is unknown, the brothers say. The kids didn’t receive them.
Mickey raises another question: “Did he use the $49 for something else, then need food later?
“It’s a mystery how he ended up in the dumpster.”
‘He started crying’
Rickey’s younger brother, 45-year-old Travis, said he got his brother out of jail eight days before Christmas.
“I was worried about him,” Travis said.
Travis paid $1,000 for Rickey to get out of jail. Rickey was in jail for failure to pay child support, Travis said.
Rickey had been in jail for at least three months and walked out of jail wearing the warm-weather clothes he wore in – a tank top, shorts and flip-flops. It was a bitter-cold day, with a low temperature of 4.
He felt the frigid cold, then retreated back into the jail lobby. Later, Travis gave him shoes and bought him a coat.
Outside the jail, “He started crying, and I did too,” Travis recalled. “He was happy to see me too.”
Travis took Rickey to his see his son and daughter, made sure he had a place to stay, gave him money and told him to get a phone so they could stay in touch. Travis, who does remodeling work, planned to help Rickey get a remodeling job. Rickey also had to get a new ID, which was key to landing a job.
‘I think I’m dying’
“He told me that day (he left the jail) he was sick, real sick,” Travis said. Rickey said he had been throwing up blood for a couple months.
“He told me right there, ‘Man, I think I’m dying.’”
Rickey left the jail with medicine and said he had been treated for high blood pressure. “But he didn’t say nothing about his heart,” Travis said.
A couple days later, the two brothers ate dinner at a McDonald’s in south Wichita. Even when times were tough for Rickey, Travis said, “He wasn’t going to go hungry. He was pretty resourceful.”
On Christmas Eve, Travis met him for lunch at a restaurant on South Broadway and gave him a couple hundred dollars so he could get his kids something for Christmas, then dropped him off at the Walmart at Pawnee and Broadway.
Rickey said he was going to get electronics for the teens and an inexpensive phone for himself.
Rickey called at 10 that night, Christmas Eve, said he got a “cool phone” and phone card and presents and still had money left. They talked about getting together on Christmas or the day after.
“I told him to call me every day ... so I knew how he was doing,” Travis said.
Their phone chat ended at 10:10 p.m.
Travis doesn’t know what happened after that.
But Rickey ending up in a dumpster doesn’t make sense, Travis said.
“I don’t see him climbing into a dumpster” because he had other ways of getting food.
Rickey had hung out with others in the neighborhood near the dumpster, and Travis wonders if someone put his brother into the bin.
But police have maintained that the body wasn’t moved.
Another question, Travis said, is what happened to the presents that Rickey got for his kids.
The kids meant everything to Rickey, the brothers said.
Rickey placed a call to his daughter at around 12:30 a.m., very early Christmas morning, but she was asleep and didn’t answer.
‘Be somewhere for Christmas’
Rickey’s oldest brother, Ronnie, also said he is mystified. “I have no idea how he got there.
“We are still devastated,” said Ronnie, a 49-year-old who works for a military aircraft company.
“We wanted him to have a good Christmas with the kids.
“Everybody wants to be somewhere for Christmas.”
What led Rickey to the dumpster when he had money for food remains a puzzle for Mickey, his twin, who works as an officer for a suburban police department.
“You always second-guess yourself. … ‘What if?”, Mickey said.
Mickey regrets that he hadn’t seen his twin lately. “That’s what hurts.”
Rickey’s substance abuse came between the twins.
Substance abuse contributed to Rickey getting arrested periodically over the years – for traffic violations, theft, drug possession, once for domestic violence – and that created a gulf between the twins born three minutes apart.
Municipal court records show there was a time when Rickey paid off all of his Municipal Court fines. But starting in 1996, he left a string of unpaid fines.
The offenses created an awkwardness between the twins, Mickey said. Mickey’s job was to enforce the laws that his twin was breaking.
‘It’s all good’
Rickey tried, his brothers say. He stayed sober at times and went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and to church with his children.
He genuinely liked to read the Bible, they say. Especially Psalm 23.
“The Lord is my shepherd,” it begins. And ends, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Fitting words for a man who sometimes lost his way.
Rickey, who had no house of his own, was happy-go-lucky.
His favorite saying: “It’s all good.”
Rickey loved to play pool and Keno.
“He never showed that anything got him down,” Mickey said.
Rickey had construction skills and did remodeling and roofing jobs from time to time. He had the rough hands of someone who works with tools.
“He was very much loved, and he loved everybody in the family,” Mickey said.
“He did not want to disappoint anybody.”
More than 100 people came to his funeral. About a dozen people spoke and “remembered Rick well,” Mickey said.
Mickey faults himself.
“I think I preached too much,” Mickey said. “I always wanted him to do better.”
Sometimes, when Rickey got into trouble, he would use his twin’s name. Anyone who saw them could tell them apart. Rickey was 5 inches taller.
“I wish I could have done more for my brother,” Mickey said.
Brothers in the woods
“Growing up, you couldn’t have a tighter bunch of brothers,” Mickey said.
Ronnie, the oldest, said some of their best years were after they moved from south Wichita to Casper, Wyo. Their father, Mickey, a Vietnam veteran, got a job there.
The brothers dug tunnels through snow and scrambled across mountains outside their home, discovering old cabins, the brothers recall.
Travis remembers seeing antelope and grizzly bears in the distance. When they spotted the bears, he said, “We would just go the other direction.”
They mostly stuck to the trails but sometimes got lost. They found their way.
Ronnie: “We had no fear of going hiking in the woods. We always made it back.”
Their mother, Linda Kay, had confidence in her boys, Ronnie said. “I think it’s because we all stuck together.”
Their mother died from cancer in 2006. She was 55. About a year and a half later, their father died of a broken heart, Mickey said.
After the death of their mother, the brothers drifted apart, Mickey said. It’s universal, he said: “Your mom keeps a family together.”
‘Thinking of Rickey’
Mickey had heard the news about a body being found in a dumpster on Christmas Day. He had no idea it was his twin.
When police found Rickey, he had a wallet on him, but no money and no ID, Mickey said. It took fingerprints to identify him.
Two Wichita police detectives came to Mickey’s workplace to tell him.
“Yeah, it hit me hard,” he said. “He’s my twin.”
Wayland, the youngest brother, and Ronnie, the oldest, both hold onto good memories of Rickey from the past year.
Wayland spotted Rickey in August or September when by chance both showed up at the Harbor Freight Tools store on South Seneca. They hugged, chatted – as two brothers who love each other would do.
At times, the two had done roofing jobs together. Wayland, 42, gave Rickey his phone number, an uncle’s phone number and some money.
“He looked healthy to me,” Wayland recalled.
Ronnie and Rickey happened upon each other at a QuikTrip on South Meridian. Rickey had gone there for cigarettes.
Ronnie told him he would take him to lunch but had to get to a meeting. They went back into the convenience store, and Ronnie bought his younger brother some food. Rickey grabbed pizza and snacks.
They talked for a while out front. It touched Ronnie when Rickey asked how Ronnie’s wife and family were doing.
Even before his brother’s death, Ronnie joined efforts through his church to help homeless people. “Because I’m always thinking of Rickey,” Ronnie said.
“I feel like there’s other families going through what we’re going through.”
Ronnie said he now feels “closure that Rickey’s not suffering.”
“It just hurts my heart that this is the way it had to end.”
A fund to help handle funeral expenses for the Farris family has been set up: Rickey Farris Memorial Fund, Quantum Credit Union, 6300 W. 21st St. N., Wichita, KS, 67205; or 270 N. Broadway, Wichita, KS, 67202.